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Weeding, watering: Opportunities to see what’s happening

Posted: June 5, 2014 - 11:10am

I was recently asked a very simple question: What is the best thing happening in your garden right now? Without missing a beat I replied: My husband. There is never a simple answer ... .

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So, I was standing in the aisle loaded with garden supplies, looking for fish emulsion (a favorite plant booster) and choking on the fumes of commercial insecticides and herbicides and wondering why anyone would ever use any of these products. This is not something that you smell in nature. It doesn’t take a huge intellect to deduce that this stuff is doing more harm than good for the environment. If you don’t want to deal with bugs and weeds, then don’t garden. Simple.
Horsetails are the weed that is getting most of the attention at the moment. They are prevalent in spring and seem to invade every single bit of cultivated ground. These plants have survived on this planet forever. For positive inspiration on uses of this plant refer to Janice Schofield’s “Discovering Wild Plants.“ 

Your eyes will be opened to the wonders of equisetum aka horsetails. You will cease and desist railing against its invasive properties. You will want to use it to sand metal, pickle it, wash your hair with it, sit on it. My goodness, the possibilities seem endless. You just might become a believer. 

In the meantime, snap it off at the base, the roots go down 14 feet and are nearly impossible to eradicate. Get them in their first flush of growth and then you will be done with them. More or less.
Ranunculus is an introduced species that has taken over like crazy. I used to think it was a native plant but no. It is introduced and a true nuisance. Most often called “buttercup,” there are a zillion different species and I’m sure someone out there knows which one Homer has.

But what I do know is that it is everywhere. We face the same trauma with hawkweed, that really orange, rangy plant that takes over everything in its path. 

Let’s not forget rose campion, the bright pink flower that some people actually like. If you can keep just the male and destroy the females (they have a sack of seed behind the flower) you can still keep them around. 

But what to do with these invasives once you have identified them, pulled them and are ready to dispose of them? Put them into a black plastic garbage bag, tie it closed and take it to the dump. Do not compost, or toss them into a handy ravine, or an empty lot. To the dump they go. 

As for the common weeds they can hit the compost pile if they have not gone to seed. If you are a weeder (and that is a big “if”), then you won’t have a problem. Because my garden is smallish, I make weeding a priority. Besides, I LIKE to weed. Whenever I say that I am inevitably invited over to weed the listeners’ garden. No. Bend over and get after it. You just might find peace in weeding. There certainly is time to listen to your kids natter on about their day; or the birds; or the wind in the trees; or the ferry’s horn as it leaves the harbor. See? Any number of wonderful things can happen while you weed. 

Weeding will give you the opportunity to notice if there are any cut worms attacking your seedlings and find them, cut their little bodies in half, and then slide a small skewer next to the stem of the surviving plants (if you haven’t done this already). There are those who put an empty can (both ends cut out) over a seedling to prevent cut worms from doing mortal damage. These pests are cyclical (but I prepare for them every spring anyway) and usually found at the lower elevations. I hope you don’t have them. 

The same goes for watering, which most of us are doing a lot of this spring. I have a friend who owns a business and loves to garden. This is a combination that can prove problematic. She has a two-part watering plan: soaker hoses for when she can’t be there, and a regular hose for when she is. I prefer the hose. I like to use the time I stand there to assess what the plants are doing, what they might need. Limit the use of a sprinkler to a new lawn and not when the wind is blowing or else the water just blows with the wind and very little hits the grass. Watering is not mindless. 

The layer of straw that went under the strawberries is keeping the moisture in. The intention for the installation is to keep the berries clean, which is why they are called “strawberries,” rather than lay in the dirt they have clean straw to nestle into. I used this method a few years ago and the slugs loved that straw just as much as the berries.

But — here we go again. I haven’t had to really water them through this very dry spell. The same goes for the cole crops under the floating row cover. Wonderful. Mulch comes in many forms and these two have worked wonders although not as I intended. Spring is usually dry here, but not this dry. So I have been impressed with the moisture retention.
The floating row cover’s main job here is to prevent the fly from laying the egg that becomes the root maggot that eats the root system of the cole crops: broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, you get the idea. An added benefit is that it increases the temperature by about four degrees, which comes in handy. 

BUT these plants do not want to be too hot. They are perfect crops for Homer. They love cool, misty, moisty weather which we usually have plenty of. If too much heat comes their way they will button up (or bolt) and that will be the end of that. Not what you want. So keep an eye on your plants. Mine are already getting too large to stay under the cover. They have grown fast and furious. I think they are large enough to handle an onslaught of maggots. I don’t know where the flies are in their reproductive cycle. Everything is a bit topsy turvy. Yet another reason to weed and water — keep an eye on your plants.

The tomatoes have set fruit, all with just a quick shake of the plant. Cucumbers are set and growing so very fast, just amazing.
We are harvesting lettuce, radish and spinach. The cold relentless wind doesn’t seem to have fazed them. All of the vegetables seem to be thriving on the warm days, cool nights and enough water. What a spring.

Have you noticed the lilacs? There are shrubs in full bloom here and there. Mine are thinking about blooming. They usually put on a show the 4th of July but they just might be finished by then. We’ll see. Even the peonies that were planted last year are going to bloom. The trollius are gorgeous this year, as usual. The annuals that went in are thriving. I was a bit worried about the cosmos. They really and truly do not want to be cold, not ever. I thought this wind would do them in but they are looking hale and hardy. The clematis alpine has sent out so many seedlings that I am potting them up and giving them away as fast as I can. 

I love to garden.

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener.

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