I get asked a lot of questions about gardening, they cover a wide variety of topics, but one that is asked over and over again “how do you deal with weeds in your garden?”. It seems that people notice that I don’t have many weeds, which I don’t really, at least in the actually garden areas. It’s not that I spend all day, every day in the spring/summer/fall weeding, but I do spend some time at that task. Over the years I’ve learned a few tricks to make maintaining a garden with fewer weeds possible without putting in hundreds of hours weeding. I thought a series of posts about dealing with weeds would be a valuable addition to the blog.
There are weeds in the surrounding areas, the woodland edges, the driveway, in the lawn. But for the most part, the cultivated garden areas are maintained weed free with not a ton of time spent weeding. My time is spent in reducing weed seed load, smothering weeds, and mulching heavily to keep weed seeds from germinating. In this series, I’ll be talking about the various methods I implement to keep my garden mostly weed free without a ton of effort. Originally, I was going to follow up this post with a week of posts, but then I decided putting it out there for questions first would be better. That way I can try to answer your specific questions in the series instead of in the comment section.
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I’m a big believer that as gardeners we grow soil more than we grow plants. That means most of my gardening budget is spent on soil amendments and good quality compost. I’m continually trying to come up with ways to lighten my work load and save myself money, so naturally this is one area I’m always trying to become more self-sufficient in. One of my favorite ways to save money is by growing my own fertilizers, mostly in the form of cover crops. Cover crops are great, but perennial dynamic accumulators are even better at maximizing time and money. Here’s a quote from an article I wrote about soil microbes for Northern Gardener magazine
“There is also a group of plants we can grow that are described as dynamic accumulators. These plants have deep roots that pull up macro and micronutrients from deep within the soil. Oddly enough, many of these have been classified as weeds, so pulling dandelion, dock, and other weeds and adding them to our compost piles is a great way to increase the micronutrient levels in our finished compost. There are a few dynamic accumulators that stand out more than others, comfrey is probably the most widely known and my particular favorite. I use it as a mulch, animal feed, and I plant it under all my fruit trees. Comfrey is a great source of silicon, nitrogen, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and iron. Other high value dynamic accumulators are: dandelion, eastern bracken, kelp, nettles, watercress, and plantain. Next time you see dandelions blooming in your lawn, think about all the copper and iron it is adding to your soil, when you see plantain, think about the calcium it’s adding.”
Comfrey is my all-time favorite homegrown fertilizer. I have a few different varieties of comfrey and am working on collecting as many as I can. I use comfrey in a variety of ways, some are more labor intensive than others. The easiest way to utilize comfrey in the garden is to use it as a companion plant. All of my fruit trees have a couple comfrey plants under them. Comfrey is tucked into empty corners in every perennial border. As it grows, dies back, and compost into the soil, it adds valuable nutrients. The large leaves provide a weed suppressing mulch as well. It is important to note that some varieties of comfrey can spread when flowering stems touch the ground, but there are varieties that are don’t (Russian Bocking 14). I haven’t found the old fashioned varieties to be invasive though. The majority of my comfrey plants have been propagated from a root cutting I got from my grandmother’s garden (it was growing in the garden when they moved into the house when my mom was a little girl).
I harvest my comfrey plants through the summer, most of the time I simply cut the leaves and use them to mulch around plants that I think need a little boost. Some people make compost tea with the leaves, but it has a pretty foul smell, and it takes time to make. I find that cutting the leaves and mulching around plants provides the same benefit without the extra time, effort, and with zero smell. The plants can be cut all the way back several times each summer.
This summer I’ve been doing experiments with my tithonia in the back garden. Several of the plants were mulched with compost, the other were mulched with other weeds and material. As you can see, the plants on the right are much taller and are blooming much better than the ones on the left.
Another way to use comfrey is to put a few leaves into each planting hole. It really does make the plant establish roots quicker and grow faster than planting without. I haven’t tried experimenting with mulching around the plant vs. leaves in the planting hole. That’s a good project for next summer.
In addition to being a fabulously useful plant, comfrey is a beautiful plant. It can be a real showstopper in the garden. It’s large, dark green, hairy leaves add a lot of interest. The purple flowers are loved by many pollinators, they seem to be a particular favorite of bumble bees. This summer I added a variegated comfrey to my collection. It’s the perfect plant to brighten up that slightly dark corner of a border.
If you have a compost pile in your garden, surrounding it with a few comfrey plants is a great idea. Not only can you cut the comfrey leaves to add to your compost (they add extra nutrients and heat up the pile), they glean any nutrients that leach out of your compost pile into the surrounding soil. I’m always looking for nooks and spaces to add more comfrey, I find I can’t seem to grow enough of it here at Chiot’s Run.
Do you have any comfrey growing in your garden?Filed under Around the Garden, Beneficial Plants | Comments (5)
“He sat on his favorite rock, near the cave’s entrance, watching the evening stars come out. Even in the worst of the year after Culloden, he had always been able to find a moment of peace t this time of the day. As the daylight faded, it was as though objects become faintly lit from within, so that they stood outlined against the sky or the ground, perfect and short pin every detail.”
Diana Gabaldon in Voyager
My favorite time to work in the garden is as evening falls. The sunsets are amazing, the moon rising is beautiful, everything is bathed in a colorful glow before darkness settles. It seems still and peaceful in the garden, the perfect time to weed or just to sit and enjoy the garden.
What’s your favorite time to work in the garden?Filed under Quote | Comment (1)
One of my favorite things about gardening is that it makes me slow down and notice the little things in nature. Whether it’s the tiny pollinators hovering over the cilantro blooming, or the way different plants change throughout the season. This past week I was pulling the green beans and was fascinated by the nitrogen nodules on the roots.
The beans were pulled and layered on the soil right where they were planted. They will smother any weeds and provide a nitrogen rich mulch. There’s no point in taking them to the compost pile when they will break down by next spring. I’m all about finding more efficient ways to accomplish my goals.
If you have children, gardening can be a fantastic way to get them interested in biology and science. It’s a great learning opportunity, particularly in teaching them about symbiotic relationships. I love knowing that these green beans are harvesting nitrogen and providing it to the plants growing around them and the plants that will follow them. It’s an amazing process and one I am so happy to be able to observe!
What amazing things have you noticed in the garden this week?Filed under Around the Garden, Beneficial Plants | Comment (1)
On the second day, we also spent time walking around the market gardens at Shelburne farms. In this space they raise all the fruits, vegetables, and flowers used in the restaurants on site as well as to sell in the local farmers market. It’s quite an amazing garden, we thoroughly enjoyed touring this real working farm.
In addition to this large space filled with high tunnels, beds of flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables, they had several large fields that were planted in cover crops. From what we were told, they rotate vegetables and cover crops in order to maintain a more sustainable system. If you ever happen to get to Shelburne Farms in Vermont, make sure you go off the beaten path and find your way to the Market Garden.