Herbicides & Pesticides

Occasionally I get questions on the lines of “I’ve been given some chemical by a friend or farmer and don’t know how to use it” Today I had another on similar lines so I thought I’d share my thoughts with everyone on the subject.

I’m not an organic gardener, to me the concept has a lot of merit but there are times when it makes sense to take advantage of the benefits of science. That doesn’t mean I believe in chucking chemicals around like a banker with his bonus. I’m very, very cautious about pesticides and only use herbicides with good reason.

Some things, like clearing a patch of land or dealing with perennial weeds can be tackled organically but a glyphosate spray is cheap, effective and – in my opinion – safe.  I’ve seen people defeated by weeds give up their allotment because they want to be organic and won’t use a spray. Surely they’d have been better to spray once and then become organic!

However, back to gifts of herbicides and pesticides.

The first thing to remember is that chemicals can be very dangerous. Many chemicals are only available to licensed operators who have taken a course in the safe handling and use of them.

Some chemicals (most?) are dangerous if swallowed and some can get into your bloodstream if they merely land on your skin. Don’t forget that nerve gas was developed from pesticides and tiny amounts can kill. That’s why you see people in those protective suits and gas masks.

Chemicals are usually supplied in concentrated form and it’s critical that they are diluted properly before use. It’s also important that they are applied at the right dosage. Too little will be ineffective and too much is at best a waste of money. Too much can also result in the chemical remaining for longer in the soil or plant for longer than it should.

Even glyphosate, which is relatively safe and available to gardeners, needs to be handled correctly. It’s also available in different strengths which will require different dilutions. So you need to know exactly what you are dealing with. Farmers often buy much higher strengths than gardeners, designed to be diluted in large tanks and sprayed on fields.

All this leads to the next point – residues. I’ve written an article on the subject which covers residues – pesticide residues so I’ll point you to that rather than repeat myself.

Don’t forget that these gift chemicals are rarely in the original container. Even assuming the chemical is what you’ve been told (mistakes can happen even with the most well meaning donor) you need to get hold of the fact sheet that relates to the exact brand and variety of the chemical.

Finally, it’s much rarer now but in years past there were frequent cases of children being poisoned because they took a swig from the lemonade bottle in the garden shed that was full of weedkiller.

There’s no point in me saying not to accept gift chemicals or use them, people will do it. But please ensure you know exactly what you have and how to use it. I’m pretty much against the health and safety culture but you do need to use your head with these things. Just think, are you be happy with untrained and unlicensed drivers sharing the road?

Posted in Pests & problems
2 comments on “Herbicides & Pesticides
  1. Andy Mahoney says:

    Good old health & safety killed the construction industry back in the early 90’s. I always remember as an apprentice having to put on a set of gloves, overalls, hard had, ear defenders and goggles to drill a piece of metal trunking! You could not hear the drill biting, you could not move the trunking around due to the gloves, you banged your head on the RSJ’s because your sense of where your head starts is all wrong due to the hard hat and your goggles steamed up so you were blind!

    How is that safe?

    On topic I prefer the Hoe and good old sweat and tears to get rid of the weeds in lieu of chemicals since the hard work is free!

  2. shallotman says:

    May I say how much I enjoy the articles and the letters, wishing you all a merry Xmas and a good growing year in 2012.

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