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October 8, 2012

Ecoplanners: Alternatives to Toxic Chemicals That Really Work

by Claudia Harmon Worthen, EcoPlanners LLC
Chalk Drawing

I love fire!  It’s a family trait–my grandfather had a fire going every day of the year in his back yard patio. So, when I heard about using a torch to kill dandelions and other stubborn weeds, I was over the top excited. This method of eco-weed eradication can be dangerous, so wear protective clothing and take care to not start a brush fire.

A small propane tank with a metal tube to direct the flame works well for small jobs.  Make your own or purchase equipment. You don’t need to cremate the weeds, just brown the top like a nice crème brûlée and the things will wither and die down to their long roots.

The SLO County Locals blog explores the spirit of the Central Coast, seeking out the local businesses, activities, and events that make this place so unique.


Claudia Harmon Worthen of Ecoplanners blogs about green living and interior design.

If you’re not into incendiary devices, try herbicidal soap spray to smother the bad guys with a soap bubble bath. The fatty acids choke the unwanted plants.  To keep seeds from germinating, spread corn gluten meal where the unwanted weeds once lived. Both of these products can be purchased online or at your local nursery. As an added bonus, the corn gluten breaks down and amends the soil with nitrogen.

[From Ecoplanners: How to conserve water and prevent dangerous rainwater runoff]  

Eradicate snails and slugs with coffee? Yes – they prefer high octane drip coffee with the highest caffeine jolt. The alkaloid compound in caffeine wakes us up in the morning and makes snails go away and die (what does that say about our stomachs?). Liquid coffee can be used as a spray to kill some garden pests.  Caffeine actually works better than metaldehyde products, won’t kill birds, pets and children and it’s a waste product. If you have a worm bin, give your worms a treat and throw in some grounds for them to munch on. A bonus for treating your worms is their digested matter smells like coffee instead of putrefied excrement.

Coffee grounds make a good substitute for chemical air fresheners – just set it out in a bowl. For a teenager’s bedroom you may need to refer to the “dandelion treatment” in the first paragraph. As a less dramatic measure, you could just open the windows.

Another little known pesticide for snails is hair clippings – it doesn’t matter where the hair comes from. Snails and slugs don’t like to ooze over it, and its free. I like to use this method more than diatomaceous earth which cuts like tiny shards of glass. We want to kill snails humanely and we don’t want to hurt our resplendent earth worms.

Ordinary chalk is a highly overlooked household buddy. If you have problems with hooligan ants storming the dog food bowl, you don’t want to use toxic sprays. A chalk line works just as fast as Raid and you won’t do in your pet.  You will be amused to see the ants avoid the chalk barrier. Mark around the food source and point of invasion.

Among chalk’s many uses is cleaning pewter (although who cleans pewter?).   Make a paste with a ground-up piece of chalk and vodka. Rub on the pewter, rinse it off, and polish. When done, have a glass of vodka along with your escargot and crème brûlée.

Next month’s article: LEED certification:  What is it? Costs & Benefits.


Claudia Harmon Worthen is the principal designer at EcoPlanners LLC, a network of sustainability experts in building and interior design on the Central Coast of California. You can reach her by email: [email protected]


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