Being the primary writer for our Intrepid Gardener column here at ELF is very rewarding. I get to share my love of getting my hands in the dirt and watching things grow, and I get wonderful feedback from readers. Everything from compliments and tips to sharing of sources and memories of gardens past.

Sometimes, though, I get called to task over something I’ve written. A year or so ago a reader chastised me when I revealed I used a bit of the Sevin brand pesticide on my emerging Oriental lilies because of lily leaf beetles. A couple of weeks ago, a reader didn’t care for my admiration of Miracle-Gro plant food. It’s from the Monsanto company, which is on a lot of people’s bad-boy list since they also produce the herbicide Roundup. Roundup contains Gypsophate, which is a known toxin and apparently has caused cancer in some users. Well, goodness gracious, what to do!?

I’ll never purport to be a purist or always the utmost in social conscientiousness but I try. So, I visited the Achille Agway store in Peterborough and asked for a little advice. First, I asked about a substitute for Miracle Gro. What I like the most about Miracle Gro is its ease. I have one of their spray canisters you can get that attaches to your hose. All you have to do is fill it with the blue crystals and you’re good to go. Turn it on and a lovely shower of nutrients occurs!

I looked on the label to see what the balance of nutrients are and it’s 24-8-16. A little chemistry lesson if you’ve always wondered what those numbers mean on various fertilizers. The three correlating elements are NPK – Nitrogen for vibrant leaf growth, Phosphorous for strong root growth and flowering and Potassium for overall strength and fruit production. Well, we found a few products that were close but none of them were in crystal form that I could simply swap into my handy canister. I wound up buying a granular 5-10-5 Espoma fertilizer. It’s more for hand broadcasting at the plant drip line but it will still be handy and I really like the Espoma line of products. They’re organic and I’ve never heard any bad press about anyone growing extra digits because of using it.

Next we looked at natural herbicides. I wound up buying a Dr. Earth product… Pure & Natural Weed & Grass Herbicide. Now, unlike Roundup, it doesn’t promise results in 15 minutes nor does it say it kills weeds down to the root level, but it does say it’s people and pet safe. According to the label, it kills and controls crabgrass, foxtail and broadleaf weeds. Have you ever wondered what exactly crabgrass is? I assume I have it and dislike it. But, which of those persistent, underground-root-traveling weeds is it?

Well, indeed it is one of those that I hate. Not the worst weed but annoying nonetheless. It’s Digitaria, according to Wiki, and I’d guess the variety we have here is Digitaria sanguinalis. It’s those individual crowns of grass that easily turns to seed and does not blend in with the carpet of your lawn grass. It’s an annual, too, so it will be dead next year. Never fear, though, if you happen to be a fan. Its seeds are already sprouting this year’s crop right where you don’t want them to appear.

The Dr. Earth herbicide ingredient list is interesting. Its first ingredient is citric acid followed by cinnamon oil, clove oil, soybean oil, rosemary oil and a couple more oils. I’m kind of wondering if it will merely smother the plants in oil! I’m going to give it a whirl and see how effective it is.

My most offensive, egregious weed is a type of vetch. Vetch is often cultivated for pastures and since I use both horse and cow manure, I’m pretty sure that’s where this little devil comes from. Every time you pull one, it’s got a root that then travels a bit through your mulch until it snaps and you just know you haven’t gotten it all. It’s a vine that just wraps itself around any other plant it happens to breeze up against and it drives me crazy. I hope Dr. Earth is effective or I may just spray all those oils on myself and ask my partner for a massage!