Category Archives: Organic Weed Control

Round Robin Discussion on Green Manures and Cover Crops

We were very sorry that Dot Perkins could not join us to lead our workshop about cover crops for our August. Unfortunately, she had severely injured her knee and could not manage to make it to the meeting. We hope she recovers quickly and is “good as new” very soon!

Buckwheat is a green manure/cover crop that can be planted in bare spots after harvest.

We soldiered on with a lively round robin discussion sharing our collective experiences and knowledge about cover cropping. Here is what we learned…

• A cover crop is essentially a green manure that you grow to till back into the soil. Cover crops enrich the soil, preserve nutrients and prevent soil erosion that comes from leaving the soil bare.

• Not all cover crops are good for home gardeners! Many cover crops require heavy farm equipment to till the crop back into the soil. Home gardeners require cover crops that are easy to cut down and dig back into the soil by hand. Here are a few suggestions…

Spring: The perfect cover crop for the early spring is Peas! Plant ordinary garden peas all over your entire garden in the early spring. Harvest your peas and dig in the plants. They create a really beautiful soil for your summer crops. If the peas aren’t ready to harvest and you are ready to plant other crops, simply dig in the plants. The plant material is a wonderful nutrient for your soil.

Summer: Buckwheat was highly recommended as an excellent summer cover crop. It does not require much water and it tolerates poor soil fertility. The stalks are tender and brittle and can be easily cut down with a scissors or yanked out by hand. Buckwheat is inexpensive (you can find it at Agway or Blue Seal) and it germinates very quickly. It is a good weed suppressant. Cut down the buckwheat before it starts flowering and  setting seed. Once cut down or pulled up, dig into the soil. It decomposes within a week so that the home gardener can plant quickly and creates a fine textured soil that is perfect for new seed beds.  Click here for more information about Buckwheat.

Spring and Summer: Mustard has also been recommended as a good cover crop to nourish the soil and suppress weeds. Plant around all of your plants and harvest as needed or simply cut and lay on top of the soil as a mulch. Replant as needed.

•Late Summer/Fall: Winter Rye or Rye mixed with Vetch are good cover crops for overwintering. Plant in the fall after you harvest the last of your crops. In the very early spring, you will see a hint of green as the rye begins to sprout. DIG IN RIGHT AWAY! It grows quickly and will become more difficult to dig in as it gets larger.

Cover Crops for Weed Suppression…

Rye or Rye plus Clover: Gardeners have had good success with growing rye or rye combined with clover to smother out weeds and nourish the soil in problem areas. In the spring, dig or rototill the weedy areas and then broadcast the  seed like grass seed. Keep the area mowed over the summer so the plants don’t set seed. The following spring, dig in as soon as you see the rye beginning to green and wait a couple of weeks to plant. Your new bed will be nourished with the green manures and mostly weed-free.

Comfrey’s many uses in the garden…

Comfrey is a plant that is extremely useful in your garden. You can use it as a mulch, compost activator, liquid fertilizer and soil amendment. HOWEVER…be careful when planting because comfrey can take over your garden! Ask around and  you will most likely have a friend who has some comfrey running rampant in their garden and is more than willing to have you harvest it.

Here is a link for more information about Comfrey

Final note…

I was so pleased with how much knowledge the gardeners had to share at the meeting. We all learn so much from each other and really benefit by sharing our experiences!  I also want to mention that the children had a wonderful time creating beautiful terrariums with the Lisa Aquizap and her Green Team.  The kids have been having a blast!

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Capital City Organic Gardeners Take a Tour of Concord Community Gardens

Area gardeners enjoyed an informative tour of several plots at the Concord Community Gardens at the July 21 monthly meeting and program of the Capital Area Organic Gardeners (CCOG). A couple of dozen curious people, most with notebooks and/or cameras in hand, heard stories of garden experiments, successes and challenges, before dark clouds, lightning and a threatening storm brought an early end to the evening. The tour was continued the following week on July 28 under very pleasant conditions.

New Community Garden Kiosk

CCOG President Scott Morrison led the tour, which started at the community garden’s new message kiosk, a CCOG project completed earlier this spring to encourage sharing of information among the community gardeners.

Karen and her garden.

Neat as a pin!

First up was Karen Shields, showing off her very tidy and well-weeded raised bed vegetable garden, which she says has not experienced too many pests this year. “Keep your plants strong, and give them plenty of water, and they can withstand anything,” advises Karen. She, like many others at the community garden, hauls her water from home in garden jugs.

The "Three Sisters" in Scott's garden.

The next stop was Scott Morrison’s garden, the site of a few experiments, including a wheat and oat plot, multiple beds of “three sisters” plantings (beans, corn and squash), as well as the use of clover growing in rows. He mows the clover and uses the clippings as mulch. “It’s always an experiment, and it’s fun,” says Scott. “I learn something; I write it down, and I do it differently the next year.” Scott practices permaculture techniques and has managed his garden with very little extra water during the recent dry spell.

Steve's garden.

Bees love the borage!

Steve Abbott’s garden is a garden that not only encourages volunteers, but also is home to several experiments. Steve left a large patch of volunteer borage in place to encourage pollinators. In full bloom at the time of the tour, it buzzed with activity. Steve is composting comfrey along the edge of his pumpkins. “My pumpkins just figured out they were growing next to a compost heap, and they’re really taking off,” he says. Like other gardeners at the community gardens, Steve has made a commitment to building his soil. “I haven’t rototilled in five years. I’m seeing better soil, more worms and even better weeds!”

Lorna's garden. The much needed rain is moving in!

Last on the tour, before lightning, wind and rain sent the group scurrying for their cars, was Lorna Austin’s garden. Lorna, an apartment dweller, takes advantage of her garden to grow flowers as well as vegetables, and many were in full bloom. Lorna also works hard at organic soil management practices. “I practice no tilling, and I feel like this year, it’s really paying off,” she says. “I’m not seeing very many bugs, and check out this basil. The variety is ‘mammoth.’ I’ve been making pesto like crazy and it just keeps on producing.”
(At this point, the tour ended for the night. We resumed the tour the following week starting where we left off at Lorna Austin’s garden.)

The hot weather veggies love the IRT plastic sheeting.

Lorna wanted to show us the IRT plastic sheeting she bought at Fedco. “It’s inexpensive and the hot weather vegetables like the basil, peppers and eggplant have been loving it. I’ll definitely use it again.” said Lorna.

Flowers and veggies in Lorna's garden. A perfect match.

The next stop was Tom Poirier’s garden next to Lorna’s. Tom has uses raised bed boxes to keep his garden under control. He mulches the paths to keep the weeds down so he can focus his energy on the boxes. He dug down about two feet and amended the soil in each box. After planting, he put corrugated plastic tubes around each seedling. “They help focus the water down around the seedling’s roots when I water. I’m able to water right into the tube.” said Tom.  A handy tip for those who have to water by hand! Tom also sang the praises of using King Neptune’s Fish Emulsion to fertilize his plants every two weeks. He has seen an enormous difference in the health of his plants this year. Like Steve, he is also utilizing the comfrey and borage in the gardens to nurture his compost pile.

Tom also mulches well inside his bozes. Note the plastic tubing around the tomato plant.

Tom's garden.

We moved onto Mary Malan’s garden just down the road a bit. Mary started out religiously following the Square Foot gardening method. Over the years, she has relaxed a bit and now plants according to her intuition. She favors 3′ x 6′ plots. “They are a good size to manage and a row cover fits over them quite nicely.” says Mary. She recommends using row covers early in the season to nurture and protect young seedlings and freshly seeded beds. “They love the heat!”. A trick Mary uses to conserve water is to plant seedlings in a bowl or depression rather then hilling them up. She can then focus her watering very precisely around the plant. Even so, she has spent most of this dry summer hauling water into her garden.

Companion planting and interplanting flowers makes Mary's garden especially beautiful!

Mary lets the amaranth self seed. Isn't it beautiful?

It looks like this watermelon is loving the heat.

Our final stop was at Diana Talbot’s beautifully planned sunburst garden. Diana is an artist and master gardener and it shows! Her garden reminded us of a formal english garden. To create the paths, she dug down and mulched them with straw. To create the edging, she left some of the grass grow. A beautiful detail. We were sorry that Diana was not able attend the tour but we were all inspired by her creation.

Diana's beautifully designed garden!

The edges are outlined with carfully manicured grass. A lovely detail.

A Georgia O'Keefe flower! A perfect flower to spot in an artist's garden.

Thank you to everyone who offered tours of their gardens. You are all an inspiration!

Sunset

Thank you also to Lisa Aquizap for creating a garden scavenger hunt for the children and to Eleanor Baron who took photos and wrote up the copy for the first portion of the tour. It was very much appreciated!

Is it Bindweed or Knotweed? What's the difference?

Line Drawing: Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States and Canada, Second Edition.

BINDWEED- Line Drawing: Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States and Canada, Second Edition.

At our last meeting sans our professional gardener to set us straight…(We missed you Beth!). We had a big discussion about eradicating Japanese Knotweed and Bindweed. We used both names thinking we were talking about the same thing. They are different but equally EVIL!

As it turns out, the only way to control these weeds is to keep weeding…and weeding…and weeding! Don’t throw them in your compost or put them in the yard waste pick-up because they will continue to thrive and then invade any garden that the compost is spread on. Just throw the weeds away or burn them…and then still throw away the ashes.

Bindweed is part of the Morning Glory family. If you don’t let it flower and keep pulling it when it’s small, you will eventually weaken the plant and see a big improvement in two or three years. Click here for an excellent article from Organic Gardening magazine about keeping this weed under control.

Japanese Knotweed is another story. From what I have read, it’s very difficult to eliminate even if you used major toxic chemicals and ORGANIC GARDENERS DON’T DO THAT! The good news is that this research has made me realize that this is the plant from our neighbor’s yard that keeps creeping into our garden. We have been calling it “Bamboo” for years. We just pull it out whenever we see it and I throw it back into their patch. Our neighbor mows around the patch and that keeps it in check fairly well. The birds and bees love it and honestly…it does look nice in the summer. Click here for an article on how to control the Japanese Knotweed the most sustainable way…by eating it!

Topic for June: Compost and Weed Control

First lettuce sprinkled with crabapple blossoms.

First lettuce sprinkled with crabapple blossoms.

Our next meeting is Wednesday, June 17. So mark your calendars! We will be talking about composting and weed control. Lots to discuss! If the weather cooperates, we may head out to the community gardens for part of the meeting for a demonstration.

At our last meeting, Beth spent a lot of time explaining the value of proper soil management. Good soil equals healthier plants that are better able to ward off pests and diseases. This month we will be talking more about making good compost which is the best thing you can add to any kind of soil to boost it’s fertility. We will also share ideas and techniques for vanquishing those pesky weeds.

Join us on the 17th. If you can’t manage the potluck, feel free to just come for the meeting. All are welcome and feel free to bring a friend!