by David Hinks
My dictionary defines a weed as “a plant considered undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome, especially one growing where it is not wanted, as in a garden”. The following photo shows my bed of sweet potato vines being overrun by tomato seedlings (which have self-seeded from the tomatoes that were in the bed last year) and by oat seedlings which have sprung up from the straw mulch used in the pathways. Both of these plants would be welcome in the right place but I’m sorry they have no place in my sweet potato bed. Luckily they are shallow rooted and are easy to pull. But are they weeds?
Another interesting ‘weed’ that is springing up everywhere in my garden and that is commonly seen around town is the Creeping Bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides). As seen in the following photo it is quite an attractive plant and in fact was introduced from Europe as a garden flower. It is of concern from an agricultural perspective as it is shade tolerant and is able to survive in crops. In my garden, I find it difficult to eliminate from places I don’t want it as it has a white creeping root (rhizome) that is somewhat tuber-like. Any piece of that root left in the soil will send up a new plant. So the roots need to be dug up carefully and it is probably best not to add those roots to the compost bin.
Speaking of the straw mulch that I am using in the pathways, I am usually able to keep ahead of the seeds in the straw that germinate by shaking up the mulch with a hand cultivator. However this year with ideal growing conditions for oats I have fallen sadly behind as the following photo attests.
But I have found an easy solution. A quick pass through with the lawn mover brings the oat seedlings under control. As they are very shallow rooted the remaining part of the plant is not going to create a lot of trouble. Of course another solution would be to just let the grain grow and harvest it in the fall.
The weather continues unsettled with conditions that are great for the spread of plant diseases as well as growth of weeds and many of our common pests. The following photo shows a broccoli plant that has been overcome very quickly by a fungal disease. The only treatment at this stage is to pull out the whole plant and dispose of it in the garbage. It is not safe to add it to the compost bin.
Last week we started talking about composting. One interesting way to differentiate the different ways of composting would be to separate them into slow (cool) composting versus fast (hot) composting. Fast composting requires a lot of turning and the addition of more greens than would be the case with slow composting. Fast composting produces compost in eight weeks or less and the higher heat will kill pathogens and most weed seeds. Slow composting may require up to a year and more care needs to be taken about the addition of diseased plants. But there is a lot less turning and there are other benefits. When compost is stirred or turned frequently, the tiny thread fungi, called mycelium, are constantly being broken and will not develop well. Mycelium forms symbiotic relations with plant roots, especially on woody plants, where it enhances flower and fruit production. So now I have one less thing to feel guilty about!
Oxygen is necessary for decomposition to take place. This is why people turn their compost piles. I believe that if you successfully layer the dry and the wet, turning is probably not necessary. It is necessary to balance `wet` materials such as vegetable and fruit scraps, that are high in nitrogen with `dry` materials such as dead leaves and straw that are high in carbon – aim for 1 part wet to 2 parts dry. Make sure that you don’t try to compost a lot of wet green material that is tightly compacted such as lawn clippings. This mess is likely going to smell bad and will make composting an unpleasant exercise for both you and your neighbours. Always mix 1 part of wet greens with at least two parts of dry materials such as leaves and add a scoop of garden soil.
Come and see the AugustaParkCommunityGarden Wednesdays in July. There is musical entertainment. This Wednesday there will be a potluck dinner starting at 6.