Herbicide Contamination in the Garden!

herbicide affected foliage, tomato leaves herbicide damage

For years I had heard about herbicide contamination in the garden without experiencing it. Our homestead is fairly isolated from field crops, which are often the recipients of broadleaf herbicide treatment. Then some years ago we got hit hard. At first, I thought it was from “drift.” The neighbors had sprayed to kill weeds in their pasture. But it turned out the problem was MUCH worse than that. I started losing plants in gardens which were no where near our property line!

herbicide affected foliage, tomato leaves herbicide damage
Herbicide damage usually looks as if the plant were made of plastic and then, … hit by a blast of heat, melting the leaves.

Some crops are more sensitive to herbicide contamination than are others.

Herbicide treatment of pastures and hayfields is now the norm.

Pennsylvania State University Extension Article on Herbicide Usage in Pastures & Hayfields.

We had been hit by a double whammy. Two years previously our hay supplier had retired. He had a laissez-faire approach to hay production, hardly ever using herbicides. His hay had weeds in it, which we appreciated. Our goats prefer weeds to straight hay. But this is not how most hay producers do it. The goal for them is “clean hay,” meaning, no weeds. Far and away most “clean hay” is obtained by use of broadleaf herbicides. The year before this tragedy we purchased from another supplier, picking the hay up from his barn. We asked, and he told us that he hadn’t sprayed herbicides for over two years. What we didn’t know… was that the hay we purchased had been baled within that two year period. Herbicide residual doesn’t degrade in dry, stored hay.

Broadleaf herbicide doesn’t affect grass/hay, yet it is stored in the stems and leaves.

This means that any hay produced, for at least two years after herbicide application, will contain some herbicide. To make matters worse, that herbicide passes through the digestive track of the animals which eat it and is concentrated in the manure. Our double whammy was that we purchased hay from a treated field and we allowed our animals to graze on our neighbor’s treated field. They, of course, returned to poop in their pens, which we then cleaned. Following our custom, we used the “barn scrapings” (manure and hay scraps) to side dress our favorite trees and shrubs, as well as mulch in our vegetable gardens. We used this mulch on our favorite plants, and then… watched as our favorite plants wilted. Many died.

Herbicide contamination in the garden and yard appeared as if by magic!

But it wasn’t magic. It was in the hay, which was then digested by our animals. Then we applied the manure to our garden and trees.

Once herbicide contamination appears, how long its effects last in the garden?

Though about half of my tomato plants recovered (well, sort of) I was surprised that the next year’s plants, planted in the same spots, were damaged for two more growing seasons, and that, nearly as badly as the first year! This stuff is horrible!

Herbicide Contamination in the Garden/ Tomato from Homesteadingedu on Vimeo.

Some crops are more sensitive than others. Here’s a link from “The Progressive Farmer,” which discusses sensitivity. I found that c. moschata squash were somewhat resistant to this poisoning. Corn, of course, is not a broadleaf. I didn’t observe any damage to our corn, but I concluded that I don’t want this stuff in my garden AT ALL!

herbicide affected lambsquarters, herbicide damaged weed
Lambsquarters is my “canary in the coal mine,” coming up all around the garden and readily showing the “melting” appearance of herbicide contamination.

Blog Lambsquarters: Too Good to Be Wild!

Weeds aren’t always bad.

Modern use of broadleaf herbicides requires that gardeners who have traditionally depended on manure and mulch, derived from wheat and other commercially raised crops, must change their ways. If they don’t, sooner or later, catastrophe will strike.


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