Nothing quite brings the country dweller down from their Back to Eden aspirations like a flourishing crop of weeds running wild over the land that they fondly slated for productive growth. We went away for 5 days after school was done and when we got back the jungle was encroaching. It has been raining buckets this spring, meaning we didn’t get our gardens planted until last week. The lawn went to seed for a while before we made hay, and the goats cannot possibly keep up with their pastures, even with their nonstop chewing.
We made a plan to bring the rank growth into submission. Using all the weapons in our arsenal, we have been making slow progress. It’s times like this that we are glad our property is limited to less than five acres. I will not mention the options that rhyme with keed-willer or pound-sup since they are bad, bad, and we try to be good with our weed control methods. That is not to say that we never resort to desperate measures, but I will list our favorite methods.
- Salt. Nothing fancy, certainly not Epsom salts, which will actually enhance the root systems of vegetables. Just buy ordinary table salt. This works well for fence rows, in sidewalk cracks, along walkways, and to my astonishment, on asparagus beds! My in-laws taught me this trick. They suggest salting the bed once a year, then mulching heavily on top. It works like a charm! Somehow the asparagus continues to thrive while the weeds do not. In other areas, salt will produce more of a scorched earth look, so be careful where you dribble it.
- Boiling water. When I do water bath canning, I pour the scalding hot water on weeds in the driveway. Nice and easy, except for the part where I haul a huge kettle full of boiling water through the house, trying to hold it at arm’s length. An easier method is to fill the tea kettle and then pour the boiling contents onto such things as pesky wild rhubarbs or evil start-up vines of poison ivy. I try to hit some of the leaves, but especially the roots right by the stem.
- Garden gloves and old-fashioned bending over to pull weeds. You can walk through your grounds daily, nipping things in the bud as they come up. This is not terribly effective if you have too much garden to keep up with. I almost cannot walk past a weed when I get in this mode. It’s terribly distracting. I just wanted to cut a head of lettuce, and here I am, halfway down the onion rows, pulling red-roots.
- A sharp hoe. Some people hoe a section every day. I will never forget the sight of African farmers working patiently through vast plots with short-handled hoes. It’s a good practice, very effective if you are into bodily exercise that profits much.
- Cardboard with mulch on top. This gets my top vote, because of the way it builds up the soil and retains moisture in the warmer months. There are lots of options. I will dedicate the rest of the post to this idea. (Apologies. This is an edit to what accidentally got published with a title of six ways when I really only have five. I would have made up more if I could have thought of them. Maybe you can help a girl out.)
We have a grass catcher on our mower, so every time we mow, we pile the clippings around garden plants. This works, but it gets weirdly slippery.
Old hay or straw is great mulch for keeping the soil moist, but it is not so great for weed control because the seeds in the bales will abundantly compensate for every weed that is smothered. Maybe you will be fortunate and get very clean hay. It’s a risk I prefer not to take after one year when I had wheat growing all over my garden on top of the mulch.
Composted manure with straw or sawdust is a wonderful option. Sourcing this requires becoming buddies with a farmer who is willing to let valuable by-products leave the farm for other places. We tackled the problem by becoming the farmer. It required building a barn, then building fences, then buying a menagerie that obligingly ate what we fed it and turned out bushels of poo mixed with their bedding so that now we have a fairly steady supply of mulch for the gardens. Since the chickens have already scratched through the compost, there are very few seeds left to cause trouble and the plants fairly leap into the air when they receive rain water filtered through fertilizing mulch.
We also mulch with wood chips, especially around the base of the fruit trees and berries. I don’t recommend twisters, but if you have a storm that takes out a bunch of your trees, you might as well dry your tears, cut the firewood, and run the branches through a chipper. Wait a year and the pile of chips will be fine mulch. Alternately you can take up spoon carving and collect the chips. We have a number of failed kuksas and spoon blanks scattered around the blueberry bushes.
The easiest, least economic way involves carting loads of mulch home from a distributor and spreading it. If you mulch as heavily as you should, about 4 to 6 inches deep, you’re going to run into a bit of money.
However- no weeds! (Unless the chickens get out and scatter it into the lawn.)
Last week my greenhouse friend and I were fantasizing about gardening in heaven. Everything peak season, always bearing fruit, no pests, and no weeds! It’s a tantalizing thought. We just aren’t there yet, so we deal with it.