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From grass to garden

Gardening is a fun hobby and a viable way to produce a fresh crop of vegetables from the back yard. It provides a sense of security to know the history of the food and how it was treated throughout production. One item that is generally a large concern for home producers is which products are safe to use around the vegetable garden.

It may come as a surprise to some, but there are several chemicals labeled for use in the vegetable garden. But wait--chemicals and vegetables. It just doesn't roll off the tongue does it? One of the reasons for laboring through the installation of a garden is to know that it is free from chemical contact--whether they are ones labeled for, or ones that aren't labeled for vegetable use.

But for me, there is one habit that I just can't seem to kick when it comes to gardening in Oklahoma, and that's the good old glyphosate. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the well-known product Roundup, and is also sold under various other brand names. But the good news is that I don't have to worry about using this, dare I say it, chemical (loud gasp) in the garden.

There is one reason that glyphosate fits so nicely into a garden installation process. And anyone who has ever found themselves in the middle of a battle with this ultimate garden challenger feels my pain. Bermudagrass is the enemy, but if you're a bit perceptive, you've noticed that it is also our best friend. It makes up the green carpet of many of our lawns. The problem is that it just doesn't seem to know when or where to stop. It tramples into the vegetable garden with reckless abandon.

To properly start a vegetable garden, it is important to kill out the grass in the very beginning. An unsuspecting Oklahoma immigrant may think that it is acceptable to simply till the grass under and wait for it to break down. The only thing this accomplishes is to severely anger the grass and cause it to rebel. By cutting up all of the rhizomes and stolons, thousands and thousands of new plants are created. As soon as the irrigation is applied to the freshly tilled soil the bermudagrass springs into attack mode and the poor gardener is overtaken. I can just imagine this process portrayed on the Discovery Channel with one of the high-tech mega-zoom cameras and dramatic music in the background.

When starting a brand new vegetable garden, the ideal time to kill the grass is in the fall so the plot is ready to plant in the spring. But what if you have just recently decided to start a garden? Don't worry--I won't simply throw you to the bermudagrass wolves.

If you wait for the grass to green up, glyphosate can be applied to kill out the selected area. It is important to understand that glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide, which means it controls (that sounds nicer than kills) all types of plants. So use it with caution if you are working near desirable plants.

The other nice thing about glyphosate is that the turn around times to install plants or seeds are minimal. Glyphosate is absorbed by the plant through the leaf or other green soft tissues. However, the instant that it comes into contact with the soil it is bound and a plant can no longer absorb it. So the new plants that you install will not be harmed. There is no residual effect that will show up after use. The product could still be traced in the soil for about 47 days, but it will not affect the plants or the fruits they produce because they cannot pull the chemical from the soil particles.

For installing a new vegetable garden, there is no better substitute that will take care of any weeds that are in your way. The downside to attempting a Bermudagrass kill in the spring is that the grass must be growing actively for the glyphosate to work properly. Waiting for the grass to get green may delay your planting date. By May, the grass should be completely active, but most warm-season vegetables should go into the ground around the middle of April. So the garden may be a little delayed, but as the saying goes 'better late than never"! Happy gardening!

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