Editor's note: If you want to control weeds organically, you must read this article on organic weed control!

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by Mort Mather

Showers drenched the garden Friday morning turning the color of the soil from a light brown to a deep chocolate brown. When I got around to cultivating the garden late that afternoon the soil was wonderfully moist, neither wet nor dry. I enjoy the texture of moist soil as I run the hoe skimmingly just below the surface separating the tops of small weed seedlings from their roots or sometimes pulling them. Whether they are pulled or severed depends on the strength of the weed stem. Severing them is preferable since even these little weeds can hold onto enough soil to reroot.

The moisture rich crumbles easily. I find that in dry soil some weeds will be growing in a small clump of soil which the hoe does not break apart with one swift passage. And hoeing wet soil may actually create clumps.

This cultivation is my second for most of the garden and third for some sections. I noted one area that I neglected to cultivate ten days after it was tilled. The weeds in that section were the same size as the weeds in the areas I had cultivated, about ¾ of an inch high and just about ready to put out the first true leaves. There was a big difference in the numbers, however. The uncultivated plot had a green hue while the rest of the garden was brown with individual weeds.

For those of you who don't get around to taking care of weeds until they are bigger than the plants you are trying to grow I can tell you that I have been there, too. It is great exercise as the bigger the weed the stronger its root system. Pulling them is good exercise for the arm, hand and wrist muscles. Keep in mind that the closer the weed is to the plant you want the more its roots are tangled with your plant's roots. You may even have to press your hand down on the soil around your plant while you pull the weed to keep from pulling yours up.

I remember my first market garden before I learned how to cultivate properly. Weeds were shading the onion plants and I knew this would not work. Onions need all the sunlight they can get with those slender leaves. What a job I had trying to save them. There was no way the sale of those onions would pay for the work I put in. If I were willing to use chemicals, I could have used an herbicide that kills broad-leaf plants. Was I being punished for being organic? No, no. I was being punished for being stupid. Why be so harsh on myself. It was a good lesson. If I let it happen again, that would have been stupid.

Another tip for the weeders among us: When you pull the weeds do something to keep from having to pull them again. Back in my weeding days I dropped the weeds in the walkways where they rerooted rather rapidly. They I got smarter and tossed them into piles which I could later carry to the compost pile. If I didn't carry them to the compost, I could pick them up and turn them in the walkways every day or so until the plants lost their interest in living.

There are lots of ways to deal with weeds on any scale. There are thousand acre farms where weeds are mostly handled by keeping the soil clean of weed seeds. I thrive on weed seeds and control them by cultivating and mulching. There are many places where weeds are, to me at least, quite welcome. There is a beautiful patch of hawk weed in my lawn right now and the daises in the flower garden are quite lovely as well.

There is only one weed control that is stupid or worse and that is the use of herbicides. It is stupid to spray poison around the food you will eat or on the soil in which that food is growing. It is stupid to spray poison on the lawn where it will be tracked into your house or your children will play in it. It is stupid to spray it on sidewalks or driveways where it will wash into streams to poison the life there. May the people who advertise that garbage as being benign rot in hell. I frankly don't know how they can sleep at night.

If you have seen the television commercials advertising that junk, you know what wound me up.

In the gentler and kinder world in which I live I found a cherry tomato plant on my doorstep last week. Ann Reed read that I had forgotten to plant cherry tomatoes this year and spirited off one that Jim had started.

©June 14, 1997


Mort is a husband and father. He authored a book, Gardening For Independence and was named Environmentalist of the Year by Down East Magazine in 1987. You can eat his organic produce at his son's southern Maine restaurant. He is a consultant for organizations. His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME 04090.

Mort retains all rights to his columns. Anyone interested in using them can get the rights at a very reasonable rate.



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