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Welcome back to Intrepid Gardener! I was in Keene a few days ago and saw some gorgeous patches of blue on Roxbury Street. I believe the little carpet was blue scilla and there are several spots around town where you can usually see it. It’s the most gorgeous shade of blue and, over time, forms a beautiful carpet. Here in Dublin, I can see just the beginnings of the little early wonders poking their heads up out of the lawn. Mine still have several years to go before I can go lay down in a lush blue bed in the warm spring sunshine.If you followed Intrepid Gardener last year, you might remember I’d created an enclosed garden for vegetables and flowers for cutting. It was a big undertaking… 6 rugged, vintage porch posts formed in a 40’ long rectangle, 20’ wide, enclosed with wire farm fencing. A handmade gate on one end and a vintage wooden screen door on the other. Two long, long beds run parallel from one end to the other with hardpack gravel creating the pathways for that certain crunch I like to feel and hear underfoot in a garden. In advance of the hardpack, I had black landscape fabric put down. At the far end, I put an old iron bistro table and chairs where I’d sip a glass of wine, admiring the garden’s beauty. It was to be a lovely, somewhat private room whose walls of wire would eventually be twined with kiwi, wisteria and clematis vines. Sounds enchanting, right? Well, it wasn’t.Despite the landscape fabric covering every inch not taken up by the planting beds themselves and the thick layer of hardpack, I was overwhelmed with weeds. Tough ones too. Various grasses and broadleaf weeds started emerging before I’d even gotten the beds planted. I believe the open-air pile of hardpack must have been infiltrated with airborne weed seeds though once germinated, I can’t imagine what nutrients the gravel contained. I was determined though. I’d plunk myself down and hand pull the weeds, filling up my rubber utility tub over and over again… working my way down one side, then up the middle and down the other side. It would take days, a few hours at a time, to make my way all around and by the time I did, the weeds had taken hold all over again at my starting point. I knew I didn’t want to use Roundup because I’d heard so much about its toxicity so I tried an organic herbicide. I might as well have been spraying Miracle-Gro on the stuff! It did nothing. The weed leaves didn’t even wilt or wrinkle. Soon, I was kept busy with just keeping the weeds at bay amongst the tomatoes, squash, kale and flowers and I just had to let those weeds do what they may. It was just a disappointing, tangled mess. I did wander out one early evening, glass of wine in hand and sat at the little bistro table… trying to appreciate what did work. There were some gorgeous flowers though I didn’t pick the best varieties for cutting and the white nicotiana got so big, it was laying out in the paths. The zinnias were good, though. You can always count on zinnias. The tomatoes and kale too. I planted too many tomato plants. Those little starts that look so lost when you first plant and install a cage around grew as tall as I am. I did a couple good batches of canning, shared some and the chickens enjoyed many as well. The kale was beautiful. Gorgeous. But, really, what do you do with kale? I made some kale soup and that was ok. We should have chopped some to add to a salad but for the most part it just looked lovely and stayed right where it was.
Well, this year’s going to be a different story, Mister! I’ve got weed control suggestions from two different gardeners. Stan Fry, of Peterborough (with a stunning garden manor) told me he uses corn gluten to prevent the weeds from germinating in the first place. He advised to put it on thick, though. Corn gluten is a by-product of the corn milling process. It looks similar to corn meal but is a little “dirtier” in color. Corn gluten does not prevent weed seeds from germinating but instead limits their root growth after germination so they can’t survive. It’s an all-natural pre-emergent herbicide. Timing is important. It’s got to be applied before germinated weeds have begun to develop which means you probably won’t even see the young weeds it kills. Then it must be watered-in to create a root development barrier as it coats the top inch or two of soil. Then, it needs a few days of dry weather… up to a week is ideal. The weed seeds will still germinate but will quickly die since they won’t have root structure to support them. I’m psyched to try this and I plan on using it on 2/3rds of the garden pathways. Stan advised that a good general rule is to apply it before the forsythia blooms, so time is of the essence!I also spoke to Matt, the store manager at Achille Agway in Keene. He’s got a horticultural degree and knows a lot about plants. I asked him what he thought about corn gluten and his response was only tepid. He asked me how the milky spore natural grub control was working on my property. I kind of scrunched my nose and shrugged and he intimated my results with the corn gluten might be about the same. He instead recommended Preen Garden Weed Preventer. A product of the Lebanon Seaboard Corporation, it actually prevents seeds from germinating in the first place. With a similar application method as the gluten, you broadcast over the soil before the weeds have emerged, so timing is again important.Neither gluten nor Preen will kill weeds once they’re already established (unlike toxic yet effective Roundup.) I’m still hesitant to use Preen because it is a synthetic (though they also produce a weed preventer from corn gluten called Preen Garden Natural Weed Preventer.) There’s a warning not to use the regular Preen I bought near waterways or if there’s known aquifers running through your property. Though I don’t believe there are any near-surface aquifers running through our small acreage (since our well is over 400’ deep), I’ve grown more conscious of chemicals and their propensity for harm to our environment. I’m going to use it on 1/3rd of the pathways of the garden and compare the two products. Stay tuned and happy gardening!
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