What is a weed? There are some weeds that I really love, like nettles and others that I’m definitely not so keen on, like bindweed! Weeds are really just vigorous plants growing in the wrong place at the wrong time, but if they’re in the way then I’m afraid they have to go. Sorry weeds! However, this can be easier said than done, especially in an organic/biodynamic garden where no chemicals are used. There are other more natural ways to clear weeds that involve a little more work and a little more patience! In our case, we chose to clear the weeds by hand before we could begin planting.
One of the problems of taking on a plot in Spring is that the weeds are yet to show their true colours!
Bindweed: I had no idea there was so much bindweed hiding under the soil and tucked into the roots of the nettles and grass. It was only when we began to move the turf mound that the extent of the root system became obvious – I’ve dealt with bindweed before, so my heart sank! If you’re gardening organically, the only way to get rid of it is to dig it out……..a painstaking job, but for 4 whole days that was all we did and then took great pleasure in burning it! Don’t make the mistake I did one year of putting the roots on the compost heap. That decision will come back to haunt you when you spread your lovely compost the following year and see little bindweed plants sprouting everywhere! A normal, household compost heap just isn’t hot enough to decompose the roots properly. Similarly, try to pick up every single tiny piece, because a forgotten bit of root will transform into a fully grown plant. It’s hardy stuff!
Nettles: Not as pernicious as bindweed, but still a tricky customer. The nettles were starting to gain momentum and had to be removed asap. I actually really like nettles. They have loads of great uses in an organic/biodynamic garden, they make great tea and wonderful soup too, but they were in the way and we already had loads growing elsewhere! These too had to be dug out by hand, by fork and by spade, but they come up pretty easily if the ground is damp and it is VERY satisfying when you get a good hold on a big root and it comes out in a 4ft long piece! Unlike bindweed, it’s fine to put nettle roots and leaves on your compost heap.
The turf mound: The turf mound had been created by the previous owner when they’d cleared a patch of land for veg. Great to have the clear earth, but the mound was in the way and had to go. Whilst the outside of the mound was grass, the inside had composted beautifully and we were pleasantly surprised to find some decent compost in there, although a lot of it was riddled with bindweed. We sifted and sorted, barrowed and burnt and eventually had some great ‘turf mound’ compost for our veg beds and a flatter area for our flower bed and round lawn.
Grass: We loved the big grassy areas and, after a rather muddy winter, the chickens loved the new grass even more. Grass is not so great for growing veg in though and this was stubborn, years old grass with heavily matted roots. How to get rid of it or at least move the bits that were in the way? Ideally, if you have the time, a layer of mulch (black plastic, carpet, cardboard etc…) will do the trick overwinter, but we didn’t have the luxury of time. A rotavator (like a big mechanical plough) can also come in handy for breaking up the big sods (sounds like a swear word!), but it was expensive to hire. We chose to skim off the unwanted ‘sods’ with a spade and make another turf mound in the top corner of the allotment, which hopefully, would yield some fine compost in a year or so. But there was still so much to do and the days were getting longer and warmer……..
Biodynamic methods: If you’ve not already done so, it would be a good idea to read my article on ‘Biodynamic Gardening’ to give you a basic understanding of these concepts. Biodynamic weeding methods are pretty cool, but again patience is required to see the effects. Of course you can do it all by hand and hoeing is especially recommended just before a full moon, but there are also tinctures, teas and ‘ashes’ that can discourage weeds……
Tinctures: Take a handful of the offending weed and place it in a bucket of rainwater. Leave it to rot down, stirring occasionally. When it’s good and smelly, dilute it to about 1:10 with rainwater in a fresh bucket. Give it a good stir for 10 minutes (vortex stirring is great fun – my kids love this bit!), fill up a big hand-mister and spray on the unwanted weeds three times over the course of a day.
Ashes: Take the roots and/or seeds of the weed and burn them in a large metal container over a fire (I use an old catering size tin can). Once they’ve reduced to ashes, grind them in a pestle and mortar for around 10 minutes before scattering the ashes over the offending weeds. They won’t like it one bit! These ideas can seem pretty crazy, but in our experience they do seem to work and they’re a whole lot kinder to the environment than chemicals……..with lots of family fun thrown in too!
In the next post we move established plants, discuss the pro’s and con’s of raised beds and build a rabbit-proof fence!