Alternatives to Herbicide

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I always through there were two options when it came to weeds.

1) you could spray chemicals all over them and hope they die… or use more natural chemical reactions like vinegar and hot water to cause them to wither.

2) you could get out there with a hoe, like my deda (grandpa) always did, and take them out by hand.

This year, I’m taking a course on organic ministry at a farm near Norwalk.  We spend roughly half the day in conversation and reflection, have some personal retreat time, and do some work in the gardens themselves.

So far, the thing I have learned that has stuck with me the most is that there are other options when it comes to weeds.

Weeds thrive, you see, because the soil conditions promote their growth.  And the weeds themselves tell you what the soil needs in order to be more healthy OR what type of plans you should be planting there instead.

Stinging nettle can indicate that the soil is acidic… so maybe you want to plant hydrangeas or blueberries there.  Or, you could work to improve the soil conditions by adding dolomitic limestone and making the soil more neutral.

Chicory or mustard weeds are a sign that the ground is hard and too compacted. You can break up the soil by planting sweet clover that will help break up the soil and replenish nitrogen.  Brassica crops (like broccoli and cabbages) also will flourish under these conditions.

The list goes on and on.

I was spending time with a group of clergy colleagues this week and we were talking about difficult people in our churches.  People who take up a lot of time or who talk too much in meetings, or are always complaining about something.  We all have them in our churches, and if we are honest with ourselves, sometimes WE are that person.

Our tendency is to see these people as weeds.  We wish they weren’t there. We’d like to pull them up by their roots or change them.

But what if, instead, we stopped and asked what were the conditions that allowed their behaviors to flourish?

What if someone talks too much in a meeting because we haven’t created space for other voices to be heard?

What if someone is constantly complaining because there is something else going on in their life and it is a sign of a pastoral care need?

What if that person who always takes up too much of our time is a sign of our lack of good, healthy boundaries?

And what if instead of focusing so much of our worry on the weeds, we instead worked to strength and plant things that we want to flourish in that space?

What if we shifted the meeting format to have more small group conversation time?

What if we made a policy to only accept a complaint if there was a constructive response along with it, or a commitment to volunteer to be part of the change?

What if we nurtured a community of care with trained lay folks who helped with congregational care instead of trying to do it all on our own.

All of a sudden, our lives are not consumed with stamping out weeds, but with promoting growth and health and vitality in our gardens and in our churches.

Ever creeping, creeping charlie

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Creeping Charlie was already flourishing in our backyard when we moved in last summer.  We had been working on hand pulling some of it and forgot to apply a herbicide on it last fall when it would have been a good time to do so.

So this spring, when we worked to till the southern portion of the lawn to make a garden, I knew I really needed to get down on my hands and knees and work on pulling out the Creeping Charlie before the machine ripped it all to bits and I ended up spreading the annoying groundcover.

For the most part, that helped.  One good afternoon of pulling cleared out that space and made it a mostly acceptable spot to till and garden.

But these last few days, as I have had time to spend in the garden weeding, it is all over the place.

Not the big swaths of it like before, but little tiny clusters here and there.

Trying to come back.

Trying to grow and spread.


In our spiritual lives and in our ministries, there are things we want to get rid of or stop doing as well.  Bad habits. Old priorities. Outdated methods.

Just like the Creeping Charlie was once touted as a excellent groundcover with its pretty blue flowers, these things might have had their time and place.  Or they might have always been unwelcome in our lives and in our churches.

Either way, when you try to change something and go in a different direction, there are bits and pieces of the past that keep coming back.

A change in worship styles that keeps being invaded with requests to sing the old hymns.

Deciding to offer only healthy snacks after worship until someone brings donuts, again.

Setting aside time for devotions that keeps getting eaten away at by the kids waking up earlier.

Trying to quit complaining (gossiping, smoking, you name it) but continuing to hang out with people who do.


This summer, I’m learning persistence and patience in the garden.  Keep at it. Expect growth of those things you tried to set aside. Take a deep breath and just keep pulling it back out. Calmly. Consistently.