The Heat is On: Enforcing Weed Control with Fire Weeding
by Melissa Ida
Spring has sprung and summer will soon be upon us. As we approach the growing season, many of us know only too well that with the abundance of vegetable gardens, lush lawns, and fecund fields there is bound to be a never-ending source of stealthy, sun-hogging weeds. The common methods for dealing with these weedy culprits have often included herbicides, hoeing, and a degree of hostility. Fire weeding, though, is an old agricultural practice which has been used to cope with this problem in a sustainable and effective manner. For those tired of squatting down and bending over in a continual tug-of-war with weeds, or for those seeking more peaceful, natural ways of weed negotiation, fire weeding may be just the perfect solution.
As was mentioned, the practice of fire weeding is a long established one. It basically incorporates the use of various fire-welding tools to kill plants by exposing them to heat, rather than actually burning them. Two main products available on the market include weed wands and flame weeders. Weed wands simply attach to gas canisters or gas bottles and are best used for small spaces and in small-to-average-sized gardens. Flame weeders, on the other hand, are much bigger and are often carried by backpack or consist of a tank and trolley. They are often recommended for vast areas, such as large seed beds, lengthy rows, allotments, and fields.
Fire weeding works on the premise that heat alone can cause enough damage to kill a living thing, all the while avoiding the scorching and carbon that comes along with burning something. In this sense, fire weeding is an organic method for enforcing weed control that is also non-intrusive. When using a weed wand or flame weeder, the flame never touches anything. It gets close enough to heat a plant at damaging levels. The heat will raise the water’s temperature within the plant’s cells just enough to break down its membranes. Once its leaves are seared, water from the root will be unable to reach them, causing the plant to wilt within a few hours. In this way, wanted plants will be left unaffected, while undesirable weeds will be unable to grow back.
Those who make use of fire weeding typically include farmers, gardeners, home-owners, or anyone who has declared war on weeds. Farmers generally make use of flame weeders for massive weed control, while those who garden and take part in lawn care more likely use weed wands. Three common practices of fire weeding are “spot-flaming,” pre-planting treatment, and treating entire plant beds. “Spot-flaming” is a rather self-explanatory practice, in which a single spot, per se, a driveway crack, is selected and targeted with the heat from an open flame. With the pre-planting treatment, weeds are attacked before germinating seeds have had a chance to unearth themselves, thus paving the way for a sunny future for low-growing plants such as carrots. The treatment of entire plant beds is common for flower beds, gardens, and other aesthetically pleasing plants. Basically, fire weeding is used between rows and on unwanted plants.
In general, fire weeding is best used for a plethora of things, including but not limited to, a list of the following: crabgrass, patios, scree, driveway cracks, around fence lines, along garden paths, around brick paths, on gravel driveways, sterilizing soil and compost, organic weed control, and pre-germination weeding along rows. The latter of this list has been found to be a particularly effective preemergent treatment for gardens. In order for this to work, weeds must be killed when crops are just about ready to germinate. To determine this, a pane of grass should be placed over a patch of the garden. A box frame can be used to keep the pane one inch off the ground. When seedlings are seen emerging through the earth, it is time to fire weed. If done immediately, the weeds will die while the submerged crops will be left unharmed. It should be noted that for rather hot and sunny days, the pane should be spared and crops should be fire weeded five days after having been planted. On a side note, this type of pre-germination weed control has worked successfully well with carrot beds, but should work well with other low-to-earth plants.
Fire weeding, as can be seen, is a very approachable and practical form of weed control. Its repercussions are far less consequential than those of herbicides and it places little to no strain on the human body. It protects your prized potatoes, dandelion-free driveways, and the exponential surplus of zucchini you can never do a thing about. So the next time you head out to the backyard garden with a weed wand in hand, just remember, the heat is on.