Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Not Rain and Plants Out of Place

Hello! Here's a much belated report from the Derwood Demo Garden in Montgomery County, delayed by the demise of my old computer and the adjustment to a new one. Luckily most of my files were backed up, but I still have to make occasional forays into the old hard drive to retrieve data in the five minute intervals I'm allowed before the machine shuts down on me again, which is sort of like making little runs out into the garden to get something done in between rain storms, though not very much.

We've actually been pretty lucky in the demo garden this rainy spring, as most of our work days haven't exactly been rained out, just dampened slightly... well, during part of the last one what could have been described as mist when we got there turned into something a little more like water forming definite drops and succumbing to the force of gravity pretty hard, but, we kept telling ourselves, those of us who were still there when we looked around, it was Not Rain. And then the Not Rain cleared up, and the sun came out, and it got rather hot and humid, and guess what we’ll be complaining about for the rest of the summer?

Anyway, the weeds are doing very well this year. Both the traditional weeds like thistle and deadnettle and ground ivy and wood sorrel and whatever the tall thing with the white flowers behind the fence is, which are the fault of the universe, and the plants in the wrong place that can’t be blamed on anyone but us. Fennel, first of all. Someone (ahem) has been too indulgent with fennel. But no more. See this little patch of it among the tall bee balm plants I’m putting in?



That’s all we are allowing ourselves this year. It looks harmless enough now, but just wait till August when it is five feet tall and, if we let it have its way, covering the entire garden. It tastes great, it is a great attractor of butterflies and other beneficial insects, and it’s pretty, but I am cutting the tops off before it goes to seed, and we’ll still be digging it out all over for the next few years.

The other one is my fault. We had a Latin American garden last year, and I put in grain amaranth as part of the Central American heritage display, and let it go to seed, and there are little red seedlings everywhere this year. It’s actually very pretty – look at it, glowing in the sun on a day we actually had sun:


And that was after we thought we'd weeded. It looks like that every week. It is not, I note, so pretty when it gets five feet tall (note a theme here?) and turns kind of greeny-red and falls over. Grow it, or its relatives (I, er, actually put in Amaranth ‘Illumination’ last week in the Edible Beauty bed), but let them die young and lovely.

At least we know better than to grow mint.

The basic rules of weeds and other undesirables:

Don’t let plants go to seed if they have a reputation for being promiscuous. If you don’t know, play it safe. Of course your gardening friends will tell you that such-and-such never self-seeds and then it will, all over your garden, laughing, but that just means you have better soil and a more welcoming environment than your friends, so you can feel good about that while you weed for hours.

Also watch out for things with taproots or roots that leave bits of themselves in the soil when pulled (or get chopped up when tilled). Don’t leave them in your garden and don’t put them in your compost. The second part of that is pretty easy.

Cover your soil! There are many options. I like the low-tech newspaper and leaf-mulch method. Don’t be afraid to use full sections of the newspaper at once. This is difficult if you have already switched to the online edition, however.

On a more positive note, I can report that our Grow It Eat It 10x10 foot trial bed has so far produced 5 pounds of spinach, 2 pounds of lettuce, and 4 ounces of snow peas. I didn’t expect any peas at all this spring, since we got started so late, but the cool weather cooperated. You can play along - tell me what prices you’re paying in grocery stores and farmer’s markets for these products, and at the end of the season we’ll have the calculation of how much our little garden saved its supposed owners. (Actually, they would have done much better, since they would have planted their peas in March, harvested their lettuce more frequently, and would be able to keep up with picking, watering, and insect control more regularly over the season than we can, visiting only once a week.)

Speaking of visiting, anyone reading this is more than welcome to visit our garden; it is open at any time the park is open. Directions here. We work Thursday mornings from 8 to noon, but if you would like a tour at another time please email mc.growit@gmail.com and we’ll see what we can do.

I leave you with a picture of a productive garden bed badly in need of weeding. Next time you get the tidy pictures, but I thought I’d make you feel good today. (Photos by Nick Smith.)



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