Here is the truth about organic gardening: weeds are evil. The gardener spends most of their time in battle against this roothless enemy. A quick look at an organic garden shows rows of lush greenery. A deeper look at an organic garden reveals rows of lush WEEDS!
A couple days without weeding can be devastating to a garden. You turn your back once and the weeds spread out of control. The task of weeding can be overwhelming, but with dedication and staying on top of it daily, is manageable.
Weeding is important to the survival of a garden. It would be easy to let them grow and overpopulate, but they are not your plant’s nice next door neighbour. No, they are the neighbour who comes over to your house and drinks all the milk in the fridge. Weeds not only take up space where your plant wants to spread its roots, but they also suck up nutrients and water, leaving little for the plants that need these essentials to survive.
As cliche as it sounds, the best way to tackle the task is to have a positive attitude. Some gardeners find weeding to be therapeutic; a time to be surrounded by nature, alone with your thoughts. Others see it as rewarding; comparing the before and after when you clean the garden.
Here is a brief conversation between Eric and myself over weeding:
Eric: Why are you weeding in between the rows? (there is a path for every three rows)
Me: I don’t want to hurt my back leaning over to the middle row.
Eric: Get on the path. I don’t want you being reckless and kicking at the plants. I will weed the middle row.
Me: No! That’s my row! It’s dirty! I want to be the one who cleans it.
Weeding. You can love it or hate it.
Rookie weeders may not be able to tell the difference between a plant and a weed --- wait, aren’t weeds also plants? No! Well, yes! But stop that, right now! Don’t get friendly with the weeds. Don’t develop an emotional attachment. There is a clear difference between weeds and what you are wanting to grow (plants).
Here is how you can tell the difference: weeds are ugly. Maybe this guideline isn’t as detailed as you like. If you have a difficult time deciding whether the plant you are looking at is a golden beet or a weed, it is best to study your weeds beforehand.
The easiest way to weed is knowing what your weeds look like and not what your plants look like. That way, when you are down on your hands and knees, you can pick only the ones you are 100% sure are weeds and leave the questionable ones behind. Those questionable ones could very well be your vegetable plants at their young adult stage. You don't want to mistake those for weeds!
If you have a garden at home, I hope this helps. Here are a few popular weeds in Alberta and ones we at Yetwood Farms struggle with on a daily basis.
These are the most commonly seen in our garden. We pick them young and small because letting them flower and seed can be detrimental since the pigweed produces large numbers of seeds which can remain viable in the soil for several years. The roots are obviously red and the leaves are oval with prominent white veins on the undersides. This weed can be found in disturbed soils (gardens) and accumulates high levels of nitrates which has caused poisoning of pigs (hence the name). Worse of all, this weed acts as a host for the tarnished plant bug which leads these pests to our beloved vegetable crops. Not only is it a weed, but it is a pest. You are who your friends are.
As you could have guessed by the name, the Stinkweed has a foetid smell. This foul weed starts growth in early spring before the snow melts and can cause serious moisture loss prior to seeding. Because it grows early, the weed can produce seed early in the summer, making it essential to keep on top of weeding throughout the growing season. The flowers cluster at the end with four white petals and the leaves are hairless, stalkless and clasp at the stem. Another fun fact, when these weeds are consumed by livestock they can cause off-flavors in both meat and milk. You are what you eat.
Not only is the Canada Thistle a pain to pick by hand, but it is tough to cultivate effectively because the root system is extensive and spreads below the normal cultivation depth. The leaves are irregularly cut into segments with sharp spines. Gloves are highly recommended when picking these. When the Canada Thistle flowers, the colour can vary from purple to pink to white. Male and female flowers occur on different plants and only the female flowers produce seed. Females rule the world and the garden!
This is the ultimate weed competitor. It weasels its way between your plant stems and makes it impossible to pick the weed without picking your herbs as well. Sure, it looks like a pretty fern when it first starts to grow, but this weed will infest the entire area if it is not controlled. The leaves are covered with stellate branched hairs and the flowers come in small, dense clusters of four yellow petals. Tip for picking these weeds when they are young: don’t grab the stem and expect to pull out the roots, you will only break off the leaves. It is best to dig into the ground, either with your clawed fingers or a handheld spade and pull at the roots directly.