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Starting from Scratch

November 17th, 2015

When a garden bed is overtake with invasive weeds, sometimes you just have to start from scratch. Quackgrass or couch grass, as it’s also called, is a BIG problem here in my garden (here’s a great article about it if you’re interested in learning more). It’s EVERYWHERE and it’s quite a thug when it comes to the gardens. I’ve been working hard over the past 3 years to eradicate it from the edible beds. The pigs were most useful in dealing with it in the large food garden, in other areas I’ve been digging it out by hand.
digging out front flowerbed 2
It’s a problem in the edible and perennial beds because it reduced yields in edible gardens by up to 95% and in ornamental beds it will slowly choke everything else out. The front flowerbed was filled with it when we arrived three years ago, I haven’t done much to deal with it until this fall. Now I’m digging out everything in the bed, saving what I can, but most of the plants have been choked out or are infested with quack grass rhizomes. Luckily, the plants are easy to get if I want to replace any of them, which I don’t think I do.
digging out front flowerbed 5
digging out front flowerbed 4
I have big plans for this space, which is behind the boxwood hedge that I just moved. There’s the new hedge, a 2-3 foot rock wall, then this garden area. My plan is to put a row of ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas in this space, I’ll probably need 5 of them for the front. On the corner of the house I plan on putting some kind of ornamental tree that I can prune to come out from the house.
digging out front flowerbed 3
digging out front flowerbed 1
It’s a lot of work to dig out entire garden areas, but it’s what needs to be done in cases where invasive weeds have taken over. This weed is also in the lawn in front of the box hedge, I’ll have to start dealing with that next spring so it doesn’t creep back into the beds. Most likely the lawn area will be smothered and reseeded with weed free seed. Sometimes starting from scratch is the easiest way to get to where we want to be.

Do you have any invasive weeds you’re dealing with in your garden?

Quote of the Day: Monty Don

June 22nd, 2014

“There is a group of plants that grow lustily every year, whatever the weather and however negligent I am of their care.  They never fail, and never let me down.  Almost certainly they are the same ones that are thriving best in your garden too, because they are all weeds.  However you arrive at it, weeds are there in every garden and take up an awful lot of a gardener’s time and energy.

Tackle weeds when you notice them.  In practice this means that it is a constant job.  But – and I think that this is really important and underrated – weeding is at the heart of gardening.  I use it as a chance to get close to my plants and to judge the state of the soil, s well as port of keeping the place looking beautiful.  So don’t see weeding as a terrible burden imposed upon you but enjoy it as part of real gardening.”

Monty Don in Gardening at Longmeadow

It’s the season for weeds, which I don’t mind really. I like filling my bucket and then filling the compost pile. Many weeds pull up specific nutrients so they are valuable to have around. I spend a little time each day pulling weeds, this helps me stay on top of them and they never seem to get out of hand. My most prolific annual weed seems to be wild amaranth.

What weed do you pull most in your garden?

Quote of the Day: Louisa Jones

January 26th, 2014

“Sometimes potagers begin the season in strict formality and end up romantic by September!  And sometimes, of course, the wild, romantic style is simply a fallback position for the tired gardener, when weeds get the upper hand.”

Louisa Jones – The Art of French Vegetable Gardening

This time of year it’s easy to imagine our perfect gardens, the ones we’ll have time to weed. Then it seems that come July/August those dreams fade away to simply keeping the weeds from going to seed.
potager walkway
Ideally we could find a place somewhere in the middle. A semi neat garden with a few weeds, no doubt, visiting gardeners are more comfortable when they spy a few weeds. Just like people are often more comfortable in our homes when they are a little cluttered and look lived in.

Do you like to maintain a weed free garden, a semi weed free garden, or do you let things get really “romantic”?

Waging War

June 20th, 2013

Here at Chiot’s Run we’re waging ware on the quack grass! The big garden in back is our main focus at the moment as the edges of it were being overtaken by it.
quackgrass 1
There are ways of managing quack grass organically. You can follow a tilling regiment for a year and eradicate it that way. Keeping the grass mown short around your garden will also help. I’m using pigs to help get rid of it here.
quackgrass 3
There’s no way we’ll get rid of this grass this year, no doubt this war will continue for years to come.
quackgrass 2
Of course the pigs don’t eat all of it, but they root it up nicely and I’ve been picking it out of the soil by the bucket full. I dry it and burn it, revenge at it’s finest!

Do you have a weed that you battle more than others?

The First Wild Salad of the Season

February 25th, 2012

When sugaring season rolls around I start keeping my eyes peeled on the ground as I walk around and gather sap. The same weather that is good for sugaring is good for the earliest of the wild greens like bittercress and garlic mustard. When I was out planting lettuce seeds on Monday, I noticed that the bittercress on the front hillside was ready to harvest. Since this is a south facing slope with rock walls, it’s usually a zone ahead of the rest of the garden. While the ground in the raised beds in the back is still frozen, the earth here has already softened.

I’m not quite sure why bittercress has it’s name, it’s not bitter at all, at least not this early in spring. Typically I like to mix it with more tender lettuces and spinach, but I chose to grow cover crops this past winter instead of overwintered lettuce. Thus our salad was all bittercress.

Bittercress ‘cardamine hirsute’ also known as Pennsylvania Bittercress, Jumping Jesus, Flickweed, Popping Cress, and Common Bittercress. It’s a member of the mustard family, which is evident when it blooms. The reason it’s called flick weed, popping cress and jumping Jesus (my favorite name which I’ll call it from now on) is because the seed pods explode when they’re ripe. I have, on many occasions, had seeds flicked right into my eyes when I unknowingly brushed up against them while weeding

Bittercress is considered a weed, as many edible plants are. You could try to spray it out as many people recommend, but why not just eat it. It’s not as spicy as arugula and has a bit more flavor than lettuce, it does get spicier and tougher as the weather warms. It also has a lot of texture and thus is better when mixed with a variety of greens. The smaller the rosettes are when you pick them the more tender they are. The best way to harvest them is to slice the main root right above the soil line with a knife. Then you can cut the small branches from the main root.

Since bittercress is a member of the mustard family it’s highly nutritious. I couldn’t find nutritionally information for is specifically, but it would be similar to mustard with highly levels of Vitamin K, A, C, B1, B2, B3, B6, E, Folate, Manganese, Calcium and so many more wonderful things. For the health benefits of mustard see this article at World’s Healthiest Foods.

I love foraging for food, you certainly can’t beat filling your plate with food you harvested but didn’t have sow or tend.

Have you ever foraged for food? What’s your favorite wild food?

A few of my favorite books about foraging:

Reading & Watching

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.