Fighting Fire with Fire: An Organic Holocaust of Weed Control

As you can clearly see, dear reader, I am at my wits end when it comes to keeping my weeds at bay. I have an extremely strict rule that not a drop of any chemicals shall ever be added anywhere on my property. As a result, I have to get somewhat creative when it comes to dealing with pests and weeds.

It’s all worth the efforts mind you. Knowing that I can maintain a safe environment using older and more natural methods, all while protecting my pets and loved ones from becoming a tumor-ridden cancer cesspool, gives me great comfort and pride.

That said, there are some inherent issues with living the granola-crunching-hacky-sacking organic life. Weeds are most definitely one of these issues. Another would be hacky-sack injuries but that’s a different post. My worst enemy in the weeds department is the dreaded Spotted Spurge (or Euphorbia Maculata).

Fighting Fire with Fire 01b_Spotted Spurge or Euphorbia maculata
Spotted Spurge (euphorbia maculata) via

I cannot begin to emphasize how much I loathe this plant.  It’s sticky white sap that never washes off is one of the worst ever and it seems to grow everywhere in the yard. As soon as it pokes out it’s evil tendrils from the earth it begins dropping seeds. The more spurge you pull, the more seeds are dispersed. THE most invasive species of weed I’ve ever encountered in my long life. Well, this and crabgrass of course. Don’t even get me started on crabgrass!

I’ve made some mistakes in the past when dealing with weeds. Like when I created some lovely gravel pathways only to have to redo them all. I’ve also spend a great deal of man hours creating a kick-ass flagstone patio, also the wrong way when it comes to weed control.

No matter what I’ve tried, the weeds seem to always come back even stronger. It always begins small and benign. Tiny adorable sprouts of promise that trick me into thinking that this year will be better.

Fighting Fire with Fire 02_The attack begins
The cute lie.

I can handle this little bit of greenery. Gives the yard some character and life doesn’t it. I’m not so anal retentive that I can’t allow for minor imperfections. After all, isn’t that what nature is about? Releasing control and realizing that in doing so you can experience true beauty?

But then it creeps in a little bit more. Usually while my back is turned.

Fighting Fire with Fire 03_Slowly they come
Getting stronger…

And a little more…

Fighting Fire with Fire 04_Weeds growing stronger
…and stronger still.

And then the next thing you know…BAM!!! It’s completely taken over your yard, your life and your career. Some weeds will even go so far as to steal your girlfriend. Fact! The whole experience reminds me of the following quote:

“Apparently the vegetable kingdom in Mars, instead of having green for a dominant colour, is of a vivid blood-red tint. At any rate, the seeds which the Martians (intentionally or accidentally) brought with them gave rise in all cases to red-coloured growths. Only that known popularly as the red weed, however, gained any footing in competition with terrestrial forms. The red creeper was quite a transitory growth, and few people have seen it growing. For a time, however, the red weed grew with astonishing vigour and luxuriance. It spread up the sides of the pit by the third or fourth day of our imprisonment, and its cactus-like branches formed a carmine fringe to the edges of our triangular window. And afterwards I found it broadcast throughout the country, and especially wherever there was a stream of water.”

-H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

Fighting Fire with Fire 05_Then it turns into The War of the Worlds
My weeds as seen by H.G. Wells

Please forgive my literary segue here. You see, when trying to photograph these weeds in full attack mode, my cell phone camera went all cray cray and somehow inverted the greens to reds. I can only assume that the weeds had released a noxious pollen-laden gas to infiltrate my technology, copy my contacts list and eventually steal my identity (surely as a way to steal my girlfriend). Just because one is paranoid does not mean that “they” aren’t out to get you!

So, being the complete and total nerd that I proudly am, I immediately thought of the above passage from The War of the Worlds and have now subjected you to my delusions.

Where was I? Oh yes, more terrestrial affairs…

The above (albeit red) photo of weeds typically occurs two to three times a year. Just to pull a small section of weeds while preserving the gravel takes hours. The below image is from about two hours of pulling.

Fighting Fire with Fire 06_Pulling the weeds takes hours
Barely a dent.

My triannual task of Sisyphus is never ending. By the time I reach one end of the yard, I have to begin again at the other end. Weed barriers definitely help to slow the process quite a lot, but the spurge and crabgrass always make their way back eventually. The former due to it’s invasive seed dispersal system and the latter because nothing blocks crabgrass. Nothing.

So, now we are all caught up yes? And I’m sure that you are no stranger to weeds as no gardener ever is. I could take the easy way out and drop some death juice made by Monsanto, but that’s no way to live or treat the planet now is it? No, it isn’t.

Last year when I would pull a section of the spurge, I began deploying a hazmat-like methodology of sweeping up the surface dirt to capture as many teeny tiny seeds as possible. Very time consuming, but it seemed to reduce the weeds return the following season. Not stop it, mind you, just slow it down a bit. I would then throw them into my fire pit to ceremoniously destroy them utterly.

Which got me thinking. Why bring the seeds to the fire when I can bring the fire to the seeds? But how can I do this without dropping napalm on everything in the yard? I then recalled seeing some videos of farmers burning their spent crops as a way to both fertilize the soil as well as save time. They used some sort of torch to do so. To the Google machine!

After a few short searches I found my weapon of choice (admittedly overkill).

The Red Dragon VT 1/2-30 SVC 400,000 BTU propane vapor torch kit with squeeze valve!

Fighting Fire with Fire 08_The Red Dragon
Enter The Red Dragon!

Red Dragon VT 2 1/2-30 C 400,000-BTU Propane Vapor Torch Kit
How bad ass does that sound? It also reminds me of the movie The Christmas Story and the protagonists dream of owning a “Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time”.

Only in this instance, I won’t be shooting my eye out! Merely burning down my house, my neighborhood and my precious facial hair etc…

So it goes.

I can’t properly describe the immense pleasure I receive while laying waste to every weed in my yard with this mighty hot death machine. My burden of weed pulling has now become an exciting jubilant task of sheer joy coupled with maniacal rage and vengeance. I shit thee not when I say I downloaded Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries during the first wave of attacks. Seriously, I get very involved in my projects. Much to the fear and confusion of my neighbors. So what, big deal. To oneself be true.

I’ve made this video to help you get into my same mindset and I offer you a preemptive and resounding you’re welcome! I’ve personally watched this a dozen times and it just seems to get better.


And for those not so into drama and excitement (boy are you in the wrong place!), here’s the same video as shot. Boring…


Not quite as exciting huh?

I feel like now would be a good time to responsibly warn you about the possible side effects of wielding a massive flamethrower attached to a large tank of propane gas. If you do go the route that I have laid before you, be certain to take all the proper safety precautions when dealing with explosives and open flames. Another tip would be to have a hose turned on and ready to go within four feet of the area you are working on. I also pre-soaked many of the beds that had mulch and dry organic material around the paths as a deterrent for any stray man-made wildfires. Worked like a charm, but never get too comfortable that you would forgo safety. I’m a professional though and have some leeway to jam Wagner super loud and laugh manically while dropping napalm.

Believe when I say that I know first-hand how easy it is to get caught up with the sheer awesomeness of this device. You also don’t need to burn the weeds to a cinder as I have in this video. I did it for emotional and psychological effects and to strike fear into the heart of the weeds. But you only need to sear them a bit in order to have them perish. Again, less exciting and dramatic. Gardening without drama and danger is not good gardening! My fruits and veggies have the taste of excitement and flair because all of my plants never know what to make of me and are always on edge. Second fact!

It’s also not a permanent solution*, the weeds will grow back again. Thank goodness! Now I’m excited when I see weeds. A chance to break our my Wagner and get medieval on their ass! I’ll take it! Quite the flip flop from my previous weed dread isn’t it? The weeds will reduce greatly every time you use it as the seeds will become less and less prevalent throughout the yard. A thinning of the herd if you will.

Here’s some shots a few weeks later to give you an idea as to how bad ass this flamethrower is.

Order has once again been returned to my domain. Order and fear. Just the way I like it. I’m like the Darth Vader of gardening and I find your lack of flamethrower to be disturbing. I’ll continue to lay down weed barriers and thick mulch layers as I complete my paths and definitely on the beds (fire bad on the plants you love), but having this will save me hours of labor and add an element of excitement to a once troublesome task.

*Great Gods of Gardening!! I just realized that I’ve used the words “permanent solution” and “holocaust” AND mentioned Wagner all in the same post. Purely coincidental I assure you!! I am a good gentile I promise you!

2015 in review

It would appear that Mind Your Dirt has completed its journey around the sun. Actually, our anniversary was in October. What did you buy us as a gift? In lieu of that, check out our meager stats.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 25,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Tales of a Stupid Gardener: Why you Shouldn’t Plant a Willow Tree Next to a Water Feature

“The bestlaid schemes omice an ‘men. Gang aft agley”

-Robert Burns 1785

How appropriate that the above excerpt from the poem To a Mouse, on Turning up Her Nest with a Plough was written by a farmer while he was still holding the plough. He had just destroyed a mouse’s home right before the winter. You may recognize it from the wonderful Steinbeck novel, Of Mice and Men. Basically it translates as the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry. And so it goes for me.

I don’t know how you like to spend your Sunday mornings, but I really enjoy eating crow. At least I seem to really like doing so because I do it so often. My hindsight is that of an eagle with laser vision surgery but my foresight amounts to something resembling Ray Charles with dark shades in a dark cave. At night.

Apparently I really really really enjoy spending countless hours on back-breaking landscaping efforts only to have them come back and bite me in the ass. Good exercise, terrible gardening. Does life grade on a curve? I hope so because I’m bordering on the fail side of pass/fail. I need to remind myself that having additional chromosomes is not a bonus, but a hindrance.

In short, I’ve done it again. I f’d up. Why break tradition with my usual faux pas? Like when I spent days making a gravel pathway the wrong way. Why quit when you’re behind?

My water feature has quickly become THE most annoying landscaping feature in the known universe. I’d rather try to terraform Mars with nothing but rusty scuba gear and a bag of cow shit than spend any more time with that beautiful beast. I’d probably have more success.

By the way, did you know that the movie The Martian was based on me? A goofy white guy in a foreign neighborhood trying to grow some food. It’s a metaphor for Mind Your Dirt. Do you think I saw a penny of the box office cash? No. No I did not.

So here’s what I had to wrestle with on this chilly Sunday morning. The invasion of the roots from my willow tree that continuously sneak into my water feature.

Tales of a Stupid Gardener 02_Willow Root Ball
A five foot long root ball nightmare!
Tales of a Stupid Gardener 03_Willow Root Ball Detail
This is the face of invasive roots.

And this is only after two months of letting it go!! I’d walk past the waterfall and look at it and sigh deeply. Then I’d scurry off to another project on the other side of the yard. You see, this represents a much larger concern for me. There is a certain finality that I need to come to terms with. One of the two item needs to go away.

Tales of a Stupid Gardener 04_Willow and water feature I

But I love them both. The cool babbling waterfall with gentle hummingbirds bathing in morning light or the gentle whispers of the swaying willow tree. The two can’t live in the same area without some major and constant maintenance. I could disassemble the entire waterfall and rebuild it in a fashion that blocks out all roots. But OH MY GOD, that will take a lot of work and my back will be aching for weeks. Some of those rocks are over a hundred pounds. I remember all too well how much effort it took the first time.

Tales of a Stupid Gardener 05_Willow and water feature II

And even if I do do that (hehe doodoo), roots have a nasty way of breaking through any barrier. And willow roots are particularly tenacious when a water source is nearby. It’s what they do! Holy hell, does this tree drink some water!! Smart addition for the yard in a drought-stricken SoCal climate huh?

At this point, I’m MORE than willing to entertain any ideas that you might have!!! This is me asking you for help! Because AARGHHHH!!

As it stands now, I have to get in there with clippers at least once a month and cut this beast back. I just removed a lower slate rock so I can get better access to it. Luckily it wasn’t too hard to remove thanks to my excellent Jenga skills. Observe…

Tales of a Stupid Gardener 05b_Mad Jenga Skills yo
Mad skills yo.

But it could’ve been a nightmare situation if I lost this particular game of Jenga as I would’ve been buried under tons of rubble. But gardening without danger is no fun at all!

Here is the water feature with a low water level and a haircut.

Tales of a Stupid Gardener 06_Water Feature Root Intrusion Zone

It matters very little as this is the Task of Sisyphus and they will just return in short order. This time around, I have removed all of the rocks that normally hide the rubber lining because the roots completely encapsulate every last one of them anyways. Part two of this project included me tearing away in hopes of reclaiming my precious stones. Now, I just don’t care about the rubber lining showing. When the waterfall is full, you can’t see it anyways.

If you stare at this photo long enough, you can see the tendrils growing before your eyes. Evil and invasive things that should do as their brethren do and stay below ground! Just watch…

Tales of a Stupid Gardener 06_Water Feature Root Intrusion Zone Detail

There! Right there! Did you see it? There are some days when I feel it would be best to get my hands on some enriched uranium and just nuke the whole yard. I’ll sit on the back porch and just watch it glow all purdy like as I scratch my butt with my extra flipper arm that has just grown out of the back of my head. Big deal. Who cares.

So, that said, I’m certain you can gather my current state of mind on the whole torrid affair. What advice can you offer? Help me Obi Wan, you’re my only hope (brace yourself…).

Tales of a Stupid Gardener 07_James as Princess Leiah_Yeah sorry
This is soooo disturbing! But, it’s almost Star Wars time kids, so live a little. Plus, check out my curves! Hubba hubba