Ruthless Gardening: A Must!

Every summer around this time the same thing happens. I head out to the garden after a busy work week (or three), and take a look at my vegetable garden and go, “Oh *%$!” Once again, I have let sentimental, kind-hearted generosity screw up my patch.

It starts simply enough, with the idea that I’ll let that kale that came back from last winter go to seed and replant itself. Or look! There are baby tomato plants I didn’t plant…they’re so cute! I think I’ll keep them! Or worse, my husband thinks that the mystery dehybridized squash seed that sprouted is worth watching to see what comes out of it, and before you know it, there are scratchy, prickly tentacles climbing all over everything—including the lawn—like some creature from outer space. Suddenly, my expensive transplants shipped in from Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa are struggling for their very survival, I can’t tell the heirloom tomatoes from the weed tomatoes, and I’ve lost all track of half the things I planted.

And I am reminded: Ruthlessness is required to be a really good gardener—ruthless weeding, ruthless protection of the desired plants, and ruthless vigilance against pests, even if the pests would be perfectly good plants in other situations. Without discipline and tough decision-making, gardens turn into crazy jungles where the plants are so busy fighting for their space and survival they forget to make vegetables.

It’s a tough lesson I relearn every year, but an important one. If we don’t say no, or protect our spaces, before you know it our lives and gardens are out of control and nobody gets anything good to eat.

So here is what I am doing this weekend: I’m putting on my cowboy hat, slinging my weeding knife in its holster, and leaving the gloves off. I’m bringing in the big smart cart, and I’m prepared to fill it, even if I have to fill it again and again and again. And honey, that plant that you thought was eggplant? It’s a frickin’ weed, and I’m pulling all of them. (I never would have planted 40 eggplants!)

It’s a cruel, tough job, but somebody has to do it—and that would be me.

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11 Responses to Ruthless Gardening: A Must!

  1. Maya July 10, 2009 at 7:22 am #

    Me too! Sometimes I feel bad for the weeds I pull out. And more often I feel bad when I have to pull out flowers that have taken over. But it is necessary for maintaining the balance and more plants, bugs and people end up happier.

    But what really makes me feel better is knowing that they’re going to the compost pile, and that they’ll be put to good use that way. Nothing is wasted, and that’s nice.

  2. Kattya July 10, 2009 at 11:32 am #

    True. And it pays off to be ruthless at times. I decided to stop nursing the broccoverde and the swiss chard and spinach I planted in spring, with a slightly broken heart because I did have hopes of eating those delicious greens again or see a huge ball of yuminess growing in the middle of those enormous leaves. Long story short, when I went to get my last harvest of chards they were gone, down to the “bones” thanks to caterpillars. The good thing about it is that I caught them when they were still on the chards, about 5 rows away from our last 6 tomato plants. So now I know that if I don’t take 15 minutes every other day to go in there and clean, I’ll loose my tomatoes. Ahhhhhh, summer in Florida, don’t you just love it?

  3. Rebecca July 10, 2009 at 12:06 pm #

    I hear ya ! I go thru the same thing every year. Now I’m struggling with the idea that I can let those flowers that volunteered in the vegetable garden bloom…at least one round of blooms…before I pull them up and retire them to the compost. :| I did transplant alot that came up in the spring and even potted and gifted some. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but they ALL can’t be saved…poor things!

  4. Cheri July 10, 2009 at 12:22 pm #

    I currently have some kind of vining squash in amongst my red runner beans. I can’t bear the thought of yanking that sucker out.

  5. Amanda July 10, 2009 at 2:28 pm #

    My mother has always been a ruthless gardener and her beds are GORGEOUS. I suffer from an overdose of curiousity and pennypinching tendancies and, therefore, have some pretty wild and wacky gardens. They might not always look very good, but there’s still something rewarding about seeing what works and what doesn’t by trial and error.

  6. Joanne atthefoodies July 10, 2009 at 3:25 pm #

    I find the same thing except my weakness is ‘nature friendly’ planting in the veggie patch. Two borage plants with the broad beans is absolutely sensible, eight is bordering on overkill, my current approximately 20 is now drowning the beans and toppling onto everything else. I quiet myself with the knowledge that bees like blue because of the infra-red sight thing and that my lack of discipline is somehow the stance of a global bee warrior. Or something… Now that they are obscuring the path I may have to join you in the get tough weekend plan!

  7. Bonnie July 11, 2009 at 5:25 pm #

    I have a garden this summer for the first time in years, and because I can’t plant anything that appeals to deer I have just tomatoes, squash and cucumbers. I delay pulling weeds long enough to determine whether they’re edible. Lamb’s Quarter, the first weed to appear, is a very mild and yummy salad green. I’m sure it would be fine cooked, too, but I pick enough every day for a big salad. I tried amaranth (nicknamed Pig Weed) but it doesn’t taste as good, so I’m considering using it for juicing or maybe letting it go to seed and saving the seeds for sprouting, after I investigate to make sure it’s safe for that purpose. I’m waiting for purslane, too, but it hasn’t appeared yet. Many of the “weeds” we pick and throw away are way more nutritious than the plants we spend so much time and money on.

  8. susan, a flower gardener July 15, 2009 at 8:05 pm #

    every spring my heart leaps when i see the little sweet morning glories popping up in my flower garden, ” oh, little babies ! “.
    i love how the heavenly blue flowers look growing around the fence post. while weeding, before i realize what i am doing, my fingers are separating the squared off heart shaped leaves from the others and replanting them.
    my boyfriend always reminds me of the other hundred or so in the ground. good to read your post rebecca. maria, will your hat work for me?

  9. Zeal June 22, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    Your article was excellent and eruidte.

  10. Barbara April 10, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

    I got this, and several others (seems your system is spitting out old articles at random to send in addition to the current one), in my inbox this morning, and it is spot on what I needed to read today!

    I am struggling the past two years with just this issue, but I have accepted a growing number of mullein plants, for the first year leaves and the second year flowers. I really have to reclaim some of my garden space for my ‘real’ garden plants! Last year’s brassicas are getting pulled even though they are still green at the base, even after an extremely cold (weeks below zero) winter. I am sure there are more.

    Thanks again for a timely, though erroneously, sent article.

  11. J. Cummings April 10, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

    Oh, mercy! I can’t be that “ruthless.” I think of the historical European herbs that our ancestors brought over for healing: chickory, lemon balm, mullein, horseradish….
    ( yes, even, “ouch” garlic mustard!) and I “cave in” to pulling it all out. ( okay, I do get rid of the garlic mustard) Plus, I notice how those lovely pollinators so appreciate a piece of the “wild.”

    Therefore, I compromise. I save one “wild” corner in my garden and leave everything there that calls this corner home. Then I plant the rest, neatly and “ruthlessly.” Still, the pollinators always choose the “wild” corner as their favorite haven. So, I am happy to have saved it, if only to listen to their approving buzzzzzzz !

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