Weeds love spring. One of the reasons weeds ARE weeds is because they germinate just a little bit earlier than any plants you want to grow. Weeds grow fast, too, produce seeds quickly, and few beasties want to eat them.
I used to boast that weeds couldn't get a toehold in our vegetable garden. Last summer demolished that illusion. Drought, bushfire winds, hard-packed bare ground as wildlife sought refuge, plus an interesting number of weed seeds brought in on the hay, mean that this spring's crop of potatoes are only just managing to hold their head above the weeds. Another week or two and the weeds will win.
Enter mulch. Lots of mulch. I'm using sugar cane mulch this year simply because it is easy to use in large amounts. It will be poured around the potatoes, leaving only the leaf top showing. Ditto to protect zucchini, tomatoes, beans, perennial capsicum et al. All will hopefully be circled by large amounts of deceased sugar cane before the end of the week.
Weeds in what should be grass and native ground covers are being decapitated by the mower and the whipper-snipper before they can set seed. Weeds in paving get their heads scraped off.
No, this isn't one of those 'All you need to do' articles. Any garden instructions that begin 'all you need to do' are probably over optimistic. We are in for a long weed battle, as weed seeds - naturally - can survive years or decades in soil. The only thing that keeps weeds truly in check is a well-growing, thick ground cover, and to get that we first need to control the weeds.
Be inventive. There are so many ways to outwit weeds. A neighbour used to put an electric fence around blackberry clumps, throw in a bag of pig nuts, then a pig. A week later he had bare, beautifully manured ground ready to plant out with tomatoes.
A neater backyard variation is a fence made of bales of hay, with a mob of chooks inside to eat and scratch away the weeds. The old 'pour a kettle of boiling water on a stubborn weed' has been updated by 'steam weeders'. There are also many kinds of commercial weed mat that can be bought in small or vast amounts. Weed mats cover weeds until everything underneath is deceased and ready to be planted. I could go on...
But just for now? Pile on the mulch, then add some fertiliser to help turn it into soil, then add more mulch. Head outside after each rain shower and pluck weeds up while the soil is soft and enjoy the scent of wet and green. Mow what you can, and whipper-snip the rest.
And just keep going. It took Bryan several years of mowing to kill the vast blackberry patches that occupied most of our property when we first arrived, but finally the blackberries vanished.
Not even weeds can survive decapacitation forever.
This week I am:
- Eating the first home-grown broad beans I've planted in years and wondering why on earth I stopped growing them. Tiny, tender fresh home-grown broad beans are nothing, nothing, nothing like shop-bought or frozen ones, eaten when each bean seed is not much bigger than a pea, but six times as sweet. Be careful picking broad beans - the stems break easily and once broken, they stop producing more beans.
- Realising as I ate today's lunch (broad beans with purple asparagus tips, topped with a lightly boiled egg) that growing your own doesn't just mean your food tastes better - it also becomes extremely simple to achieve the five servings of veg and three of fruit a day. In fact, it is difficult to only eat five servings of, say, asparagus with hollondaise sauce, or leeks in olive oil and garlic, or new potatoes fresh from the soil, baked in their jackets. This is possibly why the best vegie gardeners I know are well covered. We like to think it is muscle.
- Picking roses, roses, roses. Also, green, purple and white asparagus, the first loquats, tamarillos, and the first mulberry too, though the latter was a bit sour. Possum X is so stuffed with loquats that he has temporarily given up munching the roses.
- Mulching, mulching mulching, and hauling up weeds each time I pass through the garden on the way to the asparagus.
- Muttering at the wallaby who has pushed its nose through the reinforcing mesh and eaten the climbing beans - again. The wallaby has learned that good things grow behind reinforcing mesh. I should have learned to grow beans out of reach of wallaby paws and noses.
- Watching trees that have done no growing, flowering or fruiting for four years of drought spread their branches and put forth blossom, and what may be the most glorious season yet of fruit. Soon there will be loganberries, strawberries, truly sweet mulberries, cherries, peaches, and tiny freckled apricots.