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In the Garden

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A New Look at Natural Weed Control

Nothing is more frustrating than spending hours in the sun doing back-breaking work on your garden only to find it overrun with weeds. This situation has led even the most steadfast organic gardeners to thinking about reaching for a bottle of pesticide.

Luckily for farmers who are near their breaking point, a new method of weed removal is gaining traction with organic farmers—weed blasters. Forget the old methods. No more pulling by hand or hoeing until you ache. This method can save time and effort on your part, and may even make your soil healthier.

natural weed control
Photo by Fotolia.

What Is Weed Blasting?

Weed blasting is a method currently being tested by U.S. Department of Agriculture agronomist Frank Forcella. Weed blasting is done by using an air compressor to spray weeds with gritty material such as corncob grit, walnut shells, corn gluten meal or soybean meal. While the grit shreds weeds, stronger crops like corn, soybeans and tomatoes are left unharmed. Using a portable air compressor mounted to a tractor, you blast at either side of the row of crops.

Success Rate

In an initial test with tomatoes, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois Department of Crop Sciences found a 75 percent reduction of weeds with one application. Forcella said season-long weed control has a success rate of 80-90 percent. While those numbers clearly aren’t perfect, weed blasting goes a long way toward reducing the overall number of weeds in the garden, and can help keep the number of weeds down so they can be easily managed with more conventional methods.

Other Benefits

Aside from just destroying weeds, you can help prevent more weeds and even fertilize the soil as you work. Using corn gluten meal as your grit can work to keep reducing weed population even after you’ve finished blasting, and it can double as a fertilizer. Soil too acidic? You can use lime as your blaster and help your soil at the same time.

Plant Safety

One of the biggest questions about using a method that shreds plant-matter is if it is safe for crops. Testing has found that spraying crops, such as corn, when they’re around 4-6 inches tall and then again around 1 foot destroys the weeds while leaving the crop unharmed.

Even when using this method on more delicate plants, such as tomatoes and peppers, the crops weren’t harmed at an unacceptable level. Even with some grit hitting the stems of tomato plants, the tops of the plants were still safe and intact, showing the future of this method to be very promising.

Cost

Cost is always a factor when it comes to taking care of your garden. Many organic farmers are excited about the potential to build their own blasting kits with an air compressor, applicator and cart for around $2,000.

Sure, it’s not the cheapest method of weed removal, but when it comes to protecting your crops and the environment, in the long run the cost seems pretty reasonable. As this method gains popularity, the cost could drop substantially, and using fertilizer you were already going to be adding to your garden as grit reduces the cost even further.

Weed Blasting: Wave of the Future

While weed blasting is still in its infancy, it shows great promise for protecting the crops of organic farmers and reducing the overall use of harmful pesticides. With this method, you can destroy weeds, help the environment and feed your plants all in one go—a concept that’s pretty hard to beat.


Ali Lawrence is a tea-sipping writer who focuses on healthy and sustainable living via her family blog Homey Improvements. She was born and raised in Alaska and dabbles in PR, Pilates, and is a princess for hire for kid’s parties. Find her on Twitter @DIYfolks.