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GARDEN JOURNAL

Weeds are tough competitors in the garden. Pull them before they soak up everything your vegetables need to succeed

Hand tools for weeding

An assortment of hand tools to aid in weeding the garden.

 

Here is the recipe of the week. Start with garden soil containing a mix of wayward seed, roots, and rhizomes. Add a dash or downpour of rain and doses of steadily increasing heat. Sooner than you wish, the combination of these ingredients will yield a healthy menu of weeds. Now, wasn’t that easy; certainly a lot easier than making Fluffy Jiggly Cheesecake.

Of course, not everyone is thrilled with the outcome of that recipe, the weed one, that is. I don’t mind a collection of weeds in my lawn where they add much color through the season, but I am not enamored with weeds in the vegetable garden and flower beds. Weeds in gardens are competitors, vying for light, nutrients, and space with the desirable plants. As such, the weeds must be removed.

Weeding is not something that many people enjoy. Having spent much of my youth crawling on my hands and knees weeding row after row in acre after acre on the family onion farm, I don’t mind weeding on the much smaller scale of our gardens. In fact, as a self-proclaimed Master of Mindless Tasks, I find weeding to be a peaceful experience, a chance for contemplation, though I have yet to solve the problems of the world. Nevertheless, as do other gardeners, I try to get through the task quickly. Fortunately, there are a variety of tools to assist the weeders of the world.

Small hand tools for weeding include such items as soil knives, Cape Cod weeder, fishtail or dandelion weeder, handheld garden cultivator or claw, and Cobra Head weeder. Long-handled tools for weeding include scuffle hoes, stirrup hoes and garden forks. Everyone in our family has a favorite weeding tool and none of us agree on one. So, it would be good to become familiar with the options, perhaps by borrowing a tool from a friend before purchasing one’s own.

Weeding is one of those tasks that must be kept up through the growing season in order to get the best growth of desirable plants. This is especially true for vegetables. However, the need for weed removal can be reduced by applying mulches around plants. Straw and grass clippings are good options for the vegetable garden while buckwheat hulls, cedar bark, and shredded wood work well in flower beds. Wood chips may be best for mulching around trees and shrubs, but be sure that the mulch is not piled up against the trunks of trees and shrubs.

SPONGY MOTH CATERPILLAR RASH

Spongy moth caused rash.JPG

A rash caused by contact with spongy moth caterpillars.

While weeds may be annoying, one critter is even more so right now, and that is the spongy moth (formerly called gypsy moth). Here in the Berkshires, the caterpillars hatched early last week from egg masses located on the trunks of trees. Soon afterward they climbed up into the tree canopy where they spun tiny silky threads that allowed them to be blown about in the wind, a process called ballooning. They randomly land on other trees, sides of buildings, fence posts, and, unfortunately on people. Not only do we find ourselves having to brush the critters from our clothing before entering the house, but we are also finding a rash, similar to poison ivy, on our exposed skin surfaces. The rash comes from contact with the fine hairs on the caterpillar bodies. For more information about the rash, check out this website: myhealthystate.org/itching-for-relief-how-to-treat-a-gypsy-moth-rash/

Well, if weeds and caterpillars are not annoying enough, here is a list of gardening tasks for this week:

  • Continue sowing seeds of sweet corn, root crops, and leafy greens. It is a little early but current weather trends are such that sowing of beans seems worth the risk. However, don’t place all your eggs … uh, seeds in one basket … uh, in the garden. Plan to make several sowings of corn and beans to extend the harvest season.
  • Place floating row covers over brassicas, i.e. cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, to protect the plants from cabbage moths. Also, put row covers over leeks, onions and shallots to protect them from allium leaf miner.
  • Try incorporating vegetable crops into your landscape if space is limited in the vegetable garden. A few pepper plants or eggplant nestled among the peonies and daylilies will cause visitors to pause and wonder. It’s good to keep visitors wondering — you don’t want them to get too comfortable.
  • Remove any blossoms that appear on blueberry and strawberry plants that were set out this spring. Yes, it hurts to lose the opportunity to harvest any fruit from these plants this year, but removing the flowers will encourage plant growth and ensure better fruit yields in the future.
  • Make room in the vegetable for some annual flowers attractive to bees and other pollinators. Some plants to include are: annual daisy (Osteospermum species), borage, calendula, cornflower, cosmos, lantana, salvias, sunflower, and zinnias,
  • Watch for Eastern tent caterpillars on fruit trees. Apply a spray containing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to the foliage of these trees.
  • Keep your weed wacker away from the trunks of young trees. These nylon filament trimmers can easily girdle the thin bark on young trees. If you are chronically careless, trim the grass around trees using hand shears, or remove a band of grass from around the base of each tree and replace it with a layer of organic mulch.

Garden Journal columnist Ron Kujawski began gardening at an early age on his family's onion farm in upstate New York. Although now retired, he spent most of his career teaching at the UMass Extension Service.

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