Garden Maintenance

Garden overwhelm is a thing and, oh boy, is it here. While different from the harvest overwhelm looming on the horizon, mid season overwhelm can be very, well…overwhelming! There is not a single direction I can look on my farm without viewing partially finished projects and things in need of attention. Weeding here, mulching there, trimming here, mowing there. My string trimmer died in the heat and seemingly overnight the raspberry patch has grown out of control. Fireweed, wild raspberries, and grass has grown up and through the two layers of garden fencing that has not yet been secured together. Piles of 1020 trays are still waiting to be washed, dried and stored for next year. The potatoes need to be hilled, the broccoli needs to be mulched and I need to secure the second silage tarp over the horsetail beds I am trying to eradicate.

The July garden

I did manage to spend a fair amount of June weeding because I have learned these past 18 years that the more you weed in June, the easier it is to maintain your garden for the rest of the season. It is so important to keep up with weeding when the soil is dry and the weeds are, hopefully, still small. The strawberry spinach, fireweed, plantain and willow herb are racing to produce seed before I get around to yanking them out. Garden plants and garden undesirables seemingly double in size overnight this time of year. Usually about the time the garden is fully planted and I feel like congratulating myself on a well weeded space, the cottonwood and willows send out their fluffy seeds to coat the ground. Baby trees in waiting. Lovely. They like to root along the drip lines and grow incredible root systems while you are distracted by picking beets and zucchini.

My days these past weeks are not really going as planned. I had intended to work in the garden every day until I completed a thorough deep weeding. Instead I have been butchering a spring bear that went into the freezer as quarters and needed to be processed into meals, as well as 4th of July family festivities at the lake, and cleaning and consolidating freezers. I really need to spend a day on the backhoe turning compost and prepping the ground where we are setting a pad for the new greenhouse I want to build this winter. The recent stretch of hot weather has called for midday impromptu cousin swim parties and choosing chores that did not require quite so much sweat equity. Just the daily chores this time of year can fill the entire day. So much for the plan to “just’ weed this week. I have been pulling some of the larger ones in flower by hand but will hopefully get in there with my arsenal of tools soon.

Cheery marigold flowers

I have collected quite a few weeding tools that I use to maintain my garden beds. As I get older I have started using more ergonomically designed tools where I can weed rapidly while standing. I have a Mutineer tool (designed by Neversink Farms and sold through them as well as Johnnys Selected Seeds) with a head that can change out several styles and sizes of implements. I use it in the spring with a large wire weeder to quickly clear a bed of thread stage weeds and this time of year with a stubby collinear hoe to slide under my drip tape and between my closely spaced plants.

I use a hand held Japanese style hoe for hand weeding. This tool can pry, slice, or dig out any weed and root. While it is far slower to creep along a garden bed on your knees with a hand weeder, this tool definitely has its place in the garden weeding regime to clear a bed of pesky weeds or for precision work.

I regularly use a harvest knife to remove horsetail around tender plants like green beans without damaging the garden plants. Sometimes I know there will be more damage done if I try to remove an entire unwanted plant and its roots and I just want to slice it off just below soil level. A knife is great for this.

My all time favorite weeding tool is the scuffle hoe. This tool is operated while standing using a push and pull motion. The u-shaped implement is sharped on both sides and can quickly rout out any weeds, large or small. I like how powerful it is and that you do not have to bend over to use it effectively. I use this tool extensively in the spring to prep beds and this time of year to remove weeds that grew up unnoticed and are about to seed. I use a coarse file to keep both edges sharp.

Despite the arsenal of weeding tools at my disposal and the time spent weeding, the weeds still seem to be winning even though the summer rains have not yet started. I suppose that is the side affect of living on the edge of the Boreal forest where native seeds can float in to reclaim their territory the moment you pause maintenance on your garden beds. I have to remind myself sometimes that not all weeds are bad. I enjoy coming across familiar friends who self seeded last year: a chamomile or catnip. Many weeds such as lambs quarter, strawberry spinach, and chickweed are useful and edible. Plantain makes a great spit poultice to soothe all the horsefly bites but seeds so prolifically I remove it when I see it knowing there will be more. The two weeds I personally struggle with the most are horsetail and shepherds purse. One is nigh on impossible to eradicate and the other is host to the cabbage root maggot. I have spent more time than I care to think about fighting with these two. Weeds are natures way of filling the void, the first line of rescuers to repair damaged soil. The bottom line is that if weeds are coming up than I have not done my job well enough to keep the soil covered in plants that I do want. Something to strive for.

In the perennial garden, despite the ducks, the lilacs are blooming and their scent is uplifting.

The groundwork for the new greenhouse project has finally begun after deconstructing the previous infrastructure. We moved the old greenhouse across the yard in the spring and just got three dump truck loads of gravel to spread into a level pad. Spreading gravel with the loader bucket is challenging; it is not as easy as a bulldozer. There is still a lot of work to be done before I have a level pad.

One lonely duckling has joined the farm. The sole survivor of two eggs in the incubator, this ancona wants to spend the day in our hood or pocket rather than alone in the tote.

The heat of June has passed and we are back to cool, rainy weather. The garden plants like it better than the dry heat and so do the weeds. We have our work cut out for us!

From my garden to yours, happy growing!

6 thoughts on “Garden Maintenance

  1. As a fellow gardener, great post. I don’t have any weeding tools, but am currently going to enter the market for some. That neversink farms mutineer seems worthwhile. Maybe a stirrup hoe from Johnny’s Selected Seeds too.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. No. I have looked at them with interest for sure but they are quite expensive. Shipping up here usually doubles the price of the tool. I have an earthway seeder that is not perfect but I am able to make work for most things.


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