Posts Tagged With: weeds

Spring Has Sprung

Oh, yeah, spring is here. We've had ridiculously warm weather, a perfect amount of rain, a bumper crop of weeds, and three cats who keep charging the door to get out and roll around in the dirt. Over the last month or so, I've:

–Planted peas, carrots, and radishes in the front vegetable garden.
–Pruned the fruit trees in the front garden (they are looking a bit more like small trees and less like fruit sticks).
–Grubbed roses and other unwanteds out of the bed behind the house, which I am planning to revamp to make it prettier and less labor intensive.
–Buried my old kitchen sink in my soon-to-be herb bed so I can plant in it and hopefully contain the worst of mint's aggressive breaks for freedom.
–Spread corn gluten in all the beds (except the vegetable gardens) and in the lawn (corn gluten meal is an organic corn by-product that acts as a pre-emergent herbicide and a fertilizer, but you can't put it near anyplace you might want to grow plants from seeds).
–Planted raspberry canes and asparagus, both in the back garden.
–Turned the compost.
And sundry other garden tasks I can't recall right now. I still have to do the once-a-year coop clean out, followed by dumping all that lovely poop-laden bedding into the compost piles so it can do my garden some good.
The girls are all doing fine and laying steadily. They are looking a bit raggedy, but I think that's from so much time indoors when the weather was nasty. They're loving the return of weed salad as I chuck my weeding proceeds to them. They're less crazy about the fact the cats like to sniff around the coop, but the cats can't get in, so the birds are learning to roll with it.
On today's agenda: finish some garden plans for clients and then get out to my garden. The daffodils need deadheading, and the front garden could certainly benefit from some edging work. Plus I can enjoy the perfume of the viburnum, which is in full flower next to the front door.
Enjoy your spring!

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Categories: Animals, foreign and domestic, The garden year | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Evil Weed (or, Amy vs. the poison ivy)

Anyone who spends time in the garden is eventually going to come into contact with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. I've encountered poison ivy too many times to count, often with disastrous results. One year I had such a case of it that I missed four days of work, most of which I spent as unclothed as possible in front of a fan to control the itching.

I'm one of the 70 to 85% of people who have an allergic reaction to the urushiol, the evil oil that causes the rash. Once you get the stuff on you, it quickly bonds to your skin. Viola! Blisters. And untreated, the rash can take a good three to four weeks to run its course. Urushiol-induced contact dermatitis is most likely to happen if you run into the plant itself, or if you touch something that's brushed against the plant–like clothes, gloves, or the cat who insists on hanging out in the PI patch. Never, never burn poison ivy; the urushiol can vaporize and get in your lungs.

So the first step in avoiding poison ivy is recognizing it. That whole "leaves of three, let it be" thing is good as far as it goes, but the serious gardener can't avoid every plant with three leaves forever (believe me, I tried). The pointy oval leaves have often have slightly jagged edges toward the point.  Groups of three leaflets occur in an alternating pattern on the stem, so you won't see two leaflet groups growing from the same spot on the stem. Sometimes you'll see a red stem, and if the PI is growing up a tree, the stem has hairy little rootlets. New leaves are shiny; older leaves are usually duller. (This photo is from
So you've identified the PI. The next step is to get rid of it. If I just see one vine, my usual method is to wait until I'm done with my gardening. I get a plastic bag and put it over my gloved hand. I yank the PI out with the bag, wrap the bag, toss it in the garbage (never on the compost pile), and immediately go inside and scrub my hands. I usually take an antihistamine for good measure. 
This week, however, I had to tackle a much bigger infestation. PI has inserted itself among the English ivy on the south side of my house, and it was engulfing the windows. I'm a light freak, and I take exception to anything cutting off the amount of sunlight making it into my dining room, especially the damn poison ivy.  But this was no small amount of PI. This was the brontosaurus of    weeds: ten feet tall and about twenty feet long. This called for the gardening hazmat suit.
My hazmat suit consists of a long-sleeved tee shirt tucked into light cotton pajama pants that have at least seven different colors of paint on them (the waist hits me attractively just under the breasts). Black knee socks under the pants minimize the potential of PI at the ankles, and gloves protect my hands. Over this example of sartorial splendor I wear a man's button-up shirt, buttoned tightly around the wrists. (In my experience, it's the wrists and ankles that tend to be your vulnerable areas when taking on PI.) And because I was yanking PI down from overhead, I wore a bucket hat.
Oh, yeah, I looked good.
It was about 85 degrees the day I took on the PI, so I was sweating like crazy. I yanked it all down, stuffed it into trash bags, and hauled them to the curb. I then headed to the basement, stripped at the washing machine, and tossed every article of clothing into the washer. I took a lukewarm shower, scrubbing three times with soap and a washcloth. I took a Zyrtec, too.
I still got poison ivy.
Granted, it's not too bad. I have a couple of itchy spots, and it's pretty contained. Don't believe the myth that poison ivy spreads. What actually happens is that the areas that get a higher dose of urushiol break out into a rash first, and areas that weren't as exposed react later. That oozing stuff from the blisters looks gross, but it doesn't actually spread the rash. 
It does itch something fierce, though. Most people say that cortisone cream (the 2%, not the 1%) is the best way to control the itch, but I've had good luck with the clear Caladryl stuff, too. Unfortunately, I have to give up my beloved baths for the duration of a PI outbreak in favor of showers; prolonged contact with water can aggravate the itching. And I'm pretty religious about taking the antihistamines during an outbreak. Staying cool helps, too. Heat and humidity are even more miserable when you're dealing with PI.
So I got the PI off the house, but the PI got in some small jabs. In my ongoing war with PI, I'm calling this one a draw. Next time, though, that weed is going down!

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Categories: In the garden | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

The Dandelion Disaster (or, My Front Yard)

As an organic gardener, I find that lawn care rates way down on my list of fun garden tasks. Sure, lawns make a great spot for playing, and they serves as a restful counterpoint to flower-filled beds. They're worth having, in the right place. But lawns as practiced by most Americans–perfect green turf, untouched by flowers or weeds–are completely unnatural. Mama Nature does not like monoculture. She's all for a a fine mix of species, each fulfilling their part in the ecosystem.
And dandelions (along with other weeds) are nature's way of preparing the soil for more substantial plant life. Ever wonder why dandelions have those long taproots from hell? It's so they can pull nutrients up from deep in the soil. Weeds thrive in spots with bare, compacted, or depleted soil because they're adapted to survive there. They pull up the nutrients, die off, and return the nutrients to the top layer of the soil. Over time, that prepares the soil to support other plant life–grasses, tress, flowers, or what have you.
So what's this got to do with my lawn, you ask? Well, my lawn's a bit patchy, which means that the dandelions loooove it. I've never been one for the perfect lawn; I'd far rather spend my time weeding flower beds, pruning, and speaking gently to my tomato plants. 
But I do want my front yard to be presentable (although my standards for a presentable lawn are considerably lower than my neighbors'). My lawn is full of clover (good for returning nitrogen to the soil, stays green all the time, doesn't get very tall), a couple of kinds of grass (which gives a really weird green-and-brown marbling effect in the winter, when the warm-season grasses die off), and violets, which I like for their flowers. Even a few dandelions are ok. The problem with the dandelions is that they grow so much faster and taller than everything around them, making it even more obvious when I've shirked mowing.
And as an organic gardener, I'm not going to pour chemicals on my lawn to create a perfect green turf I'd be afraid to let the neighbor kid play on. Which means that my dandelion control of choice is hand-weeding. The front yard's only about 40' x 30', so hand weeding is possible, although tedious. I spent about two hours weeding with my trusty hori-hori knife this week, and I'd say I got about 90% of them. I dug them out, trying to get as much of the taproot as possible. I followed up by applying corn gluten, a natural corn byproduct that inhibits germination. The corn gluten will prevent the seeds that will inevitably float into my yard from taking root. 
In the process, I gave myself a huge fat blister on my right palm. I look like I'm working on a stigmata.
Other current front-yard products include applying milky spore to target those damn Japanese beetles that keep detroying my roses. Normally I have a live-and-let live philosophy when it comes to pests. I figure if enough of them show up, a predator will also arrive for an all-you-can-eat buffet. But the Japanese beetles don't have any natural enemies here, and hand-picking them off my plants isn't cutting it. Milky spore is a natural bacteria that targets the grubs. Over a couple of years, it kills of the grubs in the soil, reducing the beetle population and improving the lawn whose roots the grubs have been feasting on. 
And finally, I'm digging up one of the hell strips to prepare it for planting. If I had thought ahead, I would have smothered the grass there with newspaper and mulch last fall, which would kill the grass and ease up the digging in spring. I did not think ahead, however, so I'm stuck stripping the sod by hand, a torturous process that always takes three times as long as I think it will. I only managed to strip about one third of my 16' x 8' strip in a couple of hours. On the upside, by taking it slower, I was actually able to walk the next day.
Updates as they occur.

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Categories: In the garden | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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