We’d rather drink the gin than spray it on weeds, thanks.

Not an expensive brand and bought duty-free but we would still rather drink it than spray it on weeds

Not an expensive brand and bought duty-free but we would still rather drink it than spray it on weeds

Christmas dinner conversation covered many topics but I wanted to test something I had read on the biochemist and the synthetic organic chemist at the table. The location was Canberra where we ate outdoors on a balmy evening and the temperature was still hovering in the late 20s Celsius as the night drew in.

Before leaving home, I had read the following passage in a new publication:

“You’re not trying to get your weeds drunk but the alcohol in cheap gin stops them in their tracks. Grab a bottle of spirits, mix with the juice of 2 lemons and spray on weeds.”

Discretion is the better part of valour so I won’t name the source of this advice but, as a gin drinker, it raised many questions. Where can I buy this cheap gin that is referenced? I wondered if it meant the diluted, flavoured gins that I see for about $15 at the bottle store but the Australian contingent tells me these are a New Zealand product and this advice seems more international, so maybe not. Why gin? Is it the juniper berries that are the magic ingredient or will any strong alcohol work as well? Is it really meant to be applied undiluted because around $30 to $35 for a litre of weed spray is extraordinarily expensive? What does the lemon juice do?

img_3601The biochemist and the synthetic organic chemist were more amused than anything else. They could not see any reason why gin should be more efficacious than any other form of alcohol. But none of us really wanted to sacrifice the Christmas gin to carry out field trials. Mark recalled the routine use of kerosene for weed control on carrots in his father’s day. When we arrived home, he found me the reference in the McPherson book, “Vegetable Growing in New Zealand”. It is so old, it doesn’t even have a date on it but the publisher was Whitcombe and Tombs Limited and it is a few decades or more since I have seen that name.

In case you want to know more about kerosene as a weed spray, it is advised to use it at full strength (!) through a high pressure nozzle at a rate of 40-50 gallons of spray per acre. Now you know.

Back to the matter of the gin. Given the lack of field trials, I turned to the internet. There were plenty of sites advising the use of gin as a “natural” weedkiller though none I found particularly credible. I admit there are limits to my interest in this topic so I cannot claim to have done exhaustive research. But I did ascertain the following:

  • It does not have to be gin. It is the alcohol that works – isopropyl alcohol (also referred to as rubbing alcohol) is likely to be the cheapest source of the active raw ingredient.
  • The addition of lemon juice is for the desiccating (drying) effect.
  • It is usual to dilute it quite heavily with water.
  • Liquid detergent is often added as a surfactant (spreader and sticker).
  • Vinegar (acetic acid) is the most popular base ingredient and appears to act in a similar manner to alcohol.
  • The increasingly widespread advice to use salt is a problem in that it will contaminate your soils.

One of the better sites I came across was The Garden Counselor. I particularly liked the comment: “I am not opposed to using vinegar as a weed killer, only the cavalier promotion of the idea.” Substitute the word “gin” for “vinegar” in that quote and it pretty much sums up what I think.

If you want to be purist and shun liquid detergents – also referred to as ‘dish soap’ in American parlance – in your homemade spray, you may like to check the ingredients of your pure soap substitute. I was shocked, I tell you, genuinely shocked when I checked the ingredients of many soaps recently. Even expensive, luxury soaps usually contain sodium palmate as the main ingredient. That is palm oil. Think of the orangutans and the issues regarding palm oil production. I am not sure about the justification of “from sustainable plantations” either. It seems to me that this just means the land has already been clear felled for monoculture. It is so hard being an ethical consumer these days.

As far as we are concerned, the bottom line is that if you want to avoid manufactured chemical weed sprays, hand weeding or boiling water are the best alternative eco-options. Also, there is still a desperate need for sound, well-researched and tested advice on organic gardening.

We drank the gin with lime and soda instead.

Setting the table for a summer Christmas in Canberra

Setting the table for a summer Christmas in Canberra

5 thoughts on “We’d rather drink the gin than spray it on weeds, thanks.

  1. Pat Webster

    Definitely drinking the gin is the best option. The weeding advice that is gaining credence here is to cut the weeds rather than pulling them. They grow back but persistent cutting kills them eventually — unless, I suppose, a dose of gin is applied as a pick-me-up.

    Happy New Year, Abbie.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      And a very happy new year to you, Pat. But I do not see the logic in repeated cutting of weeds when one round of hand weeding will do the job!

      1. Pat Webster

        The theory is that cutting is faster and that pulling disturbs the soil and promotes the growth of more weeds, or the same or different types. I haven’t tried it.

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        As long as one cuts them BEFORE they start to show any sign of setting seed. Really just a variation on a properly managed push hoe which severs them at ground level.

  2. Florian Wolf

    Definitely prefer drinking Gin to sprinkling it into the garden – although, the dogs might have a ball and we ourselves subsequently a good laugh 😊. Most of our garden weeds are edible and thus are either used fresh in salads, or steamed as spinach substitute. If you can’t kill them, eat them – works fine !

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