Treat all garden chemicals with care

Treat all garden chemicals with care.

Recently, newspapers have covered stories connecting glyphosate to specific cases of cancer. Since glyphosate is the main ingredient in Roundup, the No. 1 weed killer in the U.S. today, these stories fill me with dread. Just how safe is this weed killer?

The EPA has assured the public that this weed killer is safe — but the World Health Organization has listed it as a probable carcinogen. Another scientific study has linked “high” exposure to an increased risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Over 9,000 lawsuits have been brought by those suffering from NHL against Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup, and its German parent company, Bayer AG.

Stories abound of farmers spraying vegetables growing in their fields with glyphosate, a substance that is now found in 750 products. All this has me wondering if we are ingesting too much glyphosate as we scarf down our Cheerios.

While the European Union has not officially banned glyphosate, many European countries have done so. Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and France have banned its use along with El Salvador, Colombia, Bermuda and five Middle Eastern nations. In the U.S., specific towns and cities in 16 states have prohibited its use. Eight out the 10 Canadian provinces have followed suit.

Clearly, there is a feeling of uneasiness regarding this weed killer.

Yet, glyphosate has had some good results in the farming community. There is growing recognition that continual tilling of the soil, a practice that encourages erosion and the washing away of topsoil, is unnecessary when farmers kill their weeds with glyphosate. Consequently, the vast numbers of farmers are sticking with glyphosate, as an efficient way both to handle the weed problem and to maintain their topsoil.

The point of this article isn’t to discern whether glyphosate is safe or not. Merely, I’m trying to demonstrate that there are concerns — seemingly legitimate concerns — as to its safety. As with all garden chemicals, it needs to be treated with respect.

Here are my rules when using glyphosate:

  1. Wear gardening gloves, preferably ones that are impenetrable to water. I never garden without my gloves but it is particularly important when applying garden chemicals. Not only do they help to prevent small cuts, they protect the skin from absorbing chemicals through the skin and any wounds you may have.
  2. Spray only on a windless day. This is the only way to avoid drift from the spray.
  3. Wear a long sleeve shirt and long pants that will protect your arms and legs from any skin exposure.
  4. Consider spraying in the coolness of the morning before the insects come out.
  5. Use this weed killer judiciously.

The easiest way to avoid the necessity of using glyphosate is to cut down on the weed population by using organic methods. The best way — and the healthiest method — to get rid of weeds in our gardens is to pull them out by hand, which is doable provided you stay on top of the problem. Make it one of your daily, or at least weekly, gardening chores.

Mulch your garden, using either hardwood or pine bark as the medium. Not only is this one of the easiest and most effective ways to build up your soil, it is also an effective way to cut down on weeds by depriving them access to light.

Right now no one can definitively answer the question regarding the safety of glyphosate. However, there are enough questions remaining about its potential harm to health that I can only end with this advice: Use it cautiously and only if necessary.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: info@absentee-gardener.com.

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