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Sunday, June 21, 2009

More Yardwork This Weekend (And God Probably Thinks I Am Really Dumb)

My wife has been asking me to apply weedkiller to the lawn since the beginning of the season. During most of May, my yard was presentable enough, at least for me. But starting a couple of weeks back, my yard started getting overrun with weeds.

The problem, I think, is another side-effect of the mortgage crisis. There are a couple of houses on my block which have been unoccupied for some time. They have For Sale signs on them, but obviously, in this market, buyers are not exactly tripping over each other to buy the houses. During winter, this was not much of a problem. But once the weather turned, the yards of these houses started getting overgrown, both with uncut grass and weeds. The houses are not occupied and the previous owner makes an occasional trip out to the house to take care of the yard instead of paying someone to take care of it regularly. The result is a free ride for weeds which have infested these yards, and have now spread throughout the neighborhood.

In any case, the weediness of my yard was apparent even to my biased eyes and I decided it was time to do something about it. Usually, I apply weedkiller to my yard once in a couple of years when weeds start choking off my grass completely. I buy concentrated liquid weedkiller (Spectracide, Ortho, etc.), then use a pressure sprayer to apply it to my yard. I don't look forward to this activity because of the amount of effort it entails.

The sprayer is a one-gallon model. I have to mix 2 to 4 ounces of weed-killer into one gallon of water to fill the sprayer, pump it up and then spray it over 500 square feet of grass. I then have to repeat this process. My yard is 8000 square feet in area, so you can imagine how long this will take. I am done in about 4 hours if I am lucky and don't run into any major problems with the nozzle or something like that. In addition to the time it takes, it is not fun at all pumping up the pressure sprayer repeatedly. To empty each gallon of water from the pressure sprayer takes 2 or 3 times of cranking the pump to pressurize the sprayer. At the end of the day, my hands would be sore and my palms might have blisters from cranking the sprayer. And the whole thing is heavy and you need to carry it around all over the place.

This time, my wife spoke to some friends of hers and told me that they don't spend as much time on weed-killer applications because they use a hose-end sprayer. For some reason, I have not considered a hose-end sprayer before, but on my wife's insistence, I decided to give that a try this time.

I bought a hose-end sprayer and read the instructions a few times. I already had a 100-foot garden hose, so that was not a problem. I did have to untangle it and make sure there were no kinks in it. That took me about half an hour by itself. Ater that, I inaugurated the hose-end sprayer tentatively. First I cleaned it out, filled it with the appropriate amount of weed-killer (based on the instructions, I would need 32 ounces of killer for my 8000 square-foot yard), then set the dilution rate appropriately, attached it to the end of the hose and started spraying.

Here are my observations on what happened next: First of all, the hose-end sprayer consumed a lot more weed-killer than I thought it would. I ended up using about 60 ounces of weed-killer rather than 32 ounces even though I followed the instructions as closely as I could. I either lingered for too long in some parts of the yard or the setting dial on top of the sprayer was not calibrated correctly. Either way, this is a disadvantage over a pressure sprayer because you have less control over how much chemical is spread over how much yard area with a hose-end sprayer. Dragging a 100-foot hose around an 8000-square foot yard is not much fun, especially when the hose is muddy and slimy and keeps getting in the way as you walk backwards. Deciding which way to walk around every tree and bush in the yard so that you don't get the hose all tangled up is an intellectual exercise in itself. But this was not any more difficult than carrying a one-gallon pressure sprayer all over the place. Except, with a pressure sprayer, I could walk any way I wanted between trees without worrying about tangling up anything!

More importantly, when my pressure sprayer put out a spray, I know that it is diluted weed-killer. There is no guess-work involved in figuring that out. When the hose-end sprayer puts out a spray, it may or may not contain any weed-killer in it. The chemical in the unit may not make it into the water coming out of the end of the hose for several different reasons. There is a straw that runs from the hose-end sprayer cap to the actual sprayer container. This straw is supposed to suck up the chemical in the appropriate quantity and mix it with water and then spray it out. The problem is that this process could stop for several reasons and you would not know about it unless you kept a close eye on the level of chemical in the container and made sure that it was going down steadily. The dilution rate dial could have moved off its setting to some intermediate position. The strainer at the tip of the straw could have become clogged. The straw could have disconnected from the sprayer top and fallen into the chemical container. Any of this could result in just pure water coming out of the hose-end sprayer. I was caught off-guard a couple of times because of problems like this, and had to re-spray some parts of the yard because I am guessing that they just got watered with pure water the first time around.

It is also difficult to direct the spray too precisely with a hose-end sprayer. With a pressure sprayer, this was not a problem at all. With a hose-end sprayer, the quantity of water as well as the spray pattern that comes out of the sprayer is impossible to control, so precise control of where the spray ends up is not as easy. This means that you tend to skip some areas of the yard right next to flower beds, vegetable patches, etc., rather than risk spraying the plants in those areas with weed-killer.

As for the physical effort involved, the hose-end sprayer obviously wins hands-down. There is no pumping or other manual effort involved in getting the chemical onto the lawn. If you can hold down a trigger that controls the water valve, you are good to spray.

So, ultimately, what is the verdict? The hose-end spraying took only an hour (that time included getting the hose ready and then putting it back properly). It certainly saved me at least 3 hours of time. But, I ended up using a lot more weed-killer than I would have with a pressure sprayer. And I am not completely sure that I sprayed all parts of the yard (some parts might have gotten just water). And my hands are in much better shape than they would have been in if I had used the pressure sprayer. I will be watching the yard closely over the next few days to see how effective the application was. If it is effective, I might stick to hose-end spraying for the future in spite of the higher quantity of chemical used because it saves me a lot of time and a lot of hard labor. If it is not effective, I might decide to adjust some settings, and give it another try anyways! I told you I don't like yard-work!

All this reminds me of a joke I read a long time back involving a conversation between God and St. Francis about suburban lawn maintenance activities. I get a chuckle out of it every time I read it. So, let me share that chuckle with you.


GOD: Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.

ST. FRANCIS: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers "weeds" and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD: Grass? But it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It's temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it-sometimes twice a week.

GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS: No Sir. Just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD: Now let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

ST. FRANCIS: Yes, Sir.

GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

ST. FRANCIS: You aren't going to believe this Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It's a natural circle of life.

ST. FRANCIS: You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD: No. What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD: And where do they get this mulch?

ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD: Enough. I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have they scheduled for us tonight?"

ST. CATHERINE: "Dumb and Dumber", Lord. It's a really stupid movie about.....

GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

I also watched an atrociously stupid movie last night called The Devil's Tomb. It would be difficult to come up with an example of a bigger waste of film than this movie. I hope it was shot entirely digitally and did not use any film. It would have been a big waste of electrons even then, but it makes it slightly more palatable than physical film being wasted on a project so inane and meritless. It was supposed to be an action movie, and there was some action in it, but not much of anything else, including things like plot, storyline, characters, etc. There was one quick scene of a naked woman with a nice rack, but pretty much nothing else to recommend the movie. Oh, and by the way, it is a biblical story with angels and demons and what-not!

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