There are no guarantees in life except death and taxes, and if you’re a gardener, weeding. Some enjoy it, some hate it, most simply just don’t have enough time to do it. If you are already a weed destroying machine, hellbent on obliterating every weed on the planet, you might want to take the time you would have spent reading this post to chill out a little. The rest of you, follow me.
Let me start this guide by saying that weeding is a meditative and even cathartic activity for me, but it hasn’t always been that way. Between working on numerous farms, growing flowers for market, managing a community garden, landscaping part time, gaining a degree in agriculture, and having gardens of my own over the last eight or nine years, I’ve seen, and pulled, more weeds than I care to describe. During that time, I have learned to commune with the weeds and they have accepted me as their leader. But seriously, though, I have come to terms with weeding and you can too if you follow my 20 step program for only $19.99.
Okay I promise I’m going to stop joking around now. Even if you hate weeding and weeding hates you, it is possible to make peace with the weeds- here’s how:
Suck it Up Buttercup
When it comes to weeding, the best technique is to just do it. We can talk all day about tools and techniques, but if you have a garden you’re going to have to commit to weeding it at some point, there’s just no getting around it. If you have a garden full of weeds sitting outside your window right now stop reading this stinking blog post and go deal with it! GO!
Get ‘Em While They’re Young
The best way to avoid weeding is to weed early on. It is much easier to pull out itty bitty little seedlings today than huge monstrosities from hell in a month. Not to mention that if you let those suckers go to seed, you’re just giving yourself many more problems to deal with later. Those dandelion roots aren’t getting any easier to pull out and you’re much more likely to miss a piece of the root with a large plant, meaning that you are going to have to pull it from the same place again next year! It’s sort of like having a cavity, the longer you wait before you go to the dentist, the more painful it gets and the more damage you do.
I know, I know, you don’t have time. Trust me, I don’t have the time either, especially to clean up a crazy out of control garden. To combat this, I break my garden into manageable chunks and just weed one part every evening until I get through the whole garden. If I can have seven or eight sections, then it will only be about a week until I get back to the first section, this prevents any area from getting too out of control. If I know I am going to be really busy, I like to keep these sections small enough, if I can, that they will only take 30 minutes to take care of. I actually enjoy having this commitment because it means that I have an excuse to go work in the garden, enjoy being outside, and destress every day no matter what. Think of it less as something that you have to do and more of something you get to do. Luckily, other people don’t like weeding either, so you can get some much needed time to yourself. This method works especially well if your garden is planted in small, uniform areas. This summer, our garden was planted in 3 by 10 foot beds. If they weren’t too overtaken, I could weed about six to eight of these in half an hour. If you had 42-54 beds this size, one person could easily manage weeding the whole garden. With two foot rows in between each bed, that’s a 80’-110’ x 26’ garden- that’s pretty big for one person! Some people that I know who follow this method will do their weeding first thing in the morning while drinking their coffee and then eat their breakfast after- it’s a great way to start your day and beat the heat in the summer.
See the Weeds, Eat the Weeds, Be the Weeds
If it’s too late to get the weeds while they are young, then things get really exciting because then the weeds become your crops! Many common weeds are great to eat and many are medicinal too. While weeding, set usable ones aside and you may find yourself with a big harvest when you’re done. Dandelion, burdock, wild parsnip, purslane, violet, chickweed, plantain, clover, wild onion, mint, and even creeping charlie are all edible and/or medicinal, just to name a few. In fact, most weeds have some use. The other day, I was weeding an herb garden that had been neglected for several months. I brought a couple of bowls with me and at the end of a couple of hours I had pounds of burdock and wild parsnip root and so much chickweed I almost couldn’t eat it all. Not only are these wild plants delicious and free, they are also super good for you too! To check out some of my favorite recipes, check out my post 6 Food Preservation Recipes for Garden Failures, which includes my recipe for pickled purslane and my recipe for a traditional Japanese treat- pickled burdock! There are all sorts of books on this as well, including the famous Eat the Weeds book and blog.
Sell the Weeds
If you’re going to be pulling the weeds anyway, you might as well eat them or make medicine from them. And if you are going to make food or medicine, you might as well sell some. While working at a community garden, the soil seriously lacked fertility and I seriously lacked help so the crops suffered, but wild mint grew everywhere! So, to fill up my farmers market table, I would always have a couple of bunches of mint for sale and I actually sold quite a bit of it to yachters wanting to make fancy cocktails for their friends. I had a friend who picked all the wild violet flowers from her garden in the spring and made violet syrup- she sold it for $18 a bottle on Etsy!
People Will Do Anything For Chili and I Don’t Know Why
When you have a lot of work to get done and you don’t want to do it, invite some friends to help you! Throw a party and feed everyone a hot bowl of chili, it will be a great time (or that’s what you’ll tell them at least). You do have to be careful with this method, though, because you can’t do it too much without everyone catching on. If you are really having a hard time roping your friends and family into helping you, promise them beer. You could even make dandelion wine and serve it up.
I rarely get as much weeding done as when I’m angry. It just feels so great to get all worked up about something and then go all tasmanian devil on the weeds. So if you really need to get it done, let someone piss you off first.
Prepare Your Weapons
Every gardener has their own set of tools that they swear by. It is important to find out exactly what works for you. Some gardeners swear by their stirrup hoe, whereas others like ergonomic tools designed for women. Some even use wolverine-like gardening gloves with claws on the fingers! These are all great, but my favorite tool is the good old fashioned triangular hoe with a very small tip, perfect for getting in between closely planted crops! It is important to keep your weapons of choice well maintained. Don’t leave them out in the weather or lose them in the garden! On one farm that I worked for, they had a large lathe that they would sharpen the hoes with every morning so they were razor sharp!
Mulch, Mulch, Mulch
Mulching is a great way to keep down on weeds and add fertility to your garden, but it is important to get a mulch that is free of weed seeds, such as leafs or straw or you aren’t doing yourself any favors. Bales of straw can be very expensive, especially if you have a large garden, so it is best to look for alternative mulches.
Cover crops are an excellent living mulch and can even be intercropped with your veggies with some careful planning. One of my favorite cover crops is buckwheat, which can be very inexpensive, and germinates so quickly that it chokes out all other weeds. You can simply broadcast seed it after tilling your soil, it will outcompete all of the weeds, and can be tilled back in to the soil in just a couple weeks, adding nitrogen to the soil and reducing your pest load. Buckwheat also attracts many beneficial insects to your garden that will benefit all of your crops. Plant a cover crop whenever you have bare soil and you should see a gradual reduction in the time you need to spend weeding, plus the added fertility will allow your vegetables to flourish!
I wouldn’t plant buckwheat in with my vegetables because I would be worried about choking them out, but there are definitely other options. Some gardeners will plant radishes, or some other fast growing crop in between the rows of slower growing crops, such as squash. By the time the squash start growing into the middle of the row, the radishes are ready to pull anyway. This not only increases your harvests, but also helps to shade out some of the weeds. I’ve even heard of farmers digging trenches and planting their potatoes in them, then slowly filling them in instead of hilling them. This way, they can plant a cover crop in between the rows of potatoes without having to disturb it.
Just like us, most Native American farmers didn't have time to be pulling weeds all day long, so instead of letting the weeds get out of control, some nations practiced a farming technique called the three sisters garden that prevented weeds from growing too much in the first place. They planted corn, pole beans, and squash all in the same hill and while the beans climbed the corn stalks, the squash leafs prevent weeds from growing and deer from eating the beans. Experimenting with traditional methods like this could give you some insight on how previous agriculturalists dealt with this problem and how you can too.
When All Else Fails, Turn to Child Labor
"I'll give you a nickel for every whole dandelion root you bring me, and I mean whole!" said many a grandmother. Okay, so I wouldn't try this technique with other people's children, but if you've got your own- put 'em to work! Just make sure they know the difference between a tomato seedling and a dandelion first- see it's educational too!
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Disclaimer: This blog is just my opinion. While I try my hardest, everything may not be accurate or complete. Do not hold me accountable for anything you do to harm yourself or the world around you. I do make a small amout of money from this blog. If you click on any of the links in this blog, I may make a small amount of money from it, at no extra cost to you. I am not sponsored by any of these companies I just honestly love their products and want to give you the resources to find them. I am not a medical practictioner; consult a health care professional before using any herbal remedies. I am not claiming to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any ailment.