Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Bad Internet Advice I've Tested

Boy, you see lots of advice on the web. Sometimes it's not just advice, but definite how-to info....and plenty of it is dead wrong. Well at least that's what my tests have shown me. It goes to show you that I need to be careful about what I see on the Internet. But I also keep in mind that what might work in one location may not work in another. So if it works for you in your own garden, good for you! But these failures I'll be talking about just don't cut the mustard for my farm in Hawaii. 

.... No-Till
I've read plenty of ag articles over the past couple decades about commercial no-till methods. So I pretty well understand the technique as applied to large farms, the crops involved, the weed control, fertilizer, etc. But I've been reading about garden and homestead type folks doing no-till methods that don't emulate commercial no-till. These small folks are talking about planting right into sod, pasture, fallow fields, etc all without prepping the site in any way. They are claiming that they are successfully growing food crops this way. Sorry, I don't believe it. I was so highly skeptical of their claims that I wasn't willing to devote a large section of a garden to a no-till experiment. I need to grow food so didn't want to risk a mass failure. But I did try several different crops in several different locations. Guess what. 100% failure to thrive. Extremely poor success. Yes I got a few veggies, but it was really poor. I'd starve trying to grow my food this way. But I have had success with minimum till as long as the ground was initially well prepared. But the no-till that I'm seeing on the Internet which is literal no tilling, it just doesn't work for me for veggies.

...Household Vinegar as a Weedkiller
Everybody and their brother is claiming that they are using normal household vinegar (5%) to successfully kill all their weeds. This one sounded too good to be true, otherwise every farmer would be buying cheap vinegar instead of expensive herbicides. But I was willing to look into this one and give it a try. Well this one has a bit of truth in it, enough to fool some people. I did all sorts of experiments with vinegar because I was seeing a little something happening when I sprayed. After toying with this one for quite awhile, I've discovered that you can get some weed control under certain conditions. First of all, it's fairly expensive using vinegar compared to say, round-up. That's because you need to use a much stronger solution than household strength. The ag version of vinegar (20%) runs over $40 a gallon here and you need to use a lot of it and frequently. Next, you need to really wet the weed. No gentle spray or mist like with round-up. Plus you need to use it on a bright, dry, sunny day where you'll get several good solid hours of sun. And it does much better frying young tender weeds that older ones. Plus it doesn't do a great job on grass and certain other weeds. Grass control requires multiple spraying on different days. And it doesn't wet the leaves easily so you need to use a sticker with it. So my take on vinegar? It works to help knockdown the growth. It doesn't kill the root on older weeds. It's very expensive and time consuming. Only ag strength does the job. I do use ag vinegar mixed with lemon juice here on the homestead. My best results are with very young weeds and grasses only an inch or so tall, preferably in the cotyledon stage. 

...Milk to Stop Mildew
This is another one that I was suspicious of because if it worked, then all the farmers would be using it and dairies would be touting their waste milk as a fungicide. I've read that small growers are using a milky spray on plants showing signs of mildew as a mildew treatment. Recommended strength? Everything from a tablespoon to a gallon of water, to full strength, and everything in between. Some gardeners are claiming one spray does it. Others say once a week. Others say after every rain. Some say use sour milk, others say fresh is fine. Since mildew is a recurring problem here in Hawaii, I was willing to give it a go. I tried all sorts of combinations...sour, fresh, skim, whole, very diluted, not diluted. Truthfully, I think there was a little bit of control if I caught the mildew in the extremely early stage. While it didn't stop the mildew from eventually taking over, it seemed to slow it down. My best control was where I could remove the leaves that were starting to show mildew then spray the remaining plant. That seemed to delay the return of the mildew. But no amount of spraying or combinations totally knocked it out. I have one more experiment to try. If one of the squash plants shows mildew starting up then I plan to spray all the other susceptible plants in the garden to see if perchance the milk would act as a preventative. If that works at all, then I will give the milk a thumbs up. But for now, I'm not too sure. 

...___________ to Stop Slugs
Fill in the blank. I've seen coffee grounds, eggshells, wood ash, sharp sand. I've tried them all. None of them work. I've got the photos to prove it. 

...Water Crystrals
I have a dear friend who swears by water crystals. She loaded me up with a supply, so I decided to test them out. Honestly, I saw zero difference between beds with crystals and those without. The crystals didn't retain moisture any better nor did they change the wetability of the soil. The plants isn't do any better or worse.
    I went a bit further to see if cuttings would root better in a jar of wet water crystals. It would be a way of keeping the cutting constantly moist. I tried sweet potato cuttings since they are very easy to root and difficult to kill. I was surprised to see that they actually did poorly. Many cuttings failed to root and those that did were pathetic. Water crystals actually were a detriment.  -- thumbs down! 
    So I've concluded they are a waste of time and money. They don't work as touted. 

...Thick Cardboard/Newspaper
I've seen a number of accounts saying that they use a think layer of cardboard or newspaper as a mulch to keep weeds out or to kill grass in their gardens. Yes, it does indeed kill sod for sure. Yes, it keeps weeds out. So there's truth here. BUT people fail to tell you that wet multilayered cardboard or newspaper is slicker than goose shit. You don't dare try to walk on it. It's worse than trying to walk on wet ice when you're drunk. Just picture that! One sheet of cardboard or a couple sheets of newspaper is all I can deal with, and that can get slick too in a rainy spell. So this experiment was an eye opener. Ya gotta be careful when using a thick layer then trying to walk on it after it's been rained on for a couple weeks. To me it's not worth the risk of a broken bone or sprained back. 

...weed fabric, old carpeting
I've tried both of these. The idea sounded good. And so many stores sell weed cloth, so it's gotta work, right? The first one I tried was weed cloth. I opted for the heavier duty of the two types sold in the store. Laid it down then covered it with wood chip mulch, per instructions. Everything was fine the first year but after that things went downhill rapidly. The second year weeds appeared, not coming up through the fabric, but growing in the mulch. Pulling the few wasn't a big deal but wasn't the idea of using weed cloth in the first place not to have to deal with weeds? The next year was a disaster. More weeds and grasses had crawled in too. Now roots were growing down into the woodchip mulch all the way to the weed cloth .....and beyond! Try to pull a weed out and I'd be pulling up hunks of partially broke down weed cloth. A total mess. A total disaster. 
   I've read a number of accounts advising using old carpeting between garden rows. It acts as a mulch, keeps weeds out, and makes a nice clean pathway. So I gave it a try. Spent hours in my hands and knees custom cutting strips of old carpet. I laid half of it face down, the other half face up. I ended up with a rather colorful dd looking garden. At first things went well. In fact I was quite happy. The strawberries were clean, not soiled by dirt. I could identify slug trails easily so I knew if slugs were becoming a problem and take action. The carpet was easy on my knees. But by the end of the summer a bit of grass was popping up through the carpeting here and there. It was difficult to remove, but I got it out. So the first year I was happy until the end of the season. I tried to roll up the carpet in order to store it in the shed during the winter. Getting it up wasn't easy. Some places the carpet was "glued" to the ground. Roots had interwoven with the carpet making it difficult to roll up. And worse, a lot of the carpeting had disintegrated to the point that it wouldn't come up except in pieces. The nap unravelled in long strings, some of which were tangled with roots. Lots of the stringy mess was really stuck to the soil and proved a challenge to pull up. I cursed that carpet and cursed the people who advised using it. Never again! 

I'm constantly experimenting and testing other gardeners' ideas and suggestions. Before going whole hog with something, I like to see if the idea will work on my homestead. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. Sometimes the idea just needs to be tweaked. 


  1. I've gotten pretty much the same results as you got for the remedies you described. I did see some moss die-back with vinegar, but the moss-out granules were better. You can't win against moss, just keep it at bay. I can say only one remedy worked pretty well for me: saran-wrapped bands around citrus trees, coated every few weeks with Tree Tanglefoot, to block ants from tending their little herds of aphids. Of course, if one branch drooped to touch a fence or the ground, the ants raced up that detour!

  2. I'm going to try the Saran Wrap/tanglefoot idea. Sounds good.

  3. I have used the newspaper method, successfully, for years. I apply the paper as a base layer, then apply grass clippings on top. Keeping the proper thickness of grass cover throughout the growing season.

    Just my experiences....

  4. I think the it simply rains too frequently on my farm for the newspaper/clippings system. A gley layer forms between the paper and the clippings, making it extremely slippery. I've gotten 9 emails so far that say it works for them. That's super!

  5. I think I would've left the carpet in place to become a permanent part of the land. Were you really supposed to pick it up?

  6. Sue, in your case you could get away with leaving the carpet in place for years because you don't have a actively "alive" soil and get very little rain. The carpet would still break down but it would be slower. And you wouldn't have the problem of aggressive root entanglement unless you put the carpet down right under an ohia tree. Carpet might actually be a very good idea in your situation to use as a mulch or as pathway liners.