On Weeds…

Let me just start with this declaration: weeds exist. There are people who will debate that one with me; but I remain staunchly convinced that some plants do not belong where they are growing, some are annoying wherever they grow, and a few just shouldn’t exist at all. (Oriental bittersweet… why?)

This is apparently the Year of the Weed in my garden. The cool temperatures and damp soils have caused every last one of the 3 billion maple and crabgrass seeds to germinate (I might be over-estimating… a bit…) Then the few very warm days we’ve had were perfect conditions for fast growth. The dock and cleavers are over-running everything. (These are both borderline third category, though I think they might have some use somewhere… maybe…)

In just one weekend, the arugula in my greens beds went from adorable cotyledons only two inches tall to foot-high stems topped with buds, reminding me forcibly why the folk name for this plant is rocket. Much as I like free veg seed, I really would prefer to eat the veg before it sets those seeds. I’m probably going to have to rip out most of the plants and wait for fall now. The main problem with that is that I seeded all the greens together for a cut-and-come-again mix. Pulling the arugula may be damaging to the other greens, none of which seem inclined to move much beyond the seedling stage. And I was so looking forward to garden-fresh salad.

All that sumac we cut down is also asserting itself now. If there is a way to remove the enormous root system of a sumac colony, we did not bother with that. (I strongly suspect it would involve removing the top ten feet of soil over the whole area and starting over…) The roots run throughout the jungle, of course, but it turns out that they’ve been sending quite a lot of feelers into the cleared area where my raised beds are now. The new beds are underlain by paper which seems to be enough to keep the roots from sending up stalks. For now…

The old beds have no barrier. I have sumac bushes coming up in the onions every two to three days. The sumac stalks break off easily enough, but all that growth and pulling is disrupting the plants I put in there. I think I’ve accidentally pulled up much of the beet and carrot seedlings in there. Having the stem break in your hands also means you aren’t actually pulling the root. It will just come back. Which it does… Plus, the stumps are already sending up new trunks. And those are difficult to reach over the hügelkultur… So it’s going to be a long slog trying to keep that stuff at bay. On the other hand, having to go into the jungle to attack the sumac regularly means I’ll be cutting the rest of it down faster than I anticipated. I’ve already cleared out nearly all the slope while cutting this round of sumac. It was about an hour of “just that one more”…

Then… does anyone have any suggestions for removing grass other than pulling it? Because it too is a spreader, and it is everywhere. But it has such dense root mats that pulling it up means it pulls up everything around it, including the new transplants. Or, if it’s in with the tough existing plants like daylilies and iris (which it is… in abundance…), it just breaks at the soil surface and comes back as soon as my back is turned. I don’t know why the former folks let it run so profligately through the perennial beds, and I’m starting to feel like there isn’t much I can do about it now. So it’s a depressing mess I might just have to concede to… And I don’t like losing… What’s really bad is they let it colonize the bank out front also. Even where it doesn’t rip up other plants, it’s breaking up the soil structure and exposing the steep slope to fast erosion. I’ve never liked grass… now it’s bordering on loathing.

I pulled another three cubic feet of weeds out of the front bank this weekend. In addition to the grass, the former folks let cleavers become firmly established. They may actually have planted a few because there are a few very well rooted centers that look to be the remnants of a quart-sized bedding plant. But I have no idea why you would buy these things as plants. They grow from seed almost instantaneously. And they easily grow over six feet in a season. The plants that seeded themselves have very shallow roots, so they pull up easy enough. But they’re all through the bank, so that I have to climb to reach many of them. And, while I like the soft scent of the other galliums, woodruff and yellow bedstraw, I find cleavers pungently offensive. Then there is the grating stickiness that lends this plant its common name — plant parts can cling to your clothes even through a washing machine cycle. I can’t imagine why one would allow this plant to take over, never mind possibly planting it intentionally. Spending money on it!

Perhaps because I’ve been fighting weeds since moving in and particularly this year, I went a bit overboard on landscape fabric and paper in the veg patch. The way it’s going, there won’t be any grass growing over there. I don’t know what else to do though. Between the sumac and the Virginia creeper, the whole area is a dense mat of suckering roots, and my push mower can’t cut through those woody stems. I’m not going to spend hours every day off trying to keep these things out of my veg. Nor do I have that king of time for just that one garden task. So there’s a lot of weed barrier already down, and I’ll probably just finish it off this week. 

By next weekend, I’ll have the veg patch done. There will be a round of mulch to cover up all this weed barrier, but that can go at a leisurely pace since it’s just for aesthetics. I’ve already got most of the nightshades done. Just the potatoes left. I’ve planted most of the beans, the cucumbers and the melons. There’s a good deal of basil, and nearly all the flowers have been seeded. The sunflowers and squashes are still waiting for me to finish the hügelkultur mounds. But I’m already tying up tomatoes and peas, which seems a bit ahead of schedule, especially considering the late start.

I’ve also had my first harvest — a handful of radishes. I like radishes when they are fresh from the garden and pretty much only for about as long as a radish harvest season. I tire of them quickly, so I’ve learned not to do successive sowing on these things. A round in spring and then another in fall, and I’m good for the year. However, I begin craving them each spring and really enjoy them when they are coming out of the garden. I cut chives and marjoram, mix them into plain yogurt, and then slice the radishes into the mix. This is delicious spread on warm bread. Or just eaten by the spoonful. Sometimes I grate the radishes, combine them with olive oil, parsley, tarragon and a bit of sherry and use that as a sandwich spread. It goes very well with nosy cheeses. 

One harvest I am almost desperate for is the strawberries. There are nice big plants and many green berries and more flowers to follow the first flush… but no berries to eat. Yet. Which is agonizing. I’m down to dried cranberries and raisins. I really want fresh fruit! But I should be eating berries in a week or two. Certainly before Midsummer. It’s just not summer until there are strawberries.

So that’s the news from Vermont. Hope your garden is productive too! And I hope you’re missing out on the Year of the Weed…

©Elizabeth Anker 2022