The other day, I was driving to work and had to drive around a giant truck spraying herbicide on the side of the highway. OK, I was already in a bad mood, but still, seeing it spraying the weeds with chemicals made me cry. Real tears. Now, imagine if they were doing it the right way—I’d have been slowing down to watch goats… baby goats! And my bad mood would have turned into happy feelings.
I’m one of those people who actually enjoy weeding because after 40 years of doing it, I’ve learned a few things that make it easier—even meditative. Think about it for a minute: After coming home from a hard day of work, pulling a few weeds can feel really, really good (take THAT, you pesky thistle!). Plus, there is no better way to truly get to know and see up close what’s happening in your garden.
The truth is if you don’t like GMOs and you don’t want them in your food, you have to understand how to manage weeds. Most GMOs exist because farmers “fight” weeds with chemicals instead of with common sense.
Here’s some commonsense and weeding advice I’ve learned along the way.
- Prevent them in the first place with plants and mulch. Here’s the main thing you need to understand about nature: She HATES bare soil. She will bring in the “weeds” to cover up her vulnerable soil skin. So you can either do the planting for her or cover her up with mulch. And mulch will decompose over time, so it must be reapplied. If you’re driving past farms and seeing acres and acres of exposed soil that looks all nice and bare and “clean”…well, that is one miserable and unhappy piece of land! If you are a farmer and are wondering what the solution is, check out this info on the Roller Crimper—now, THAT’S a weed solution nature is thrilled with.
- Start early and small. A tiny weed is easier to pick than a giant weed. Stay on top of your weeds by getting them early and often.
- Get your squats in the garden, not in the gym. OK, I used to think this was a gender issue—I rarely see men in America “squatting” down to pick a weed. And I’ve had a few honest men tell me they can’t and won’t do it. And yet, I see in Men’s Health all the time men going to the gym to do squats. More importantly, in other cultures squatting is just how men (and women) sit all the time. So it’s not a true gender issue at all. Think of squatting to pull weeds as the ultimate outdoor Men’s Health In fact, you’ll accomplish two goals at once: strong glutes and a weed-free garden!
- Use the right tool. Match the job to the best possible size as you would a fountain soda depending on your thirst: small, medium, or large. Small is a kitchen knife for getting into and between cracks; medium is a hori hori knife for getting those usual weeds; and large is a shovel—for getting things for which you need to go deep to get to the roots or that just require that extra help (thistles, for example). My favorite shovel for women is this one: the HERShovel. It has a nice sharp bottom and a ledge for awesome foot leverage.
- Get the roots! Most important lesson here… If you don’t “get to the root of the issue,” you will never resolve it. Weed-wacking is fine in a pinch when you want to make things look nice quickly (oh, you guys do love your wackers!). However, it won’t eliminate the weeds. Only pulling them out by the roots will.
- Sit down and relax. As I’ve gotten older, this has become my favorite technique. I have a nice blanket that I take out with me into the garden. I spread it out with my trug of tools by my side, and I calmly, methodically, and thoroughly pull weeds. It’s relaxing! It’s deeply, deeply satisfying. Most of the time, I do this wearing a bikini, FYI. But if it’s after work, I’ll even do it in my work clothes. And as I clear each area, I just move the blanket.
- Understand what the weed is trying to tell you about your soil. Too many dandelions? You probably have acidic soil. Thistle? Your soil isn’t fertile enough—just add compost (and get this one out by the roots because even a small bit of root can re-grow). Get to know your weeds and what they are trying to tell you.
- Plant more. As I said before, if you have bare soil, you’re going to have weeds. Plant ground covers. Plant more flowers and bushes. Pack stuff in, and there will be no room left for weeds to grow.
- Don’t let your weeds go to seed! Whatever you do, try to get to them before they go to seed. There is an old saying, “One year’s seed is seven years of weeds.” Even if you just cut the seed head off, you are better off than if you let the weed spread. The only exception I make is with milkweed (which, by the way, is designated as a noxious weed in farm fields, which means farmers can be fined for letting it grow). I let milkweed take over large areas of my garden in hopes of helping the monarch butterflies. And their seeds are those magical floaty things, which are fun to watch blowing through the air. By the way, Native Americans used milkweed fluff as absorbent diaper material for their babies!
- Eat them. Lots of weeds are edible! Mustards, burdock, pigweed, dandelion, and purslane, to name a few. Get a good book that identifies weeds in your region and start enjoying! Remember, thousands of years ago people used to eat that way all the time.
The other thing to remember is that sometimes weeds are not weeds, but free plants. I often find lavender, Japanese maple trees, and other flowers and vegetables that have taken root in some surprising place in my garden. I almost always let them grow. After all, they have chosen that location as their home, which means they will be happy there.