Whenever we cultivate the soil, nature seems to perceive the disturbance as an injury, and weeds appear to heal the wound with their greenness. Never mind that we, too, wish to fill the space with vigorous plants, because in the end, nature favours weeds over vegetables.
Young vegetables that are forced to compete with weeds never come close to their productive potential, so you must find good ways to weed your garden that work well for you. Last summer Ben Vanheems brought together plenty of information on using mulches to prevent weedy takeovers, and I’ve ranted on about the importance of sharp weeding tools. But when it comes to managing weeds, there is always more to know.
Hard-Working Weeding Aids
A hundred years ago, most gardeners used wheel hoes to maintain neat rows, and these nifty manual tools are enjoying a comeback. Unlike the gas-powered rototillers that replaced them, wheel hoes are quiet and never refuse to start. A wheel hoe can clean up a row in half the time it would take to hoe the same space by hand, though you do need to go back and pull weeds growing between plants in the row. Invented by English agriculturalist Jethro Tull around 1730, the first wheel hoes were pulled by horses. Today’s human-powered wheel hoes vary in the types of cutting blades they use, which often can be changed to suit the weeding task at hand.
A year ago, my weeding life changed for the better when I got a garden kneeler for my birthday. Lightweight yet sturdy, the kneeler makes weeding more comfortable because you can kneel or sit and take your time. When you need to move down the row, it’s easy to push yourself up using the side handles – a huge benefit when you have a long row in need of attention.
Mindfulness is not Mandatory
My personal preference is to weed in silence, listening to the sounds of birds and buzzing bees, but on many organic farms workers are assigned to weed in pairs, because conversation makes the time pass faster. Why not weed in ways that suit your mood? Some days you will like the centering, mindful aspect of silent, solo weeding. Other days you might enjoy the company of a podcast or some music.
In addition to using sound to help you weed your garden, you can throw aroma in to the mix by crushing a handful of herbs at the beginning of each weeding session, which can also help deter biting insects. The close company of fragrant flowers will keep you weeding longer, too, because who wants to leave the garden when you can linger to smell the roses?
Just like robotic vacuums that wander the floor in search of dirt, the solar-powered Tertill roams the garden in search of plants less than two inches tall, and zips them away with a little string trimmer. When it encounters a taller plant, it stops, turns, and resumes its weed patrol. In the right garden, I think the Tertill (or its offspring, which are sure to come) may make fine company indeed, but only in rows of established plants. There might be accidents, too, as in, “Oh, Tertill, those were my beetroot seedlings!”
Just considering all sides here. The truth is that robots or not, weeding will always be a part of keeping a vegetable garden. Weed seeds arrive on the wind, or they are dropped by birds, or maybe they hitch rides on your shoes, so you will never be without them. With the right tools and methods, you can actually enjoy keeping a well-weeded garden.