Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Friday, October 11, 2019

Someone on the Internet is Wrong

Someone on the Internet is Wrong
©2019  Ross Williams

The problem with the internet is that eventually you run across someone smarter than you who won’t put up with your bullshit.  That’s what recently happened to Robert Pavlis, a Canuckian, a chemist by education, a designer of botanical gardens by hobby, and a self-styled expert on gardening who operates a few gardening blogs.  He ran across me.

Or, well, technically and specifically, I ran across him, but …

I have an infestation of spiny aramanth growing in my pasture that I wish to get rid of.  Spiny aramanth, aka spiny pigweed, is an herbaceous annual that drops a hundred thousand seeds at a go, and grows a half-inch thorn out of the junction of each leaf stem.  The sheep won’t eat it, even when it’s small and un-spiny.  Last year I tried Round-Upping it away, but that didn’t work.  This year I’ve been mowing it down with some success, but not as much as I’d like.  So I was looking for some other suggestions for killing it dead.

The obvious answer to today’s research needs is: the internet.  So I internetted.  One link led to another, and to another beyond that, and yet another on the other side, and I came across a reference to 20% vinegar.  Since I personally prefer natural methods to others − as long as the natural methods work [and many-to-most do not] − I investigated the 20% vinegar option.

Household vinegar, the type found in your cupboard, is between 5 and 6 percent.  At that concentration it is tart and tangy, and will preserve cucumbers from bacterial infestation for prolonged periods of time.  It won’t kill weeds, but when mixed with olive oil, powdered garlic, basil, oregano and salt and sprayed on weeds it might make a decent dressing for a live garden salad. 

Household vinegar will dissolve limestone, though, a fact Hannibal made use of when taking his elephants through the Alps to sack Rome in the Second Punic War.  The Alps had no roads, elephants need roads to travel through rough terrain, and Hannibal needed his war elephants to teach the upstart Romans a lesson.

Hannibal’s soldiers all got a ration of sour wine.  Wine becomes sour when the alcohol in it oxides into ascetic acid.  Ascetic acid is vinegar.  Carthaginian engineers pounded holes into the limestone face of an alpine pass, vinegary sour wine was poured into the holes, and the job of slicing roads through the Alps was made significantly easier.  Better warfare through chemistry!

Twenty percent vinegar, on the other hand, will burn skin.  Its fumes will burn your eyes, your nasal passages and lungs.  It will destroy the leaves and fleshy stems of all plants it touches, within an hour.  And in my tour of the internet, I ran across many references to the herbicidal properties − and cautions − of 20% vinegar.

One of these references was on Robert Pavlis’s gardening blog, from many years ago.  Several of his readers were extolling the virtues of vinegar herbicide, and how preferable it is to Round-Up.  Pavlis, the chemist, scoffed and claimed vinegar doesn’t work well on anything except annual weeds; if you want to kill weeds, he advised multiple times, use Round-Up.  Apparently, many of those readers then accused him of being a shill for Monsanto because conversation threads ended abruptly and fairly awkwardly.  Pavlis later mentioned elsewhere in this discussion that he deletes all comments that accuse him of being a shill for Round-Up.

…apparently this epiphany is not a new amongst his readers.

Other objections to his pro-Round-Up stance continued, mainly that Round-Up causes cancer … which he dismissed as alarmist nonsense without a shred of actual science behind it [he provided some links, which I did not follow; I was on another quest].  Other objections to his position asserted that vinegar is completely natural while Round-Up is not.

I tend to take the position that all chemicals are natural − or at least natural enough − since they are all made from different combinations of the same several dozen elements, even if some of those combinations will kill you in an instant and others will kill you slowly.  But Pavlis smirked at the vinegar is natural argument and claimed that it is not. ...just like a shill for Monsanto would do.  He then claimed that Round-Up is, itself, natural.  This hypocrisy is where I objected.

As a chemist, he knows better.  And I told him that.  I reminded him, in public, of what he already knows about the waste product of yeast, used deliberately if unknowingly for centuries to make a palatable yeast-waste libation, oxidizing into ascetic acid.  This is not even college chemistry he was denying all knowledge and understanding of; this is high school chemistry.  And there it should have ended.  He overstated his case and was caught doing so by a high school science geek and home-brewer.  Look sad and say “D’oh!” Homer.

But it didn’t end, and he didn’t come down from his unsupportable mount.  Several weeks later I got an email notice that he’d replied to me.  He informed me that he didn’t understand my point − now, apparently, he was feigning ignorance of the English language.  He replied to me, in the discussion about the ‘naturalness’ of vinegar versus Round-Up, where he asserts Round-Up is natural but vinegar is not, that while “vinegar exists in nature, a bootle [sic − a dead giveaway of his Canuckitude] of concentrated vinegar does not,” thus backtracking a bit … but only a bit … and completely ignoring the fact that neither does a jug of glyphosate.

That is all immaterial, though, because in the subject of these substances’ naturalness, pointing out the naturalness of vinegar in contradiction to his farcical assertion that even a freshman chem major would laugh at, my correction of his stupidity, according to him, “has nothing to do with this.”  Except that it does.

He then attempted to dodge the point he was checkmated upon, and he dived head first into a contradiction of his prior claims about 20% vinegar herbicide and disavowed all knowledge of botany − which is remarkable given that the boy is the designer of Aspen Grove Gardens in Guelph Ontario.  He claimed that vinegar “does not kill weeds.”

Yet in the earlier part of the discussion with several of his readers, he claimed that vinegar would kill weeds.  He said it would kill many annuals as well as perennials that were just sprouting.  But now, because I cornered him on his idiotic “vinegar is unnatural” rationalization, he is left saving face by further indefensible assertions.

Yet, what does vinegar in high concentrations do to plants?  It burns off their leaves.  Leaves are half of a plant’s mandatory systems.  The other is its roots.  Leaves exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide.  They use chlorophyll to convert sunlight, CO2 and mineral nutrients absorbed by roots into sugars and starches used by the rest of the plant to stay alive.  The roots absorb those mineral nutrients along with most of the plant’s water from the ground.

A failure in any one of those systems, if extended long enough, will kill the plant.  Nineteen years ago I planted privets along my driveway − ALL along the driveway.  My driveway is just over 300’ long before the ninety-degree bend leading to the garage.  The privet hedge was just about a hundred yards long.  I planted 300 privets.

Well, I bought 300 privets, anyway, from the mail-order nursery.  Whether they sent 300 exactly, I do not know.  I didn’t count.  It was raining and dark when I planted them exactly 12 inches apart and wasn’t concerned with the nursery’s warehouse quality control issues.  Within a few years of planting the hedge I discovered that privets needed to be trimmed multiple times per year, and that a hedge roughly a football field long took six weeks, at 2-3 hours a day, to trim.  With a full time job and a surgically-repaired spine, that was more work than I could handle.  I couldn’t both trim the hedge and mow the yard.  As a result, I didn’t trim as often, nor as completely, as I needed to.

Within a decade the hedge was 6 or more feet tall, meaning that trimming the top required holding the hedge clippers over my head for 2-3 hours a day for six weeks at a time.  And while I rationalized the effort as makeshift pect and delt exercise, the bottom line was that it was not an option.  Three years ago, at about this time of the year, I took my pruning saw and started at one end of the hedge and sawed off the privet bushes at the ground.

Shortly after I started, I acquired a 40V battery-operated chain saw and within 8 months [with the intervening winter], I had all 500+ privet bushes lopped off at their knees. ...there were over 500 because they dropped berries which then took root themselves.

The following spring, a year and a half ago, I noticed that the roots of most of those 500 privets started sprouting leaves.  Eh, who cares?  I’ll just mow right over them.  By the end of last year, the roots still leafing were down to several dozen.  This past spring, there were only a dozen or so privet roots still desperately attempting to leaf out.  Last week on my last mowing pass, I didn’t see a single privet leaf.  Killing the top of the plant works.

Basic botany.  Without leaves, the roots cannot survive.  Twenty percent vinegar only kills leaves?  Big deal.  Use 20% vinegar to kill leaves often enough, the plant will die.  Burn the leaves off often enough with fire, the plant will die.  Cut the leaves off often enough with hedge trimmers − as I did to the white mulberry growing by the corner of my garage − the plant will die.  Might need to keep doing it for a few months, but it will die.

Without leaves, the plant will die.  It doesn’t matter why the plant doesn’t have leaves.  Vinegar, fire, clippers … lawn mower.  All will work.  This is the way plant life goes, and self-styled gardening experts with their own botanical gardens and degrees in chemistry know this very, very well.  Why they don’t want to acknowledge that they know this and promote, instead, a narrative that only Round-Up will kill weeds even though they are notNotNOT a shill for Monsanto, is anyone’s guess.

The reality is, though, Robert Pavlis is wrong.  I know it.  He knows it.  He overstated his case.  Period.  Vinegar is not natural.”

Yes it is.  It is created by the oxidation of a basic compound excreted by a basic biological organism.  It is the purest essence of natural, in fact.  But it doesn’t kill weeds.”

Maybe not immediately, but with repeated application it will.  That answer isn’t changing because an Agri-Chem booster has an axe to grind.

And now I’m going to mow down my spiny aramanth and spray Round-Up on those the mower can’t reach.  I’m not risking my eyes, sinuses and lungs for the sheep.