Lauterbach: Choose vinegars carefully as a herbicide; garden tools go beyond the spade and hoe

Special to The Idaho StatesmanAugust 2, 2013 

Even a cleaning-strength vinegar might not be concentrated enough to kill bugs. This Heinz product is about 6 percent concentrate. The latest recommendation is about 10 percent.

  • GOT A BETTER TOOL IDEA?

    If you were to "invent" a better garden tool, what would it be? Send ideas (or garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

August is the month when weeds really proliferate, germinating quickly and growing ... well, like weeds.

Those of us frustrated by the time or effort involved may reach for spray bottles. Some sprays will cost you even more effort for years to come, so be cautious. Some herbicides poison your soil for years, but there's one that won't: vinegar.

A few years ago, the USDA reported vinegar worked as a herbicide, especially on Canada thistle. I promptly sprayed some of my pickling vinegar on Canada thistle and it survived. Now the recommendation is for 10 percent vinegar, made from grain alcohol. Pickling vinegar is about half that strength.

Some folks advise adding a teaspoon of liquid soap such as Dr. Bronner's to a gallon of 10 percent vinegar, then spraying that full strength on selected weeds. Vinegar exists at even higher concentrations, but any of those may "burn" your skin or permanently scar your eyes (corneas). If you use the 10 percent solution, be careful to not spray desirable plants.

Now, in the middle of our gardening season, what tools do you wish you had? I don't mean tools you could buy, what tools should be available but aren't?

I have long thought garden tool makers have erred in not putting out hose reels on a Lazy Susan base. Hose just plays out the front, then you have to arch the hose itself around to go a different direction, breaking down desirable plants. If the hose holder turned, it would play out straight in about 315 degrees (restricted only by connection) and rewind much easier.

Another minor but important modification could be made to a standard bow rake. Sharpen the right end tines so you can turn the rake and cut off weeds below soil line. Instead you have to put down the rake and go get a hoe.

When I was a master gardener intern, I learned about two important gardening tools from fellow interns: floating row cover and Japanese farmers' knives.

Duane Campbell, a garden writer in Pennsylvania, acquainted me with border forks, smaller and lighter versions of spading forks, and I love them. Some folks use spading forks to turn compost, but that's a very bad idea. Their "D" handles are too short for that work, putting unneeded strain on your back. Border forks are lighter, but they're also short-handled with a "D" grip at the top. Use a long-handled pitchfork, the fewer tines the better.

With one hand near the fork, the other at the end of a pitchfork handle, you can easily carry a huge load of clippings, for instance. This placement of your hands gives you mechanical advantage.

Some folks cut down masons' trowels to serve as transplant trowels, or weld more rake tines on a bow rake to make a landscape rake, or change the angle of a regular hoe. Some even cut down the size of the blade of a hoe, ending with something like a collinear hoe. Others extend some rake tines to make planting grooves a specific number of inches apart.

I planted carrots last spring, mixing old and new seed, then dumping it on a 4-by-4-foot pegboard, and brushing seeds into the holes. I left the pegboard in place a few days until I could see some seeds had germinated, then I raised it.

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