Archives for posts with tag: weeding
I Win!
A.V. Walters–
There’s been a running, albeit subliminal competition around here, regarding weeds. Rick and I each have a target-weed, a weed that, in our minds, is the worst weed. It won’t be a surprise to anyone following this blog that my nomination for the most evil weed is spotted knapweed. Rick, on the other hand, has long held out for a weed we’ve encountered before, one we’ve always called “choke weed.”
I am among the first to admit that choke weed is a worthy opponent. It is wildly invasive and opportunistic. But, you see, I’d done my research on the knapweed, aka knotweed, aka star thistle. Spotted knapweed is evil in so many ways: it out-competes the natives by poisoning the soil around it, for up to three years (both to seed germination and to neighboring plants): its water storing, tuberous roots steal all the available water; it propagates both via runners and seeds (and its seeds are viable in the ground for up to seven years); and, if you pull it, any part of the root left in the soil can re-develop into a new, healthy plant. It is so toxic, to other plants, you cannot safely compost its remains–or the resulting compost will carry the toxins back into the garden. As far as I can tell, nothing eats it. In my books, knapweed has a corner on evil plant hegemony.
Rick’s pick seems to run hand-in-hand with the knapweed. They manage to co-exist in some kind of evil pact — choke weed isn’t bothered too much by knapweed’s evil ways. I’d be talking conspiracy here, if I didn’t know that that would paint me as some kind of a weed nut. But, since we didn’t actually know the choke weed’s real name, and modus operandi, we had no way to actually judge which of the contenders was the worst.
Not that we don’t respect each other’s opinions in the garden, but we did have a bit of a schism in terms of weeding priorities. Schism is an ugly word, with an ugly history. And yet, there it was. While playing lip-service to the noxious qualities of each other’s weed of the day, really, we mostly spent our weeding energies on our own respective weeds.
Finally, I broke down and did the research. Rick’s choke weed is commonly known as red sorel. It’s an invasive in it’s own right — again, spreading aggressively both by runner and seed. Like knapweed, it is deceptively attractive in its own way. And, left in the ground, any part of its runner-like rhizome will generate new red sorel plants. And it will out-compete and choke out native plants or garden plants. But it doesn’t hold a candle to knapweed’s toxic legacy. 
I win.
Lucky me, eh?
I suppose the good news is that this information has re-animated both of us in our eradication quests. Both of these invasive weeds are worthy of our directed intentions. At least on this, we can both agree. We will prevail. (Well, at least in our dreams.)

The Orphan Garden

Good Enough

A.V. Walters

The garden this year is an orphan garden. Though we planted it, and we care for it, it’s not really ours. We didn’t do our usual big production garden. We cheated and used older seeds (some of which never did germinate.) We transplanted volunteers and moved things around—so much so that now I’m not sure what’s what. Then, late in the game, one of the farm tenants dropped off two orphan tomatoes—of course, root bound, and those went in, too.

Still, watering and weeding it has been a pleasure. It’s that quiet, steady, work that inspires why I garden in the first place.

There’s a chicken in the garden this year—it happens sometimes that a chicken escapes the barn and sets up housekeeping in some corner. Usually nobody goes looking for them and they forage and do pretty well. This one likes snails. If I see that shiny, post-slime evidence of a snail on one of the plants, I root around in the bucket and find the culprit. I’ve been giving the snails to the chicken, and now she follows me around the garden. Somewhere over there, there are eggs, but I’m not looking.

The tomatoes (even the stragglers) are doing well and have baby green tomatoes hiding in a lacework of yellow flowers. The peppers are in bloom and the various squashes are all growing gangbusters. I just wish I knew what they were. I know there are pumpkins, zucchini, acorn, delicatta (my favorite), butternut and maybe crookneck squashes. I’m uncertain about the rest. The cucumbers (3 lemon and one regular) are filling out and reaching up for the sun. I think there’s a French melon plant in there, but only time will tell.

Unfortunately our hot spells have made the spinach bolt. We’re eating it up quick, before it gets too bitter.  We’ve also had some of the basil, and some early sprigs of cilantro. The radishes are almost ready, though they’ve been beset by bugs, we’ll still eat them. Even if this is all it is, it is good enough.

We didn’t plant this garden with the intention of a harvest. We may never satisfy our curiosity about just what’s in those buckets. We know we’ll be moving, but we don’t know when (or exactly where, for that matter.) We’re packing and checking our plans, Plan A, Plan B and Plan C (even Plan C.5!) We’re selling things that don’t need to go with us. And we’re waiting. The waiting is the worst. We have business to finish here, and we’re not in charge of how quickly that will roll along.

In the meantime, there are emus and chickens to feed and gardens to tend…


The Proper Planting of Buckets

A.V. Walters

Recently, I’ve come across some not-so-clear-on-the-concept plantings, and so, perhaps, we need some clarification on the bucket farm issue.

As usual, if one first defines the objectives, and communicates (and here I may have failed), the implementation will be more successful.

So, the objectives of Bucket Planting are:

1)   The bucket directs watering directly to the root zone and thus saves water;

2)   If the plant is placed low in the bucket, the top unused area (3”- 6”) serves as a reservoir for watering;

3)   Properly planted (see above), the bucket serves as a wind shield for seedlings;

4)   The top of the exposed bucket serves as a hose curb to protect the plants;

5)   By watering only into the bucket, you keep the area (walkway and unplanted areas) weed free (Since even weeds need water–granted in areas that get ample summer rainfall this is less helpful, but it will still reduce your weeding chores.);

6)   Most weeding is limited to the interior of the bucket, and once your plants are established, they’ll shade that area, further minimizing weeds and reducing water losses;

7)   And finally, properly prepared buckets prevent gophers from eating your plants!

Of course, there are limitations. Buckets can’t protect truly long-rooted plants, whose roots navigate through the bucket’s bottom holes and beyond—but they do buy them time to get established. That way they’re more likely to survive if they get nibbled on.

Here are some basic guidelines to proper bucketification:

I prefer the black, semi-pliable nursery buckets. They last for several seasons, and they don’t get all brittle in the sunshine. Plus, most people just throw them away when they bring their nursery plants home. Sometimes you can get them free from recycling (and even neighbors, “Hey, I got a bunch of them!”) They’re pliable and drill out nicely. A bucket must have enough drainage. If you use just the holes that come with it, your vegetables will have “wet feet” and they’ll suffer rot or fungal problems. We drill three-quarter inch holes (using a sharp “spade” bit) every couple of inches, or so, across the bottom and a row or two around the bottom of the sides. (That’s an editorial ‘we,’ as I am not in the drilling department.) Our hole size is specific to the size of gophers, larger holes can be used if you don’t share this risk. (Indeed, for things gophers don’t like, we sometimes use bottomless buckets, which are much easier to pull out at the end of the season.)

When you ‘set-in’ a bucket, dig a hole as close as possible to the size of the bucket (up to its ‘shoulders’ so you leave a lip above the ground surface—2”- 3”.) Loosen the dirt in the area below the bucket, so the migrating roots don’t hit a solid barrier of compacted earth. Place the bucket in the hole and fill in around it, packing the dirt firmly. Now, refill the bucket, leaving the 3”- 6” inch area, I mentioned before (depending on the level of compaction) at the top of the bucket. You need at least three inches to be a decent reservoir. At the time you refill the bucket, this is a good opportunity to add any amendment. We use well-composted chicken manure because, well, we’re on a chicken farm.

When you plant a bucket, (especially if you’re using starts) make sure you’re not filling in your reservoir area. Take out some of the soil, if necessary. (Your start may look lost, deep in the bucket, but that also helps protect it from the wind—and we’ve got a fair amount of that, here.) If using starts, as with any other transplant, remember to loosen the root ball! I recently had to re-plant some peppers that had been put in too high by a neighbor and discovered that, though the soil in the bucket appeared properly damp, she’d set the whole start in as a root-bound block, and little of the moisture was getting in to the roots through that block.

When watering, especially initially, use a soft, slow watering method. The bucket contains the water’s energy, and if you’re not careful you can erode all around your poor baby vegies! And yes, this is a good opportunity for even more water savings, if you use drip irrigation.

These simple steps should ensure buckets of success.

A.V. Walters

Garden Starts

I don’t know why I’m surprised by it; it’s the same every year. It’s as though someone pulled the plug and then all the green runs out of the landscape. It starts at the top of the hills, and in just a few weeks, we go from spring green to that golden-straw color that says summer in California.

Last week when we got home it was still green here, but flying in, over the Central Valley, I could see that the hills and everything east of us was already dry. We usually get a longer run of it in Two Rock—through June, usually. But this year’s dry winter is leaving its mark. Between last week and now, our hilltops have turned from green to gold. Where they’ve cut hay has gone gold. Yesterday there were deep ridges of cut hay, showing the contours of the hill. We wanted a photo of it—in the elongated evening light—but before that could happen, they’d bailed it and now the hill is punctuated with lines of square dots like a computer punch-card.

The bottom of the valley is still green, and near the creek it’s even lush. The pond is shrinking by the day, and only a few, stubborn egrets remain.

Today, with our head-colds in check, we finally started putting the garden in. We’d dug in the buckets the first week of May, so I was surprised that the soil in them was still loose and soft. It made planting a breeze. We put starts in 38 buckets—about half tomatoes and then some squash (more to come), peppers, eggplant (more of these too), and cucumbers. The rest will filter in over the next couple of weeks, and then there’s just watering and weeding.

Since we have the advantage of being pre-plowed, it’s odd to be planting and weeding simultaneously. But, the interval of absence, since the early May plowing was enough for weeds and (and quite a few, volunteer squashes) to get going so, Rick hoed the long garden. I have trouble eradicating vegetable volunteers but he’s an editor, amongst other things, so cutting things out (except being a smart-ass) doesn’t bother him at all. We’re not sure what kinds of squashes these were—last year, we turned out a bumper crop of four kinds of summer squash and at least twice that number of varieties of winter squash. But the plow spreads the seeds and there’s no telling what’s what but, judging by general location, we think most were yellow, patty-pans—they weren’t too popular, so a lot were left where they stood. (Won’t be planting them again, anytime soon.)We’ll let the “escaped” potatoes stay to see how they fare with the gophers. They were planted in bins, with bottoms, but in the early plowing this spring, Don wasn’t watching where he was going and he mangled the bins, spreading potatoes throughout that whole corner of the main garden. So, we shall see.

This year’s garden is a bit of a cheat. Usually we start a lot of our own seeds. This year, however, the trip away interrupted that, and we couldn’t rely on folks here to make sure that starts would be watered while we were gone. I know that sounds odd—well intended farm people not taking care of the garden—but, I speak from experience. (I think I’ve mentioned that this is not a dirt farm.) We decided we’d put in store-bought starts on our return. That’s a much more expensive garden approach than that to which I’m accustomed, but there it is. We’ll fill in with seeds—lettuces, radishes, beets and such.

We were running errands the other day and came upon an innocuous sign reading, “Vegetable Starts” with an arrow pointing down a rutted country lane. “Turn there!” I said, but, too late. So, we circled around and came back. We carefully worked our way down a terrible road in a borrowed car with bad shocks. (My car’s not back from the shop yet and, beggars can’t be choosers.) Finally, like a breath of fresh air, there it was. Senk Farms.

It’s a wonderful little operation, many kinds of vegetables, at very reasonable prices, lavender, honey, pick-your-own strawberries, home made jams.  Their starts are healthy, appropriately sized in their containers (not root bound) and lush. They had the widest variety of heirloom tomatoes I’ve seen this year! They had everything except pony rides for the kids. The women running it were very, very nice and helpful. Who knew that that unpretentious little sign would lead to the solution to this year’s garden dilemma? We gathered up the little pots and she came over with boxes. I went to write her a check—and, pointing, she told me just to put in the slot in the wall. They run on the honor system! Did I fall into a time warp? It makes me want to spend my money there. Later, I checked them out online—and they list their vegetable selection for the year, complete with what’s low and what’s gone already. I think I’m in love. We were going to finish the garden up from seeds, but now I think I’ll go back to Senk Farms for one more round.

A. V. Walters

Better Living Through Chemistry

The other day I woke to the sound of gas-fired weed whackers. It was a relief. We’ve had strange weather this winter. No rain. We rely on seasonal rains to recharge the wells and this season has been dry. Here in Two Rock it’s green; we get a lot of fog coming in from the ocean. The fog (and in this year’s weather, frost) provides enough moisture to keep the ground green, especially in the low-lying areas where the fog settles. Looking across the landscape you can see the contours of where the fog flows by the trail of green it leaves on the hills. But that moisture doesn’t go deep. If you dig, it’s damp down only a few inches. It’s green, but it’s not growing and that makes the farmers nervous. I know on our farm they’re working to keep the sheep moving, rotating from field to field so the sheep don’t damage the grass down to the roots. Sheep can do that. Usually in the winter I have to mow my lawn every week—or at least every ten days. This season I think we’ve mowed only three times.

And then there’s the cold. It’s been really cold here at night, for months now. Really cold for us is low thirties and high twenties. With nights like that the sheep need extra nourishment to keep warm. The days are lovely, with temperatures climbing sometimes well into the sixties. Even with those warm days though, the cold nights and low moisture keeps the plant growth rate down.

There’s a funny thing I learned about cows (and even some sheep) when I moved here. They sometimes suffer from a “the grass is greener on the other side” syndrome. Even if a cow is surrounded by lush pasture, it will lean out through a fence if there’s greenery on the other side. You need to keep grass at the edge of the fence-line short and groomed. If you don’t, the cows will cut their necks on the barb-wire fences trying to lean out for the grass on the outside of the fence. I live next to a dairy, so even though we don’t do cows here, we get to observe what is done in the world of cows. We share an access road and some fences.

A year ago last autumn, somebody decided not to mow (or more correctly, weed-whack) the fence lines along the dairy side of our single lane driveway. I guess someone figured it was faster and cheaper to spray with herbicides. They were certainly effective. Late that autumn they sprayed and everything green along the lane shriveled and died. Stripped of its protective vegetation, the shoulder of the lane soon began to crumble. The seasonal rains fell on that naked dirt and what little roots remained were not enough to hold the soil. Freed up from roots, the gophers made the little gully along the lane their alley and churned the soil mercilessly. More soil eroded into the gully and washed away with every rain. By mid-winter, our undermined road began to crumble at the edges.  To save the lane, they dug the gully deeper to funnel the water away. The gophers dug deeper, too.  The edge was hardpan, barren, clay; its organic matter had flushed away so no new grasses would grow there. Grasses have a fine and broad stabilizing root system. Weeds grew there though, but their long tap roots did little to hold our road edges.

Through our long dry summer the grasses did not return along the lane. A few weeds sprouted, but not many. Last fall they chopped down the weeds. The farmers had to dig another ditch, inboard fifteen feet or so from the fence, to divert the water away from the lane’s edge. The gully along the road edge was eroded and jagged. It could no longer carry excess water along the side of our lane, without causing further road damage. Like I said, it’s been a dry winter and so far the new diverter ditches have not been tested. Here and there, along the lane there are some patches of fog-fed green. We’re hoping they’ll spread, their roots working through the soil to rebuild that mat of living material that holds all that’s good in the soil.

So, in this case the annoying drone of weed-whackers is a relief. It means somebody’s learned a lesson and we won’t be spraying anytime soon. With any luck, the rains expected next week will be gentle and will nurture the right kind of growth to re-stabilize the soil and return our lane to its former secure state.

Rick Edwards


As a kid, my primary job on weekends was to get on my bike and put as much distance between myself and home as possible. I’d be out the door, after a hearty breakfast of Froot Loops, and wouldn’t return until sunset. (All without parental notification, or an approved safety helmet.)

It wasn’t just about the open road, the call of vacant lots or feeling the wind blowing through my crew-cut. There was a penalty on weekends for not getting out early and under the radar—unpaid over-time. Beyond the daily chores and the generous compensation package, “Froot Loops don’t grow on trees, ya know.” (Amazingly, when I was growing up, nothing grew on trees, according to my mother), one of the more dreaded weekend employment opportunities to broaden one’s skill-set, was pulling weeds.

Some call it a chain-gang or a forced-labor camp but on the inside, we called it, “The Backyard.” Though the word is thrown around a lot these days (mostly for comic effect and as the ultimate exclamation point), my dad really was a weed-Nazi. To his credit, he never used weed-killers (other than his children), which may be why my kids were born with the desired number of fingers and toes. A friend of mine I call Agent Orange, thinks weed control comes from a container, the contents of which are “only to be used in a manner consistent with its labeling.”  (Preferably wearing a Haz-Mat suit and a respirator.)

When it came to weeding, there was only one rule in The Yard (besides, “Stop whining!”) and it was, (if you like you can use a German accent) “You must remove all of the root!”  Even as a child I, begrudgingly, understood the importance of that rule. I understood that a weed could grow back, even if only a tiny piece of its root was left behind. I really got that! And what kid doesn’t want to make the old-man proud. But looking back, I can’t help but wonder if it was all just a cruel joke or one of the ways parents like to remind us of who is really in charge. Let’s look at the facts: Weed season means it’s hot, the ground is hard, I’m just a little kid and I don’t even remember getting any kind of gardening tools or gloves. I mean, I’m living off Froot Loops and riding around who-knows-where without a helmet―what the hell do I care whether the weeds grow back, or not? I’m lucky to be alive! Needless to say, I “dutifully” removed the tops of the weeds, even when I tried to get all the root. But, I figured if I kept my nose clean, and didn’t fight with the other detainees, I’d get time-off for good behavior.

I’m living on a chicken farm now, (of course there’s a story of how this came about, but that’s not why I asked you all here) and last spring my partner and I put in what’s called the community garden. It’s actually three gardens, covering over 4,000 square feet and as you can imagine, that’s a lot of weeds. Given my history, you’d be right to guess that I had a visceral response when the late rains brought forth a bumper-crop of weeds. But I didn’t run, screaming, in the opposite direction. I’d swear that, off in the distance, I heard a bugle playing a call to arms. I didn’t sow those weeds but, by God, I’m certainly reaping them now, roots and all! Given that watering is usually done by others on the farm and there’s little else that needs tending to, except weeding, it has become my obsession.

I guess when it comes to weeds, after all that’s said and done; I am my father’s son. Most of the weeds here, live (briefly) in fear of me, and those that choose to remain are learning to stay on the outside of the garden, looking in. (Under the radar, you might say.) I think my dad would be proud if he saw the gardens and even more so because he was the kind of parent who hoped that his children learned more than he did. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned (that he didn’t), it’s that you never, ever ask your kids to pull weeds. (Oh, and don’t let them eat Froot Loops!)