Kill the weeds without killing the earth

Posted on: 10th September, 2018

Category: Home & Garden

Contributor: West Cork People

Noah Chase studied horticulture at the Eden Project in Cornwall, England. He now co-manages a family run nursery, Deelish Garden Centre in Skibbereen, specialising in rare, unusual and edible plants. His passion is sustainable gardening, useful plants and care of the environment.

Recently here at Deelish Garden Centre there have been a lot of conversations about the high profile Monsanto case in America. I decided to do a little research of my own to understand the current situation, below is a brief summary of my own findings.

On August 10, a jury in California awarded Dewayne Johnson $289 million in damages from Monsanto due to its widely used weed killer Roundup having caused his cancer. Johnson applied large volumes of the herbicide to school grounds in San Francisco and sometimes became covered in the product due to windy conditions.

This is the first of over 5000 lawsuits against Monsanto and is a landmark case, as the jury members agreed that Roundup should of been labelled as hazardous. Monsanto states that the trial doesn’t alter “the four-plus decades of safe use and science behind the product”. Monsanto will be appealing the verdict with an army of lawyers and many more trials and reports all funded from their huge reserves of profits over the decades!

Monsanto was sold to German pharmaceutical company Bayer in June for $66billion. Between two to three per cent of its earnings are from Roundup, a much larger undisclosed amount is made from its genetically engineered, Roundup-resistant seeds. As of August 23, Bayer’s stocks had fallen by 18 per cent.

Two years ago a UN sponsored study found glyphosate (the main active ingredient in Roundup, and invented by Monsanto) probably causes cancer. The findings from the International Agency for Research on Cancer caused Monsanto to launch a massive campaign to discredit the IARCs findings.

Recently released email communications from the Freedom of Information Act show that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was working closely with Monsanto to stall and rewrite toxicology reviews on glyphosate. It has also been revealed that Monsanto wrote their own research and paid top scientists to edit and sign the papers to get them published in respected journals.

So the truth is finally starting to seep out after over four decades of use. Gardeners only use a small proportion of the global sales of Roundup worldwide. The main consumers are commercial food and textile producers, often used with the new generation of Roundup ready Genetically Modified produced seeds. These crops have a terminator gene in them, meaning farmers need to purchase them (and the Round up to spray them) each year from Monsanto as second generation seeds are claimed to be sterile. There is now evidence that these seeds are starting to cross breed with natural food. For example, in Canada farmers are now finding it impossible to grow non-genetically engineered Canola as the natural seeds have been contaminated.

Keen to increase sales, Monsanto encouraged farmers to use roundup as a desiccant, or to dry out crops before harvest. In effect most wheat, barley, oats, soybeans, sugar cane, potatoes and many more crops are sprayed with roundup before harvest. There are now traces of glyphosate in most humans on the earth, as well in the food we eat and the water we drink. In 1994, 56 million kilograms of Roundup was used worldwide. In 2014, 826 million kilograms was used! The amount consumed annually is only going up despite the huge amount of evidence linking it to many health conditions including; ADHD, Alzheimer’s and Autism (that’s just the conditions listed under ‘A’). There are many more links to other conditions, but I would need another few pages to list them!

Here in Ireland, farmers are encouraged to use glyphosate, and banning it would be ‘armageddon’ for cereal production according to the IFA. However many countries have issued outright bans or restrictions on the use of glyphosate. In 2016 a poll of the five largest EU countries saw 66 per cent favouring an outright ban of Glyphosate. In 2017, EU states narrowly voted to relicense glyphosate for five years. France and Italy have stated they will ban it by 2020 and Germany plans to have a ban in place this year. Portugal prohibits the use of glyphosate in all public spaces and is calling for a worldwide ban.

While researching this article there was one point everyone agreed on, and that was that Roundup will kill (weeds)! However there are natural gardening practices that will also get rid of weeds. Here are a few tried and tested methods;

Probably the best way to control weeds is the age-old classic of hand weeding but on a large area, this can take quite some time and patience!

Here at Deelish we don’t use harmful glyphosate-based weed killers (or those based on other synthetic chemicals). We’ve trialed several strong vinegar mixes with great results; the weeds were affected the fastest and most completely with full strength vinegar and soap. But you should be aware that vinegar lowers the pH of the soil, making it more acidic.

Homemade weed killer recipe


• 1 litre strong white vinegar

• 3 large tablespoons salt

• 3 teaspoons natural washing up liquid


• Mix the salt and vinegar until the salt is dissolved

• Add the washing up liquid and stir well.

To use:

Add to sprayer and apply on a sunny day at midday.

For deeprooted weeds a second application may be needed.

We also stock Neudorff weed killer, which is biodegradable (meaning it’s capable of being decomposed in the soil by bacteria or other living organisms and thereby avoiding pollution). The active ingredients are pelargonic acid, which occurs naturally in Pelargoniums and maleic hydrazide.

The application of direct heat to the foliage of weeds will cause the plants to immediately wilt, and repeated applications will kill any leaves that may sprout again from the roots. Flame weed killers are good for this but can be costly to use on a large area.

Using boiling water is an effective method for killing weeds in small areas such as sidewalk or driveway cracks, or over a larger area that you’d like to replant after the weeds are gone, as it doesn’t leave any residue or have any harmful long-term effects.

For paths and drives, we’ve found de-icing salt (sold in 25kg sacks) very effective when spread on a hot day directly on weeds and in situations where you don’t want new plants to germinate. Don’t use salt where you want to grow other plants – but on pathways and driveways it’s great.

Weed and Feed lawn mixtures generally contain harmful herbicides; many of which have already been banned in many countries. Regular mowing will control most annual weeds; however, it’s ultimately not very sustainable as an hour of mowing emits as many VOCs and NOx – key precursors to smog – as a typical car driven 45 miles. Tougher perennial weeds such as docks and dandelions can be manually removed (Fruithill Farm supplies a fantastic old style dock digger for larger roots) or removed by one of the methods mentioned above.

As gardeners and farmers, I feel it is up to us to care for the land we are looking after. This is also true regarding what we add to the land and plants over the growing seasons. It is up to us to make sure it is in a healthy condition for us and the following generations to enjoy. Gardening doesn’t have to cost the earth!


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