Have you ever wished for a Time Machine?

Have you ever wished for a Time Machine?

Sometimes it seems like the only remedy for a problem is to go back in time and prevent it from happening. Have you ever had something like that happen to you?

I’m thinking a lot of people are wishing for one right now with the corona virus. Just a quick hop in Dr. Who’s Tardis, and the Doctor could stop it before it starts, right?

We don’t have a time machine. But, we do have a lot of very clever scientists, doctors, and engineers working to attack this problem from every angle imaginable. Sometimes, a new point of view can yield dramatic results. Maybe even your point of view.

I had my own personal “really wish I had a time machine” incident about 20 years ago–from a gardening mistake. Not life or death. Just annoying. 

I’d bought some Lily of the Valley plants from a local garden center, and planted them in the front of the house, in front of some juniper shrubs. There was a cute little weed growing in with the plants, so I left it. Big mistake. Huge.

Fast forward a year or two… the cute little weed was over-running my garden bed. It made the juniper shrubs look like they had hairy armpits. If I pulled them out, they grew back. Round-up didn’t affect it. It took me a couple years to identify the plant… equisetum arvense–common horsetail–a plant so primitive, it spreads by underground rhizomes and spores. Although there are chemicals to control the spores, nothing existed that affected the plant. It’s that primitive.

I found a couple books that discussed the plant… and said the options were to dig it out completely, or to improve the soil drainage–it likes wet soil. Visions of excavating the entire soil 10 feet down in front of our house had me less than excited. The stuff had tunneled under the concrete path to the bed on the other side. How far down would we need to go? I really didn’t want to sacrifice our beautiful magnolia tree.

We tried a less extreme attempt at digging it out, hiring a crew to dig out both beds with the horsetail–skimming the top layer of soil. I wasn’t convinced that would do the trick. Turns out I was right–it came right back.

I tried getting help from the local garden centers. Nada. I was finally referred to someone in Columbus, Ohio–a horticultural extension agent, from Ohio State University.

The horticultural agent confirmed what I already knew… there were no chemicals available that would do the trick. But he did come up with a new idea: try killing it by blocking all sunlight to the horsetail using black plastic sheeting.

We dug out the shrubs where the horsetail was heaviest, but spared the magnolia tree. I put down about 4 layers of heavy black plastic sheeting, duct-taped the sides to the concrete path and to the side of the house to seal the beds as best as possible, then spread mulch over the top of that.

Year after year, I’d check. Yup, I’d still see horsetail popping up at the edges of the plastic, or near the magnolia tree. But each year, it seemed there was a little less.

Fast-forward 10 to 15 years. Finally–no sign of the horsetail. I waited about another 5 years for good measure–hey, I waited this long, I did not want to risk starting over from scratch. Finally, last year, I dug up a corner of the bed and planted a new shrub to replace one that had not survived. 

There was no sign of horsetail, and the dirt underneath the black plastic was very dry. Success!

Covering the bed with black plastic did block the sunlight, but it also dried out the soil in the bed. I’m not sure which effect killed off the horsetail. Either way, I’m a happy camper. Problem solved, no need for a time machine… at least not the kind that takes you backwards in time to prevent a mistake. It took a time machine of a different sort–the one that moves forward, one day at a time.

Sometimes it takes a very different approach to solve a seemingly impossible problem

Here’s hoping the creative scientists, doctors, and engineers who are working tirelessly to solve this problem are able to come up with new and innovative ways of treating the people who have fallen ill, and maybe even a way to stop the spread… hopefully much faster than it took me to eradicate a bed of horsetail.

MK Tufft, Ph.D.

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