Because if we didn’t we wouldn’t be able to tell the weeds from the seeds!
Hope you have a sunny day in the garden this weekend.
I referred to my one little “weed” in my last video blog but if you missed it, here it is…
Any ideas? I hadn’t a clue what it was when I first spotted it growing in my ‘roots’ bed. It was certainly nothing I’d ever planted or seen growing in my veg beds before.
I was intrigued – what could this stray little plant be? I didn’t pull it out as I had been doing all morning with the creeping buttercups and dandelions.
I let it be until it had been identified as a friend or foe.
I racked my brain – what had been growing in this patch in previous years? Nothing we’d ever planted of that I was certain. So I headed indoors with a cup of tea, fired up the PC and spent a half hour or so googling “weed” images but came up a blank. Hmmm dilemma, what to do now? Thank goodness for friendly gardeners – I sent off a picture to a gardening guru friend for some professional help – they were thrown too given it’s location. However, a couple of days later a simple text reply came back and I laughed, as no doubt they had too…
Haha! How could I have missed it? My little ‘weed’ was none other than a foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)! These biannual plants are currently popping up all around our hedgerows but I hadn’t dreamed of or expected to find one in my veg patch and it had me completely thrown.
Foxgloves are such pretty plants, the bees love them and as Ralph Waldo Emerson said
Well in this case the foxglove’s virtues have most definitely been discovered – both ornamental and medicinally. I have no plans to use it for the later – extracts from it are used to treat heart conditions making it toxic to those of us who aren’t chemists. I love to see flowers growing in vegetable gardens though – from nasturtiums to marigolds, Calendula to borage. They attract insects and give vegetable gardens character and colour. My foxglove will be just another addition – albeit a stunning one.
So as I’ve decided that all the stray foxgloves are staying exactly where nature intended them to be, that now puts them firmly in the flower category …
Do you have a favourite flower growing in your garden that others might classify as a weed?
If you keep the soil fertile by adding lots of bulky organic matter (well-rotted manure, compost, leaf mould) you shouldn’t have to worry about adding fertilisers. However, there are certain circumstances when it’s helpful:
Rich in potash (potassium or K – great for flowering), comfrey also contains high levels of Nitrogen (N) for leaves and Phosphorous (P) for roots. The variety Bocking 14 is the best one to plant as a fertiliser as it’s less invasive. Comfrey can be difficult to get hold of in Ireland and is usually obtained by asking fellow gardeners, though you may find it in local markets (I’ve been reliably informed there’s a market stall in Kilkenny Farmers Market that often sells it). The Organic Centre sometimes stock root cuttings and in the UK it’s available online from The Organic Gardening Catalogue.
Wilted Comfrey leaves can be placed around plants as a mulch or used as a liner in potato and tomato trenches. They can also be added to compost heaps (but only in small batches as they can go slimy). Be careful not to add any roots or flower heads or you may have comfrey popping up where you don’t want it.
A rich Comfrey brew is made by packing leaves into an old dustbin, about half way up, then placing a board on top, weighed down and a lid added. A hole can be drilled in the bottom of the bin and a jar placed under to catch the drips or a tap added. The resulting liquid should be diluted 10 – 20 times with water before use. Avoid getting it on your skin.
Nettles are high in nitrogen (so great for anything in the cabbage family). Young nettle leaves are cut in the spring (wearing a thick pair of gloves!) and made the same way as Comfrey tea. An easier method is to half fill a bucket with compacted nettles and cover with water. Use the liquid when it starts to smell.
Alternatively wrap some nettles up in a sheet of muslin or old net curtain, tie and hang in your water-butt. Change the bag frequently as the leaves break down so that the feed doesn’t become too strong.
I adore dandelion clocks but have had a love/hate relationship with the plants themselves for years due to their pesky roots.
However, as ‘weeds’ go, they are beneficial as they attract pollinating insects (and in particular bees), they can be eaten, made into drinks of all descriptions and are loaded with vitamins and minerals, namely A, C and K as well as iron, potassium, calcium and manganese. They’ve also been around for over 30 million years – it’s no wonder their roots are so deep and strong!
Almost every child I know has heard the tale that they make you wet the bed (indeed I was taught the very same) which stems from the plant’s use as a strong diuretic, though it’s the roots that are used for this purpose, not the flowers.
It wasn’t until @zwartblesIE mentioned Dandelion Honey on twitter that I’d seriously considered using the flowers in the kitchen. Suzanna generously shared her recipe and if you’d like to try this intriguing sounding dish, here it is:
Place the flowers, water and lemons into a saucepan and simmer for 30 mins, leave to cool and stew overnight. In the morning strain through cheesecloth (or coffee filter paper) then bring the liquid to a slow boil, stirring in the sugar until dissolved, then slowly simmer for about one and a half hours and you have your honey.
If you’re feeling adventurous you could try adding a few drops of vanilla essence as @NiamhMaher on twitter did or a few drops of alcohol as @Justcallmelet suggested!
Honey is perhaps a misleading name as the resulting flavour is more like marmalade – guess it got it’s name from the gorgeous colour.
Have you ever tried food or drink made from dandelions? Did you enjoy it?
|Rhubarb, strawberries (honestly), creeping buttercup & scutch grass|
A few people have asked me recently what they should be doing in the veg garden right now.
It’s still too early to sow most vegetables outside but we’ve had a few mild days over the past week, making ideal conditions to get out and prepare the beds for the growing season to come. Part of soil preparation is weeding and knowing how to weed effectively is essential if you want to keep on top of them.
It seems obvious now I’m used to getting down and dirty in my garden, but it’s not that many years ago that I looked out at the wilderness and asked myself how on earth I was going to tackle all of those weeds.
When you’re gardening without chemicals, and in particular trying to rid the garden of the weeds, there’s no getting away from the fact that it takes a bit more effort and hard work. Long term however it’s well worth the effort. Sandro Cafolla of Wildflowers.ie explains it very well here why Roundup isn’t the long term solution to weeds.
So without reaching for the chemicals what are the options to us smaller scale gardeners? Some people like to pour distilled vinegar onto their weeds, or burning them off with a garden flame gun. If you have animals that graze they’re great for clearing weeds in orchards or relatively new to the market here is Irish Organic Weed killer, but in the vegetable patch where we’re growing food to eat, my preferred method is settling down with my favourite tool and hand weeding.
I find the hardest part of weeding is getting over the psychological block of actually starting the job – once started it can be very therapeutic. Listening to the birds, being outside in the fresh air, stopping for a cup of tea now and again, relaxing and admiring the handiwork can be a peaceful and immensely rewarding time.
|Now an essential part of my gardening kit – a pink kneeling mat!|
This particular bed had been overrun with creeping buttercup as can be seen above, and as pretty as buttercups are when in flower, they’ve been competing with space and nutrients in my strawberry patch so their days were numbered.
A good hand tool is essential for this kind of weeding and having survived for a few years with my cheap double headed hoe, I’ve managed to break two in the last couple of weeks so will shortly be investing in a new one like this Chillington Double Headed Hoe I spotted recently.
I’ve also been using old compost bags to keep the knees from getting cold but this year treated myself to a Burgon & Ball Kneelo Kneeling Pad that I adore – it’s warm, comfy and moulds to the knees (showing my age). So with those couple of items and a pair of leather gloves (nettles, blackthorn suckers and creeping thistle also hang out in this bed so are essential), that’s all the equipment needed, well that and a bucket or a wheelbarrow to collect the weeds in.
Most of the weeds I’ve mentioned are known as *pernicious perennials – meaning plants that are destructive to other plants. They should be eliminated completely if possible and the only way to do that without chemicals is to dig out all the roots, or cover the area with black plastic for a year or more, or if you have a large area (like the four hectares mentioned in Sandro’s clip) bring them up, harrow them off, dry them out and repeat if necessary. It’s essential to keep on top of the weeds though and not allow them to flower and produce seeds.
Pernicious weeds shouldn’t be added to the compost heap either as unless you have a very hot heap the weeds wont die off. They can however, be placed into a black plastic sack, tied up and left for a year to die, then added to the heap (yet to try this).
The double headed hand hoe works for most smaller weeds (pernicious or not), a garden fork may be needed for deeper rooted weeds such as dock or dandelion and a garden hoe is handy for tipping off the not nearly so bad annual weeds.
So best of luck. Try and think of your weeding as a pleasure rather than a chore, and if you have any other tips for ridding gardens of weeds without using artificial chemicals please share!
*Some common pernicious weeds include dock, creeping thistle, nettles, creeping buttercup, horsetail, bindweed, ground elder, plantain, comfrey and daisies