Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Alternative & Organic Weed/Bug Weapons We've Actually Tried.

Winter. Time to reflect and evaluate last year's experiments, and make resolutions for next year.

Or have a glass of wine and read books.

The internet is rife with recipes and how-tos full of bright, brief, smiling clip-art, hopeful solutions to our worst little life annoyances.

More annoying is how often this are copies of copies of copies and chain-mail click-bait, confirmed and yes-nodded and reproduced and celebrated, and I swear they are rarely tried. Weed recipes are no exception- we pass along all kinds of neat-sounding recipes we've heard and read on the net.

But we at Paintbrush have been trying a few.  The nice thing about nice clients is that they will let you experiment.

Here are our real experiences with alternative weed and bug sprays.

1. Soap.
The world's finest contact pesticide (my opinion here) is soap-of-castile, known to most as "Dr. Bronner's."  It was introduced to me by Bob Nold, of Penstemon fame.  Contact pesticides simply must touch the animal to work.

This is to be known about it:
-Deadly to ants, earwigs, and aphids, my main foes.
-It is mixed and sprayed out of a hand-held spray bottle.
-Too weak/diluted will not work well, go with 2 tbsp to the quart of water or so.
-It seems to loose efficacy if the mix gets old.
-Bugs die in seconds- much quicker than those wild chemical wasp-bazooka or Cockroach-burning sprays.
-It kills insects, not necessarily Slugs/snails (mollusks) and definitely not Pillbugs/Sowbugs/Roly-Polys. (Crustaceans).  I have not tried it on spiders, because spiders are helping me out, eh?
-Devastating to indoor Scale-bugs. (re-treat at intervals to break life-cycles)
-Doesn't seem to effect Mealybug (but rubbing alcohol sure does-eating through their powdered wax)
-Safe.  Wet, it is obviously harmless to people/pets.  Once dry, it is harmless to bees and other friends.
-It is very alkaline/basic, meaning do not mix it with anything which is meant to be acidic- it will counteract it.  It lit up my pH test paper like that blue girl in Willy Wonka.


While doing a talk in Aspen, I met a gent who works for the city up there.  He said he uses vinegar for weeds in pavement cracks.  Pure white vinegar, nothing else.  It set me on a summer jag of testing.  I am not rich enough to try horticultural vinegar, which is much stronger.

Indeed, the best use of pure vinegar is on tender little, but unreachable little, plants in cracks like dandelions.  It is particularly effective against them when young.  Fuzzy and waxy leaves will repel it unless you use a surfactant.

But on Kocia, or Tumbleweed, very common here in Western Colorado, the fuzzy leaves repel the vinegar.  The above plant was sprayed with vinegar with surfactant (Soap which will make the vinegar wetter but not kill its acidity as normal soap might have.)

Even re-treated, vinegar on Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila), a great foe in Grand Junction, only abuses.  It did not kill.  

It was useless against Bermuda grass, no matter how I tried it.
Still looking for a use beyond the weeds in cracks.

3. Boiling water

My co-worker and good buddy Julie swears by this. She has a previously-empty house where weeds reigned without challenge.
 Now she's winning.

She notes "The one problem with it is that it's time intensive." (You've got to find something to do while your next batch of water heats up.  We recommend laundry, throwing a ball for the dogs, or Black Books. )

"It's Julie-Approved!"

Goathead/Puncturevine/Tribulus terrestris  is a particular foe near the rock-pile, since she has dogs. Sometimes you get tired of pulling it up: here it is after a boiling-water splash.

Julie has noticed that the "dead zone" persists, quite remarkably.  We wonder if it is killing surface seeds in addition to not disturbing the soil, which would encourage new germination.

4. Diatomaceous earth.
It's a dust made of fossil sea life, which becomes harmless clay when wet.  Use a feather duster to make rings or circles around tender plants, because for wee things, it's like walking through a great pile of broken glass.  A nice mental image when you are &%$#ed about your eaten carrot seedlings.

-Another insect (& other) killer.
-They must walk through it
-Pillbugs yawn at it.
-Wetting from rain/water renders it inactive thereafter.  {This rainy year has been annoying.}
-Harmless as dirt.  Wait.  It is dirt.

Lastly, What didn't work:
-Cayenne Pepper, Black Pepper, garlic powder, strong mint tea. (against ants)  "Epic Fail."
-Newspaper (against perennial weeds).  Several layers suppressed bindweed for.... several days.  However, newspaper under woodchips/gravel works great against any other weed as seed, or weaker perennials than bindweed!

Please share any tried alternatives you use.  Until then,

Happy New Year 
defending the sanctity of your desert garden.


Susan in the Pink Hat said...

Count me skeptical of "organic" pesticides, home-brewed ones in particular, as there is scant science on its side. Granted, Monsanto and other agri-giants are not entirely forthright about their own concoctions. I just cry foul to "folk" remedies, regardless of to what they are applied. Show me the randomized trials, baby. In my own garden, bugs have not been an issue. For pesticide, I use a bag method and Round-up to maximize the effectiveness of the herbicide and to keep it from coming into contact with the rest of the garden environment as much as possible. I confess have tried white distilled vinegar, and it does explode those plant cells as well as any acid would. What we buy in the jugs is diluted already, though. I understand that horticultural vinegar is more concentrated, closer to 30% rather than the 5% in the culinary stuff that you buy at the store. There is a cleaning vinegar that Heinz sells now that has a concentration of 20%. I wonder how well that would do against bindweed. George Schenk used to break open alkaline batteries to acidulate his greenhouse water, so if you were really hardcore you could go that way.

Kenton J. Seth said...

We could use Heinz on Purslane. For eating, you know?

Trying so many has left me skeptical, too, of "folk remedies" as you put it, or at least tired of testing them so as to wade through the 95% which don't work. The folks who churn those out ought to understand they are hurting their own cause by setting up users for disappointment. But the soap kicks butt. Just wiped out some scale tonight which hitchhiked indoors on a Harrisia.

There was a nice article I just saw yesterday in Hort or Fine Gardening about folk remedies - what worked and didn't. A finer version of what I was getting at.

Just for you, Susan- the Bookstore picture is Ken Sanders.

James Porter said...

I don't much about organic farming, but I read about luring those bugs rather than killing them. Because those bug are also can be use to produce certain minerals that is beneficial to plants, that thing makes me imagine about cycle of life. Thanks with your post, it adds up random knowledge, especially interaction.