Monday, 6 May 2013

Time to start weeding

After a long spell of very cold weather, spring finally arrived in the middle of April. The warmer weather and sunny days mean I have finally managed to get down to the garden. I'm busily putting all those seeds I bought in Paris into the ground.

4 out of 6 beds sowed, potatoes in the foreground

The busyness doesn't end once everything is planted, because in the meantime the weeds are growing faster than the vegetables. It is already time to get down to my main gardening activity - weeding.

Gardening means killing things

Sadly, gardening seems to be more about killing things than growing them. Growing vegetables to eat is a constant battle against pests that also want to eat them and weeds that want to replace them.

When I first got my plot three years ago it was completely overrun with weeds. The old gentleman I inherited it from had tried to control the weeds - primarily ground elder - by covering the borders with wood chips, black plastic and in some places even sheets of glass!

Given the state the garden was in, I decided that this method of control was futile. I was encouraged to use the scorched earth approach, and liberally sprayed glysophate everywhere. Fortunately our allotment is located on an old Victorian dump site, so no one is precious about chemicals.

After killing off the ground elder, I enlisted the help of my husband to dig up the ground where the weeds had been growing. I then sifted through the soil and pulled out as many roots as possible - at least three compost bags full.

bags full of weeds and shards of glass.

Seed weeds and root weeds

I categorise weeds by how they spread - either by seeds or by spreading roots, called rhizomes. I don't worry too much about seed weeds - they are relatively easy to pull out when they are young. Root weeds like ground elder are another story. Even the smallest portion of root left in the soil can sprout again, hence the need to dig them all out. I wasn't entirely successful in removing all the ground elder roots, but at least I was able to minimise the problem - and now I can individually dig out any plants that appear.

The ground elder was confined to the borders, but there was another mysterious root weed* invading the beds. I bought a long weeding tool and assiduously dug out the monstrously long roots whenever they appeared, like kraken rising from the deep. The first year was the worst, but my vigilance has reduced these horrible weeds to only a few appearances in each bed.

The kraken weed with innocuous looking leaves and hideously long roots

Year of the dandelion

The funny thing about weeds is that the same ones are never a problem from year to year. Once you manage to almost eradicate one through obsessive weeding, the next year a new one takes over.

This might be the year the dandelion becomes my enemy. Although a seed weed, dandelions can be difficult to dig out if they hunker down and hide in thick grass. You have to wait until they reveal themselves with their cheerful, bright yellow flowers, and then you can swoop down and pry them out.

I removed every single dandelion flower from my plot yesterday, filling two buckets full (I defy you to find one dandelion in the image above!). I didn't have the energy to dig up every plant, but I got rid of the flowers and most of the buds. I'll be keeping a gimlet eye on them from now on.

The flowers go to seed once they are picked, so must be disposed of carefully!

* The roots of my mystery weed are similar to ground elder, but they seem to go down much deeper, and the leaf is smooth-edged rather than frilled. If anyone can help me identify this weed I would be most appreciative!