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Weeding the Garden (fwd)
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 12 Jun 1999 07:06:56 -0400
From: BILL DUESING <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Weeding the Garden
Living on the Earth: June 11, 1999: Weeding the Garden
Suzanne and I really enjoy weeding our gardens by hand. We experience
close-up what's happening with the soil and the crops and we find out who's
living where. Weeding requires a kind of pleasant, mindless concentration.
Our hands get to know the feel of the weed stems, and how hard to pull to
get each one out. What great work as the sun dips behind the trees to the
west! It's wonderful to be so intimate with the processes upon which our
lives depend. The change in the look and health of a garden bed as the
result of a few minutes of weeding can be dramatic. Frequently vegetables
and flowers seem to double in size once they're released from the
competition of the plants that were crowding them. And the real rewards,
of course, are in the eating.
First, we locate the valuable or desired plants, the peas, garlic, lettuce
or zinnias that we want to encourage. Then we gently pull out the other
plants around them, which can now be called weeds because they are
unwanted. After a rain, the soil is softened and most of the weeds come
out easily with their entire root system attached. Now, they can't grow
back. When we're working close to the vegetables we hope to eat, it's
important to think about the root structure of the weeds we're removing.
Pulling out the long horizontal stolens of quack grass or the fibrous root
mat of crabgrass without also disturbing the tiny onions or carrots can be
challenging. Removing the competition helps vegetables get the water and
nutrients that they need.
Of course, we do all we can to limit the number of weeds which grow in the
first place. Weeds thrive on bare soil, so the most important weed control
method is to keep the ground covered: with a crop, with a mulch of straw,
hay, leaves or other organic matter, or with a cover crop like rye. We
plant lettuce, turnips, beets and greens closely together and thin them as
they grow so that the ground is covered as much as possible. Mulching
these leafy plants can encourage lots of slugs, so we save the mulch for
larger plants like tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli and garlic, of course.
Planting a cover crop of winter rye is extremely useful. This grain, used
for rye bread and thatched roofs, is sown in the fall, grows very densely
before winter and starts growing again early in the spring. It discourages
the growth of most weeds. At planting time, young rye can be turned under.
This process adds organic matter and nutrients to the soil. When we plant
potatoes in April, we shovel under the rye in the row only, leaving what's
between the rows to cut later for mulch. Once it flowers in late May or
June, if the rye is cut, it won't grow again. As we set out our tomato
plants, we cut the rye (which is over four feet tall) rake the stems into
the paths, turn under a shovel-width row for the tomatoes and leave the rye
stems and stubble as mulch between the rows. By the time the rye flowers,
its stalks are stiff and tough. They decompose very slowly and are
therefore especially valuable for building long-lasting, stable humus.
As garden soil improves over time, weeds are easier to manage and to pull
out. Some of our weeds are actually useful and edible. Lamb's quarters
and purslane are good examples. Both are commonly found in fertile soil,
are very delicious and are even more nutritious than most of the vegetables
we grow intentionally. Nitrogen-fixing clovers (white Dutch and Mammoth
Red) can be left around larger vegetables like corn, tomatoes or broccoli.
They're beautiful, they can be cut to produce a great mulch, and when
dried, red clover flowers make a delicious, healthy tea.
As we weed, we learn which plants are problems and which ones aren't. Weed
identification and appreciation books such as Stalking the Wild Asparagus
by Euell Gibbons, or Weeds: Guardians of the Soil by Joseph Cocannouer are
very helpful in seeing the positive side of weeds.
Get intimate with an ecosystem soon. Discover the pleasure of weeding your
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1999, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "Living on the
Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays Living on the Earth:
Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future is available from Bill
Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14 postpaid. These essays first
appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted
weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since November 1995 are
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