Shamelessly using Roundup, and other ungreen confessions

 

Milk thistle

Milk thistle

With delight I rose to the bait when My Small Homestead posted a link to This Garden Is Illegal’s list of seven DIY weedkillers. What I wouldn’t give to have something cheap and handy to beat back the predator vegetables that infest the yard and gardens, especially during rainy season, when they keep me awake all night chorusing “Feed Me, Seymour”!

Alas, though, I’ve tried all of Illegal’s seven nostrums, and not a one of them does any good. One, boiling water, even stimulates milkweed to grow more vigorously! 

Your choices are to spend several hours once or twice a week on hands and knees digging weeds up by the roots (not very practical when you have a job, or when it’s 115 degrees in the shade) or…yes. I’m afraid so: Roundup! That’s glyphosate to the chemists among us.

Some folks think Roundup is evil, and one guy claims it killed his dog, but a little googling suggests that conclusion may be unlikely. If you believe the science, the stuff degrades on contact with the soil, although there is some evidence it doesn’t all go away. It’s bad for aquatic life and should be kept out of pools, ponds, rivers, lakes, and oceans. Of the commercial herbicides, it’s evidently less toxic than most, although you wouldn’t want to mix it in your evening cocktail. I don’t. But I do use it on weeds. 

Directly on the weeds and only on the weeds. How? By putting it in an old container with one of those drip nipples, of the sort that come on sports water bottles. But don’t use a water bottle for this purpose! Too easy for innocent bystanders to decide to take a sip out of it. Lots of other containers have these things, including old dish detergent bottles and, my favorite, an ancient Spray’n’Wash bottle. Despite a high initial cost, I find it economical to buy Roundup in concentrate form and mix up a small amount as needed. One container of it will last a couple of years. Mark it clearly, so you can’t miss the contents.

Pour the stuff into the applicator bottle and then dribble it carefully onto the leaves, and only the leaves, of the offending weed. Because the nipple lets the herbicide drib out a few drops at a time, you have a lot more control over where it goes than you do with a sprayer, and you’re lots less likely to get any of it on surrounding plants. Roundup is absorbed and metabolized through the plant’s leaves and, over the course of a few days, does the plant in. Little or none of the chemical is left—I leave the weeds to biodegrade or for Gerardo’s guys to carry off in the monthly clean-up. I don’t, of course, put them in the compost.

Because this gives a lot of control in where you’re applying the stuff, you can deal with a problem like the one pictured here, where milkweed has taken hold in the middle of a lantana plant. Spraying Roundup on these things would guarantee a dead lantana. However, because contact with just a few leaves will kill the weed, all I need to do here is bend one of the milkweed’s long stems over away from the ornamental plant, set a rock on it gently (so as not to kill or damage it), and dribble a little Roundup on the part of the weed that’s being held away from the plant. As soon as the Roundup dries, I can remove the rock. In a couple of days, the milkweed will shrivel up and go away.

Organic? Heck, no. Environmentally friendly? Well, marginally at best. Better than any other approaches I’ve found? Yup.

And speaking of my ungreen career as an environmental criminal, ROI sings the praises of low-flow showerheads. {cackle!} Hand me that screwdriver, say I! Dribbles there a more annoying self-important appliance than a low-flow showerhead, other than the damnable low-flow toilet???

How exactly a showerhead that rations water so that you have to stand under it two or three times as long to get clean saves water (and money) over one that actually works escapes me. If the showerhead saves 20 percent on water use, but it takes you five times as long to rinse the shampoo and conditioner out of your hair, it would appear that the dribbley showerhead uses more water, not less.

You can jimmy most low-flow showerheads, an activity that may be illegal in some places but that satisfyingly expels Big Brother from your shower stall. Of course, if you’re in the habit of standing under the hot water until your body turns to spaghetti, this strategy will a) drain the hot water out of the tank a lot faster, cutting short  your trip to nirvana, and b) run up your water bill. But if your main reason for taking a shower is to get clean, you can speed things along significantly by getting rid of the low-flow restrictor.

Newer low-flow toilets work better than the earlier models did, thank God. After I innocently replaced the toilets in my last house, little knowing that Home Depot and Lowe’s no longer carried toilets that worked, I ended up having to flush twice to get rid of urine and three or more times whenever anything more solid was deposited in the bowl. Two or three times a week, the toilet clogged and overflowed. I learned to be very quick at shutting off the water valve (but still sometimes had to clean up the mess off the floor!), and I got pretty good with the plunger, too. 

Finally I had to buy a special model that actually would flush, available through only one manufacturer at a cost of well over $300. Then I had to pay to have a plumber take out the “old” new toilet and replace it with the hugely overpriced gadget I’d been forced to purchase. This left me with two bathrooms and one functional toilet. I made up  my mind that I would never again replace a working toilet for decorative reasons. I even started to watch the alleys for discarded old toilets, planning to grab the first complete, unbroken one I found and stash it for future use. I also planned to take the take the functional model with me when I moved.

And that’s exactly what I would have done, had toilets not been somewhat improved. They’re still not great, but at least they work most of the time. Again: if a plumbing device saves 1/3 on water use (as low-flow toilets are said to do) but you have to operate it three times as much to make it work, how does it save anything?

What a rogue!

Am I alone in the universe? What do you think of as “green” irrationality?

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MLR May 12, 2009 at 1:05 pm

Lol, the roundup made me laugh. I guess I feel honored to be one of your irrational picks!

But, I don’t know how you shower, but I have never had to stay in the shower an extra long time. I could see that happening if I used a handful of shampoo or something… but… meh. I think the shower heads work fine, otherwise I wouldn’t sing their praises!

It did take me a week to get used to not having the feeling of hot water piercing through my back, though.

And as far as your toilet usage goes… get yourself checked out! That’s unnatural. If people in Europe don’t have problems (and their toilets use A LOT less water… I know from experience), why should we?

Think of it this way: If you could get yourself to the point where you could use a low-flow toilet effectively… you are probably healthier for whatever you did to get to that point.

funny May 12, 2009 at 2:07 pm

@ MLR: Actually, I loved your post. It was very interesting.

How long a woman showers depends on how long her hair is. My hair used to come about halfway down to my waist. It’s very thick and full, the sort of thing that attracts joyful attention from upscale stylists. If I lived anywhere other than the low desert, it would take over two days for my hair to dry without help from a hair dryer — I know, because this was my experience in San Francisco and in Tahiti. Look around, and you’ll see lots of women with hair halfway down their backs.

Long hair of this nature needs to be shampooed thoroughly every couple of days, and, because it’s been growing for several years and so has many split ends, it needs to be treated with high-quality commercial hair conditioner after every shampoo and with a hot oil treatment about once every month or two. Getting this stuff, especially shampoo (!!!), out of your hair can be a chore. Hard water makes it more difficult; you need to use vinegar or lemon juice to dislodge all the detergent residue. Fail to rinse all the shampoo out, and you get lackluster, even sticky hair. Fail to rinse all the hair conditioner out, and the result will be limp, oily-looking hair, far from the handsome-dude-attracting lure you hope to have flowing from your head.

As for my bowel habits, my dear: if you’re that constipated, maybe you’re the one who needs a checkup. Hee heeeee!!! Did you actually read this before hitting “submit reply”? Naaaahhhhh….. Maybe neither one of is is reading this stuff. ;-)

Carol in Philly May 12, 2009 at 2:43 pm

I, too, am a fan of Roundup. I use it on the moss that grows between my patio bricks. I use a small pump-up type of sprayer, set the wand attachment to a stream rather than a spray, and make sure I don’t pick a windy day! Once a year usually does it for the entire summer.

Patty May 12, 2009 at 2:56 pm

Weeds? I have the squirrel from hell destroying my vegetables. ALL my tomatoes that were ripe and most of the green ones are history. Grrr. I’m considering horrible ways to rid myself of the pest.

MLR May 12, 2009 at 3:17 pm

The amount of work you have to put into your hair makes my head spin.

I am so glad to be a man (have short hair).

I stand corrected on that front, perhaps you would be better suited with a fire hydrant as a shower head and an oven as a dryer :p

I read it, I love your style. ;)

funny May 12, 2009 at 4:13 pm

@ Patty: How about a large, slightly underfed cat?

@ MLR: Fire hydrant! Good idea…there’s one in the front yard, come to think of it. Now all I need is a good-sized wrench…. :-D

Chance May 13, 2009 at 2:18 am

I wouldn’t be opposed to minor use of Round-up on non-food areas myself, I’m not a purist. But I don’t use it because I changed my philosophy. My approach is to whack them down once in a while with the machete as best I can and we have a messy, untidy yard. And yes, I eat a lot of the weeds that grow on the lawn. It is commercial use of RoundUp that I object to and the genetic modification of vegetable seeds to be “roundup ready” that scares me. I don’t think the homeowner application of round-up is the problem at all.

I still can’t break my California drought shower habits (run shower for a minute, turn it off, soap and shampoo, turn it back on, rinse rapidly, turn off, apply conditioner, turn on and rinse again).

I see it as a choice to have a long subpar shower with a low flow, or a steaming hot, full blast short shower. For me, being green is just a series of habit modifications, not new gadgets necessarily. Low flow showerheads just don’t really work for me. I don’t know about the toilets, never been tempted to replace mine. We save water in other areas, like not running the water when brushing teeth, the whole flush three times for solids is too weird. Interesting post, thanks.

funny May 13, 2009 at 5:46 am

@ Roomfarm: True…I don’t put the stuff anywhere near the food garden. One of the beauties of xeriscape is that when no water gets on it, precious few weeds grow in it. Although, as we’ve seen at Dave’s Used Car Lot, Marina, and Weed Arboretum, a neglected xeriscape can turn into quite a mess. Hereabouts, I think, dandelions and purslane are the most edible weeds that grow in the city–a number of native plants more common in the desert are edible, but I wouldn’t take a chance on my own expertise.

Where it gets as hot as it does here, a person with a private backyard can use the hose to shower. I find this more satisfying than the shower, because a) you don’t end up having to clean a shower stall from top to bottom every time you bathe; b) that cool water is mighty refreshing on a 110-degree day; and c) because you have to put the hose down to soap your hair and body, you just naturally turn off the spigot to do so.

Glad to see you back! Did you survive the end-of-semester crush intact?

threadbndr May 15, 2009 at 10:54 am

THANK you for the Roundup tip! I know what I’m doing this weekend!

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