In 1970, John Franz, a chemist for Monsanto, discovered that the chemical glyphosate is a potent herbicide that kills just about every kind of plant material imaginable. In no time, the company gave its miracle weedkiller the brand name Roundup.
Farmers especially went wild for Roundup. Just one problem: It was nearly impossible to kill the weeds without also killing their crops. So Monsanto sent its chemists back to work to develop glyphosate-resistant (or "Roundup ready") crops that have had their DNA altered (genetically modified, or GMO) to allow them to be immune to glyphosate. Now farmers could spray with abandon and not worry about their crops.
To say that glyphosate, Roundup and GMO foods have become a bit controversial would be to put it mildly. There are some who say that glyphosate causes cancer in animals, and most likely humans, too. They insist that the side effects of long-term GMO food consumption are producing serious health risks for all living things. Despite all of this controversy and outcry about issues surrounding Roundup and GMO crops, so far the Environmental Protection Agency has found no convincing evidence to force Roundup off the market. It's a hot button issue, that's for sure.
There is one provable and very compelling reason to not buy Roundup: It's too expensive! Even if it were proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Roundup is safe as water, I still wouldn't shell out the high price for the stuff. I kill weeds like crazy with kitchen pantry items that are really cheap and nontoxic: white vinegar, ordinary table salt and dishwashing liquid.
First I will give you the ingredients, followed by two weedkiller recipes that use them:
White vinegar. Ordinary distilled white vinegar with 5 percent acidity, is cheap and works great. If you can find a higher acidity even up to 20 percent, it is going to work faster, but the end results will be the same.
Table salt. Use the cheapest kind of salt you can find in the supermarket -- not sea salt, rock salt, Epsom salts or anything fancy. Just cheap iodized or non-iodized table salt.
Dishwashing liquid. You will be using only a few drops, so the brand doesn't matter. The purpose of the soap is to break the surface tension of the vinegar so it sticks to the weeds, forcing them to absorb it more readily.
WEEDKILLER FOR AREAS TO BE REPLANTED. If you have weeds in areas you want to re-plant, do this: Fill an ordinary garden sprayer with white vinegar and add about 1 teaspoon liquid dishwashing soap, such as blue Dawn. Apply sprayer top and follow the instructions on the sprayer to get it ready to spray. That's it. Seriously, it is that simple. Pick a hot, dry day to spray weeds until saturated, and they will wilt and shrivel up within hours, so be careful to not spray anything you want to live. However, do not worry about the vinegar killing anything below the soil. Because vinegar will not harm the soil, you can safely replant the area once the weeds have died.
WEEDKILLER FOR AREAS NEVER TO GROW AGAIN. To kill all vegetation in walkways, driveways and other areas where you don't want any living thing to grow again, mix 2 cups ordinary table salt with 1 gallon of white vinegar. Do this in a container that is larger than 1 gallon capacity so you have room for the salt. Apply the lid and shake to dissolve the salt. Salt dissolves more quickly in vinegar than in water, but it takes a bit of shaking. It may not completely dissolve, but that's OK. Add 1 teaspoon of liquid dishwashing soap. Pour into an ordinary garden sprayer. Apply to weeds or grass on a dry, sunny day to areas you don't want to see vegetation of any kind in the future.
The presence of salt in this recipe is what will eventually bring permanence to your weed killing. The salt will penetrate and leech into the soil. It may take several applications, but in time the presence of salt will "sterilize" the soil in this area so that nothing will grow there. Plan well before you go this permanent route.
These homemade weedkiller recipes are not only cheap; they are also completely nontoxic to humans and animals. In fact, except for the soap (not toxic but not very tasty), you could have fun with the family tonight when you tell them you made the salad vinaigrette using 3 parts olive oil to 1 part weedkiller!
Mary Hunt's column, "Everyday Cheapskate," can be found at creators.com.