“Weeds are my cover crop!” jokingly stated my friend Gordon Kincaid. This followed my invitation to join me in doing the holy crawl in my garden. The holy crawl is something I learned very early in life as I, along with my siblings and parents, crawled on hands and knees weeding our onion fields. This was well before herbicide applications became the standard for weed control in commercial agriculture.
Since I employ an organic approach to gardening, the holy crawl will always be a key strategy for ridding our gardens of weeds. Of course, I also do a lot of hoe, hoe, hoeing, and also apply mulches. None of these tactics is perfect. Some weeds always manage to escape my efforts. However, there are certain weeds that do draw sharp attention. Right now, those are the weeds in the flowering stage. Removing them is critical since those flowers will soon be setting seeds and that means more weeds. According to the Weed Science Society of America, a single purslane plant (Portulaca oleracea) is capable of producing more than 2,000,000 seeds. (No, that is not a typo. It is 2 million seeds.) Obviously, that is a weed that gets a lot of attention.
Other weeds on my priority list are those such as quackgrass which produces an extensive network of underground stems called rhizomes. As a result, quackgrass can produce a dense mat on the soil surface. Pulling up the above ground portion of the plants is not enough for control as the rhizomes will continue to send up shoots. So, it is wise to dig up as much of the rhizome network as possible.
The key problem with weeds, of course, is that they compete with the desirable plants in gardens for vital nutrients, moisture, and space. In the vegetable garden, such competition can adversely impact the crop yield. Although my friend, Gordon, joked about weeds as a cover crop, there is some truth to that. After a crop is harvested and there is no time or interest in planting a succession crop, it’s okay to let some weeds grow, as long as they are not setting seed or are those with rhizomes. These can be tilled under after being killed by frost in fall or the following spring.
PLAN YOUR NEXT PLANTING
While on the subject of succession crops, this is a good time to plan and pursue such planting. It is most likely that space in the vegetable has already been created with the harvest of radishes, lettuce, spinach, endive, and early season crops. By planting in those spaces, the harvest season can be extended well into the fall, even past early frosts.
Among the vegetables to sow now are those in the group called the brassicas. This family of vegetables includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale. These may be direct seeded to the garden or started indoors and transplanted as space becomes available. Other vegetables to direct seed are beets, radishes, kohlrabi, turnips, carrots, lettuce, spinach, and Swiss chard.
When doing succession planting, it would be wise to incorporate some compost or fertilizer prior to sowing or transplanting any new crop.
It would also be wise to tackle these tasks:
- Don’t mind your Qs but do pay attention to your Ps, uh, that is, your peas. Be a persistent pea-picking person by picking pea pods practically every other day and early in the morning when their sugar content is highest. Peas are ripening fast now, just in time for the traditional New England July Fourth meal of salmon and peas. Pick peas when pods are plump, that is rounded, but before the pods become lumpy, an indication of overdeveloped peas. To pop picked pea pods to extricate peas, grasp the stem end of the pod and pull back the rib along the top of the pod and then use your thumb to press the pod which will easily pop open.
- Save some leftover peas seeds from the early spring planting and sow these in mid-July. It is possible to get an early fall harvest. Keep in mind that peas are a cool season crop and do not do well in the heat of summer. To improve the chances of success, soak the soil after sowing and apply a layer of straw or other mulch along each side of the pea row. This will keep the soil cool. Also, planting in a shaded spot or in the shade of a corn row, will improve the odds of success. If not, the pea plants can be tilled under as a cover crop, enhancing the organic content of the soil while also being a good source of nitrogen for next year’s garden.
- Go on daily pest patrols. This is peak season for many pests of ornamental and vegetable plants. Check not only the surface of plant foliage, but also the undersides of leaves, a favorite hiding place not only for aphids, white flies, mites, and other sucking type pests, but also for the eggs and larvae of leaf eating and stem boring insects. Active pests in the vegetable garden now include the egg and/or larval stages of potato beetles, asparagus beetles, cabbage worms, squash bugs, and squash and corn borers. Natural insecticides containing spinosad and BT are effective against the larval stages of most of these pests.
- Harvest a garlic plant when in need of some garlic flavor in a recipe. Sure the plants are far from maturity, but the plants can actually be harvested any time there is a need for garlic. Young garlic plants can be harvested and used the same as one would use scallions, i.e. chopped up and added to dishes requiring a garlic flavor. If bulbs are needed, it’s okay to pull up a few plants now as they have begun to form bulbs. However, bulbs that will be stored for winter, must be harvested later in summer.
- Remove faded blossoms from snapdragons, poppies, marigolds, zinnias and other annuals. Doing so promotes continuous flowering through the growing season.
Take a break and have a joyous holiday with family and friends.