Eco-Conscious, Green Consumer, Plants and Gardening

When Life Hands You Lemons, Make a Safe Weedkiller

That’s what the folks at Nature’s Avenger Organic Herbicide did. I know, because Stephanie sent me a bottle to try and I have to say that I’m impressed. Not that I hate weeds or use a lot of herbicide, but there are some places – like in front of our garage door – where the dandelions and sow thistles are starting to take over. Even better, Geekdaddy got a chance to use something with a name that sounds like it belongs to a superhero without me yelling at him for destroying the environment. (He belongs to the school that thinks that if a product isn’t toxic, dangerous, flammable, glowing in the dark and able to render you unconscious when used in enclosed spaces, it won’t work.)

Nature’s Avenger’s most active ingredient is d-Limonene which is citrus oil from lemons and other citrus fruit. You may have noticed it in your shampoo (Aubrey makes a great one with Shea Butter) where it leaves your hair squeaky clean without drying it out. It’s also in pet shampoos to help with fleas and odor, and in cleaning products and detergents as a degreasing agent. It works on weeds by stripping away their waxy cuticle and dehydrating them.

What I find amazing about Nature’s Avenger Herbicide is how fast it works and how easy it is to use. Stephanie and the instruction booklet emphasized that it has to be shaken just before use, so Geekdaddy shook it up well. He reports that the spray nozzle on the bottle is very well made, unlike a lot of sprayers that practically sprain your wrist after a few sprays. You just spray it until the plant is covered, which is easy to tell because Nature’s Avenger forms a white emulsion.

The product brochure says that it takes an hour or two for most plants, although some large stubborn weeds may need a second application. The geek said it worked even faster than that on narrow-leaved weeds and, yes, the huge, mutant dandelions that tower over our walkway took two applications, but they ARE the weeds that laugh at weed whackers and the kids have reported hearing “Fee-fi-fo-fum” in that area.

The brochure also says that you can plant where you’ve used Nature’s Avenger in four hours or so, which I find remarkable. I’m a skeptic though, so I waited four and a half hours and planted some pansies. That was two days ago and they’re still looking very healthy. Grass is starting to come up where the dandelions were and the dandelions haven’t come back, so the taproot must have been killed.

I think this is an excellent product, because it could knock other toxic herbicides out of the market. It’s gotten lots of press and was even used when the EPA and National Park Service de-weeded and then replanted the National Mall in Washington, DC. The Discovery Channel’s News featured it in an interview with Paul Tukey of SafeLawns.org, as I mentioned in a previous article, which is where Stephanie noticed it and offered to let me try a sample.

So, if you think that the only effective way to kill weeds is with Roundup or other chemical herbicides made from synthetic chemicals such as glyphosate, you might want to read about glyphosate’s alarming effects on humans here and turn to the only natural organic herbicide that works in two hours or less and is completely non-toxic to humans.

One last note: My favorite weedkiller, up until now, has been vinegar or boiling water poured full strength on them. However, the vinegar didn’t work very well, even with several applications and the boiling water splashed my foot and gave me a nasty burn. I was thinking of getting some so-called “natural vinegar” herbicide, but I’m glad I didn’t.

The stuff is 20% Food Grade Vinegar (Acetic Acid), so wouldn’t you think it’d be safe? Turns out that any concentration of acetic acid over 11% can cause serious burns and even blindness if you splash yourself with it, as I am so prone to do when I pour anything from coffee to wine. Worse, Acetic Acid at high concentrations is extremely flammable, so storing it in the garage may not be such a hot idea, no pun intended.

Then there are the “soapy” herbicides, which are fatty acids and don’t work well unless the fatty acid is synthetic, expensive and not-organic. Corn gluten works so-so if you spread it before the weeds show up, but it attracted mold and our Black Lab, Jetta, who ate enough of it to have digestive problems.

That’s why I’ll be sneaking up on a dandelion this afternoon with the spray bottle of Nature’s Avenger in hand. I love the bright little yellow flowers and will let them have our four acres of fields around the house, as long as they share it with the other wildflowers. But when they get to the point where the car can’t get into the garage for weeds, it’s time for them to go. Thanks, Stephanie.

Plants and Gardening

Put Pep In Your Peppers and Perk Up Your Life

Eating better is a lot easier if you have a garden to provide fresh veggies. But if you’re like me and kind of jaded after gardening for many years, maybe it’s time for a garden makeover. One way to do that is with novel gardening techniques.

You’ve seen those upside-down tomato growing devices on TV. In spite of my aversion to infomercials, I have to say that I was fascinated the first time I saw one of them. However, I still have more common sense than money, so I searched the Net for homemade versions.

Here’s a link to a great site that will tell you everything you need to know to create your own gravity-defying tomato, pepper or herb plants. I’m planning to try strawberries, tomatoes, herbs and small cucumbers in mine, but I think they’d work with almost any fruit or veggie that isn’t too heavy.

If you try them, let me know how they work for you. Send photos.

If upside-down gardening doesn’t ring your bell, let me know that too. And if you can think of any novel gardening techniques that can revive longtime gardeners’ interest in digging and delving, I’m all ears.

Plants and Gardening

How To Transplant Native Plants

If you have a spot in your garden or yard that has about the same conditions as their original location, you may be able to transplant native plants. However, before you dig up that wild orchid or flowering ground cover, make sure that the plants aren’t on the endangered species list. Your local University Extension Service can help you determine that and they can also help you with planting tips for the native plants in your area. You should also make sure that you have permission from the landowner if the plant isn’t on your property.

Even if the plants you’re interested in aren’t rare or endangered, it’s best to make sure that there are enough plants of that type before you remove any. If there are only one or two, perhaps it would be better to choose another type of plant or check with local nurseries to see if they have any.

The next thing you need to do is make sure that the spot you’re transplanting to duplicates as closely as possible the setting the plant is in. If it’s growing in a high and dry woodland setting, don’t try to set it out in the full sun or in a spot with poor drainage. Consider how much sunlight it gets, how windy it is, how much rain it gets and what kind of soil it’s growing in. Is the soil acid or alkaline? Clay or sandy?

Preparation is everything when transplanting anything, but never more so than when the plant is growing in the wild. If possible, prepare the plant months before you actually move it. For most plants, this means getting the roots ready for transplanting by pruning them with a sharp spade so that they’ll form a compact root ball. This stimulates new root growth at the cut edges, with the biggest growth taking place about six inches out from the edges.

Then, when the plant becomes dormant in the fall and you dig it up, be sure that you take as much soil as possible beyond the new roots. I’ve had very good success with transplanting native plants, and I think it’s because I always go way overboard with the amount of soil I take with each plant. I don’t dig down deeply, but I do take about four times the circumference of the root ball in soil. A cardboard box can be handy to set the plant into to transport it to its new location.

After you dig up the plant, prepare the new location by digging a hole not quite as deep as the one the plant came out of, and as wide as the clump of soil you’ve taken with the plant. Put some of the soil that you dug up with the plant into the bottom of the hole and as you plant, intersperse the new soil with the soil that the plant came with. This will reduce planting shock and help the plant settle into its new home.

It’s best not to plant native plants too deeply, but you should firm the soil around them and stake them if necessary, to support them and so that you’ll remember where they are as the seasons progress and won’t step on them by accident. Fertilizer isn’t required, but mulch should be applied around them to conserve water and simulate their natural environment. Water, of course, as you would any transplant, but don’t overwater. Check the soil to see if it’s dry before watering and water deeply enough to soak the ground but not enough to saturate the plant.

With some effort, native plants can add a special, natural touch to your yard or garden. With the right planting method and some tender loving care in the beginning, they’ll give you many years of trouble-free beauty

In the News, Plants and Gardening

I Always Knew Clean Living Was Bad For Us

If, like most people nowadays, you’re terribly concerned with keeping yourself and your kids completely germ-free at all times, you may want to reconsider. I’ve just read about some recent scientific discoveries that shore up my belief that cleanliness isn’t next to godliness, after all.

Here are some of the interesting stories I came across as I ankled across the internet doing research on the relationship between how healthy we are and how clean we are.

Helminthic therapy, or treatment with worms that are usually considered parasitic, is not something most of us would want to contemplate. However, it’s already being tried on autoimmune diseases, autism, MS, IBS and asthma.

Researchers are also interested in how it might affect inflammation in the body, even when there’s no obvious disease causing it. Patients are injected with worm ova at intervals, depending on the type of helminth involved and its lifespan. Reportedly, there is a high rate of improvement in some diseases, compared to conventional therapies, although there are side effects, sometimes severe ones.

I would think that the biggest hurdle would be just getting people to consider the idea of being injected with parasites that mankind has spent most of its history trying to eradicate, but I suppose if you’re sick enough, you can endure anything that promises a chance at a normal life. That is, if you can call hosting parasites for a few months to a few years normal.

Not quite as radical as the worm therapy,  getting dirty is looking like the way to go if you want to be healthy. Scientists have discovered that there’s a bacteria in the soil that encourages the human body to make serotonin. This little Prozac mimic also seems to be connected to a bacteria that causes tuberculosis, but further research is needed to determine the connection.

For now, researchers are working on whether the organism will be of use in fighting Depression. I’d say it might explain why those of us who garden always feel better after we dig around in the dirt for awhile, wouldn’t you?

And now, unfortunately, I have to report that although leech therapy is still hanging in there,  maggot therapy turns out to be slightly less successful than it first appeared to be. I know I was pretty chuffed about it, but we’ll all have to ramp down our expectations a little. While it does help somewhat at debriding, it’s not all that great at the healing part. Still, what can you expect from the larval stage of a fly anyhow?

Eco-Conscious, Plants and Gardening

Digging Up Dirt At the White House

I was really chuffed recently to read that there will be a vegetable garden at the White House this spring. The Obamas want to grow food for their kitchen and provide a good example, especially to kids. As a matter of fact, a nearby class will be participating in the project. Students from Bancroft Elementary School will be on hand today as the First Lady breaks ground for the garden on the south lawn of the White House grounds.

One person who is really excited about the garden is Alice Waters of Chez Panisse Restaurant in California, where she’s been serving and lobbying for local food for decades. As a matter of fact, she’s also been lobbying in Washington since 1992 for a White House garden with a series of fund raisers where local, organic and natural food was on the menu to showcase its benefits.

Ms. Waters also supports something that could change the educational system in this country: sustainable, edible schoolyards. Instead of the blacktop that surrounds so many schools, how about gardens where children – and teachers – can raise their own food instead of the current bland, processed institutional food cafeterias serve? It would also get kids out of the classroom and into the fresh air and sunshine, which would boost their moods and probably their test scores.

One other piece of news I read this week, although it’s old news, reinforces this idea of gardening in schoolyards and backyards. I came across something I had read a long time ago but forgotten. Soil contains beneficial bacteria that actually make you feel good when you get it on your skin. Yup. Far from being a bad thing, getting down and dirty in the garden raises your serotonin levels and gives you that “feel-good” feeling. Who knew?

Well, to tell you the truth, I knew. Until I read about the bacteria, I didn’t know why gardening without gloves made me feel relaxed and happy, but I knew that I felt better, slept better and smiled more starting on the day I began to prepare my garden for spring planting.

So, let’s hope the Obamas and their children actually grub around in the dirt, rather than leaving the gardening to the White House groundkeepers. Along with eating the first tomato or radish, gardening’s bacterial benefits could go a long way toward counteracting the stress of the next four years for them.