Monday, 30 July 2012

Batting for glyphosate


Top gardeners have a dirty little secret. Many of them will tell you that they don’t use herbicides. They then add in a low voice, “Of course, I used Roundup to get rid of the perennial weeds first.”
On the contrary, I am proud to use glyphosate. Here are ten reasons why.
1  As a weedkiller, it’s safe to use and does no harm to wildlife.
2  It leaves no residues in the ground.
3  It is translocated in plants and ‘reaches the parts others can’t reach’. It does not just kill the top.
4  When used to clear weedy ground, all the organic matter and nutrients in the dead weeds go back into the ground. There is no wastage of organic material by burning or dumping in the dreaded wheelie bin. (Believe me, you would be horrified where it actually goes!)
5  Although it will take a year and more to clear a weedy plot, the actual work you do is minimal.
6  Often the soil structure of a weedy new plot has benefited by years of plant growth. Why destroy this structure by digging?
7  Gardeners who have omitted to eliminate perennial weeds such as couch, ground elder and bindweed, continue forking it out for ever more. 
8  Where there are no perennial weeds, weed control is so easy.
9  It facilitates minimum cultivation systems, which preserve soil organic matter, worms and soil life.
10  When used to enable zero cultivation, its effects become more interesting. You might not like the liverwort and moss, but as a habitat for wildlife at the bottom of the food chain, they are superb.

An added bonus for me - liverwort and pearlwort stabilise the walls of my ponds. Here, an orchid has been able to self seed in my liverwort encrusted soil.
And I have not even mentioned preserving the world’s organic matter or global warming.
I have recently been reading a republished book, The Living Soil, written by that much loved pioneer of organic farming, Lady Eve Balfour. I think that, if glyphosate had existed in her time, she would have embraced it.


20 comments:

  1. I hope you are getting your commission from Monsanto or whoever now owns the brand (oh for the days of Murphy Chemicals). More seriously, I agree with you about the benefits of eliminating perennial weeds without digging - how did Dr Sherwell-Cooper do it all those years ago at Arkley?

    The only cloud on the horizon appears to be in research suggesting that aquatic organisms are more affected by Glyphosate than terrestial ones - how do you combat that?

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    1. Thats a nice curve ball Chris! A glib answer might be that everywhere I walk in my garden I see a frog and I have unwittingly created a wonderful habitat for crested newts!
      I think your question becomes relevant with large scale aquatic weed control where some formulations of glyphosate have wetting agents that might be harmful. And indeed glyphosate itself may have some toxicity. I would argue that a land manager has many tools at his disposal and whether it be his sprayer, his plough, hedge cutter or even his land drain, depending how they are used it may be for good or bad for the environment. As to possible harm to fish, there are shades here of the old derris dust much beloved of organic gardeners in the past, which was acutely toxic to fish and had never to be sprayed near water.

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  2. I always use Roundup on my allotment. It is the only way to control perennial weeds - unless you are a full time gardener with hours to spare! As a keen wildlife gardener, I have read both sides of the debate, bearing in mind that most of the studies are performed within agriculture, not gardening! At the end of the day though, results speak for themselves - my allotment pond is heaving with frogs and toads, and there are more than enough worms to keep my soil healthy AND provide the hens with snacks!

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  3. Helen Borthwick31 July 2012 at 13:24

    I think there is a big difference between spraying copious amounts of pesticide on farm fields that are already over-stressed, deep-ploughed and nutrient poor, and controlling garden weeds with Roundup! The critics always seem to overlook this fact!

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  4. Roy Sinclair, Snettisham31 July 2012 at 13:52

    We have always used glyphosate to control ragwort, yet our many ditches have never suffered for it. They have a thriving water vole population, as well as plenty of amphibians and water insects. In fact, like previous posters, I have never heard of glyphosate affecting wildlife and amphibians in REAL life. I suspect that, just like a knife in the hands of a maniac as opposed to a butcher, weedkillers are as safe as the person using them. We certainly wouldn't go out of our way to spray the stuff into the waterways.

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    1. A little common sense goes an awfully long way!

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    2. Thanks for the support all four of you (and thanks to Chris for his perceptive question.)
      I sometimes wrongly get the idea the world is against me!

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    3. Doesn't spraying it near watercourses add to the risk of endangering the waterways?!!

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    4. As far as my own spraying is concerned I am nowhere near moving water -but even if I were, my dilute safe spray splashing into a stream, the rate of dilution would be fantastic, as Americans would say 'do the math'.
      As to professional weed control of aquatic weeds glyphosate is rather good at killing bulrushes and the like.Are not waterways endangered by being clogged up with unwanted weed and where mechanical control is used, not only is it labour and energy intensive,it is also pretty crude as far as wildlife is concerned.
      We live a mile or so from the beautiful Pocklington canal and where it is overgrown it is very pretty but the canal boat cannot pass.(and yes volunteers, bless them, have cleared sections. I don't expect they used glyphosate)

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  5. It would indeed be interesting to know what Lady Eve would have made of much of today's farming and gardening methods. We can all only imagine her thoughts based on our own prejudices, whichever side of the argument they are.

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  6. If there were a prize for the most insightful comment you would win it!

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  7. Is glyphsophate safe that is the question. Mistakes have been made in the past, remember DDT. See Alan Titchmarsh, Gardeners World Magazine September edition 2013 as this chemical has been turning up in human urine samples over much of the world.

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    1. Yes DDT was present in animal fat all over the globe forty years ago. It saved millions of lives at the time in locust and malaria control and yet you would find it difficult to find any human deaths or even sickness due to it. The much hyped problems with bird fertility were more caused by other organo-chlorides used at the time. Yes the chemical has had it's day but it was not as harmful as portrayed.
      It is a huge and important topic anon - too large to enter a debate here, but I probably will in a future post

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  8. Thank you Monsanto for this comment. Real world to be found elsewhere.

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    1. I detect you are not a fan of Monsanto, Peter
      Just because one might have reservations about a company does not mean their product is bad. If I let my reservations about immoral big industry influence me I would buy nothing!

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  9. Well you can always get a generic product if you want to boycott the big M. One thing you didn't mention, Roger, is that its detractors (glyphosate's, not Monsanto's) have claimed that it inhibits certain microbial functions. However, as microbes (presumably different ones) break the stuff down completely, this can hardly be a total disaster. Anyway, I've never heard of a compost heap seizing up as result, though I do avoid using it where I'm trying to grow mushrooms, just in case. :) Meanwhile the poisoned and hoed-off weeds will be left to rot in situ, just as you say, and I can now refer to "the experts" in the event of any complaint from the Memsaab. :)

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  10. sorry about the delay in replying Derek, I have been away on holiday!
    Although microbes are not insignificant in having a healthy soil, their populations often differ by orders of magnitude depending for example if the soil is wet or dry, hot or cold, well aerated or waterlogged and just about anything else you care to mention. I cannot believe that laboratory studies showing that direct contact with glyphosate might effect certain microbes has any horticultural significance what so ever!
    Memsaab might consider your expert is a busted flush. Don't take much notice of so called experts!

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    1. ps. of course the effect of those microbes that beneficially break down glyphosate in the soil are of huge significance!

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  11. I've just taken over an allotment 3ft high in jaggy nettles and researching the best way to get rid of them. All the sites so far recommend glyphosate/glyphogen which I will use but can I strim some of the foliage back first

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  12. No no no, spray FIRST Catherine. You need the leaves to drink up the weed killer!
    Now is an excellent time to spray the undisturbed vegetation for maximal effect



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