Monday, February 21, 2011

I'm back, I'm dirty and I need help...

I realize I've been gone for a really long time and the list of excuses is long and irrelevant. However, the main reason for my absence is a gardening dilemma that I don't know how to fix. The good news is I've decided to return to the soil and find a way to make it work - even if it's far from perfect.

Here's my grubby garden-loved hand yesterday!


If you've been a long-time reader, you might recall how I let the garden go last summer because it just got too hot and rainy to go out there and weed everyday. One day away from the garden led to a week that led to the entire summer and next thing I knew I couldn't even see my once gorgeous raised beds.


When we finally cleared it out, I discovered - to my horror - that the weeds had gone to seed and my wonderful "Mel's Mix" soil was full of weed seeds. About two weeks after that long weekend back in September of clearing out the weeds I noticed the beds were green again - filled with hundreds upon hundreds of tiny evil weeds.

So I gave up and let the garden go again. You need to know I'm not proud to admit this, but it's what happened and it's time I came clean. It was easy to give up in the late fall. I'd already missed the Fall planting season, we were busy with Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas and then we had a small stretch of cold weather that wasn't good for planting anyway.

Then January rolled around and ever since I started this blog I've always been AWOL in January. It's a month full of birthday parties for our family and it's easy to forget the garden.

But then February rolled around and I looked over at my once-loved garden and thought it's about damn time I roll up my sleeves and figure this monster out. If not, I'm one of those annoying people that "dabbled in gardening" as a hobby and let it go, like quitting scrapbooking or knitting or something. That was never my intention. This garden wasn't meant to be a fad. It was meant to feed my family.


So I went out there and cleared the garden - again. Luckily it wasn't quite so bad this time around. The problem is that I have evil thick Florida grass growing straight through the landscaping cloth at the bottom of the beds. Let this be a lesson to new Florida gardeners - no matter what people tell you and no matter what it says in Mel's SFG book, one sheet of landscaping cloth WILL NOT protect your garden from thick Florida grass and weeds growing straight up through the bottom of your garden.

Farmer B was frustrated that we have bare patches in the yard where grass will not grow, but underneath our gardening beds - underneath landscaping cloth - removed from the sun and air, we have thick grass growing like gangbusters.


I know this photo isn't a good one, but it's the bottom of the garden and you can see some of the thick grass roots growing straight up through the cloth. The grass roots pierced the landscaping cloth like ice picks. It's really quite remarkable. This has happened all throughout the beds. You have to imagine that on the ends of each of these little shoots were 3-5 feet of long thick grass snaking throughout the garden.

So now I have to decide what to do. As far as I can tell I have three options:

1) Spray the garden with Roundup Weed and Grass killer. This will hopefully remove the grass and weeds and give me a fresh start. The problem with that is I know too much about the evils of Monsanto and don't want my family to eat vegetables that have been grown in soil doused in those chemicals. But I know if I don't find a way to get rid of the grass and weeds I won't be able to grow vegetables in it anyway.

2) Remove all the soil from the beds, lay down something a lot hardier than landscaping cloth - some sort of Kevlar bullet-proof vest material - and then put the soil back in. I mentioned this to Farmer B who gave me the "you're on your own with this crazy scheme" speech. I'll be honest, it does seem like an insane amount of work, but maybe it is the way to go. I'm not sure what I should put down under the beds if I do this. Although it won't help me with the problem of all the weed seeds that are obviously in the soil.

3) Just add some compost to the garden, try to stay on top of the weeds and wing it. This seems like the most likely option, but I'm afraid that the thick grass coming through EVERYWHERE and all the weed seeds will make it too hard for me to stay on top of things and I'll be right back where I was last September.

Anyone else got an option for me? I really want to plant again...I'm in. I'm committed, but I don't know the "cure" for what ails my garden.

24 comments:

Annie's Granny said...

Kate, I know I could get hate mail for saying this, but here goes. Roundup. Those who would rather die than use it haven't had to fight with these invasive grasses. I sprayed my entire garden site with it before building my beds in 2008, as the neighbor's Bermuda grass had grown under the fence and 20 feet into my yard. It would have been impossible to dig it out, as every time a root gets broken it sprouts two roots. I only had to do the one initial spray, I've never had to do it again (I catch it at the fence line and cut it back before it can root). Of course, you should have sprayed it before you dug most of it out, as it only works through the green parts of the plant. Some will tell you to hit it with hot vinegar, but that didn't work at all for me. Just my 2-cents worth.

Kate and Crew said...

Granny - You know I appreciate your advice. I have a spray bottle full of the stuff sitting in our shed and I'm on the cusp of using it. I think it's crab grass and bermuda grass that's poking through the landscaping cloth, so it needs something more powerful than vinegar. I have the Roundup ready to go... and it might be the only solution to get me kick-started with the garden again.

Thanks!

LGJ said...

Welcome back! I don't have any good advice beyond what I did when I was initially clearning out my garden area (formerly a random patch of grass in the corner of the yard). Dig up all the grass. Get your shovel in between the grass, then go at a bit of an angle to get under the grass. Then - here's where I cheated - step on the shovel handle to push it down to the ground, pulling up the grass. This is less back breaking than the usual shovelling method, and it can break your shovel handle eventually but I'd rather break that than my back. I still combed through the sandy dirt with my gloved hands for every bit of grass and root I could find. After that I put down a little compost and a lot of mulch. I've had a couple trouble spots since (to be expected in an almost 10'x10' space) then but I pulled those up as I saw them and right now it looks pretty good. It's not fun and I recommend doing it on a cool/overcast weekend, but in the long term it's worth it.

Becca's Dirt said...

I've tried your method with the black weed cloth and the newspaper bottom garden bed but they all seem to get annoying when weeds come in you just about have to clean it up from the bottom and start over. Those fabrics have messed up many of my gardens. I would dig the dirt out and place some roundup on the bottom. I wouldn't plant anything for a few weeks. I hate using that stuff but sometime you have to. I even use it around my beds sometime. As you know it only takes one weed to mess it all up. Mostly my weeds are on top of the ground now and easy to pull.

Worknprogress said...

Welcome back! We've missed you. We've got that same kind of blasted bluegrass who's evil powers seem to get stronger the more you try to kill it.

We've tried digging it out, vinegar treatments till our neighbours 3 blocks away could smell the reek, and burning the lot of it with a propane torch to no avail. My hubbie, being an environmental engineer for the city in which we live, has come to one conclusion: use of Roundup sometimes cannot be avoided. To its credit, Roundup degrades quickly. You may be able to place it in a jar with a hole in the lid and insert a blade of grass still attached, however that might not kill the entire root system.

One issue i think you'll need to tackle is a long-term solution to keeping the grass in check. A few of the classes i've been to in our area have said that the bluegrass roots can travel through the soil down 8 inches and through 6-8 inches to arrive on the other side of a fresh patch of soil. There needs to be a continuous break in the soil about 10 inches to 1 foot in order to stop the grass from invading (and causing you lots of work.) Brick will not work, as the cracks were they butt against each other are big enough for grass to penetrate.

And vow never again to use weed blocker...we heard praise of it as well and used it for a celtic cross path in one of my gardens (let's say the garden is 400sq ft., so the cross, being the path is about 12 ft top to tail and 3 feet wide), all gravel with the fabric underneath and now is pocmarked with large clumps of unrelenting grass that can't be removed. I sought advice from a local gardening guru and she said i should tear out the fabric and vow never to use it again, because the grass actually grows into it and bonds with it for eternity. Arrrrgh! A task that leads me to believe it would just be easier to move to a new home and start over, now that i am wiser, eh? :)

Best of luck to you and your seedlings!!

Engineeredgarden said...

Oh Kate, you poor thing....i'm not familiar with your type of grass, but use the best landscaping fabric available to thwart the crabgrass in my garden. There are 2 different types - black that looks almost like cloth, and gray that has a spiderweb appearance to it. I use the latter, and it works great for me.
Still, you need a quick solution, and i'll give my 2 cents...
Spray the piss out of the weeds with Roundup, lay a piece of thin material in the bottom of your beds (scrap paneling, plywood, or similar), then drill some drainage holes at the very bottom of the sides of the raised bed....This might be an option for you, but weed seeds will still get blown into the box that must be plucked from it at least weekly....

daisy said...

You like Italian? Lasagna is the way to go! I've used the weedcloth with similar results. From now on, I collect as much thick cardboard as possible and lay it down, baby! Once you lay down a few sheets of it, put your lovely mix in and cover with mulch, weeds will be a long ago memory. I wouldn't steer you wrong. I've missed your blog.

Straight vinegar does work, but it kills everything, not just the weeds.

Roundup? NEVER!!!!!!!!!!!

Darla said...

I agree, sometimes you gotta bring out the big guns! Have squirted my share...sad, but true!

Erin said...

Welcome back, Kate! I'm with Granny, I'll look the other way while you do whatever it takes to eradicate that darn Bermudagrass, if that's even possible LOL. As one of the horticulture professors said in our Master Gardener class "Look folks, you're gonna have bermudagrass whether you like it or not...." I vote for NOT! Saffie is looking wonderful!

Barbie said...

I'm going to say stay away from the Round up- but all in all do what you have to - you have more than one bed - what about rounding up a bed and turning over another bed into it? Then you can dismember one of the other beds to start it over. That way one will be eay and the other harder.
I'm more of a fan of using the cloth on top and replacing it annually for the larger plants (tomatoes, peppers, etc) ast time I used round up 2 years ago it wiped out my planter for over 18 months. The grasses and weeds came back but I couldn't grow anything substantial there.
Welcome back. I hope to see you planting soon!

Ohiofarmgirl said...

just yesterday i clicked over to see where you were! welcome back!

i'd say layer it DEEP with newspaper, paper feedsacks (the best), or plain cardboard, then pile on the chicken litter and let it perk a while.

good luck!

WeldrBrat said...

Hi, Kate! As for areas around your raised beds... plastic of any kind, if you wish. And then, you can never get too thick a layer of hay. We pile the hay on and just raise our legs a little higher as if we're walking through deep snow. LOL It begins settling down soon enough and snuffs 90% of your weed migraine!

Tessa @ Blunders with Shoots, Blossoms 'n Roots said...

Wow Kate, that is a dilemma! I've not experienced the trouble that goes along with invasive grasses- but other weeds. One thing I know is soil disturbance not only disrupts the soil layers and kills all those wonderful critters in the soil, but it also brings up hundreds of weed seeds. I've used layering (lasagna method) with great success to get rid of weeds- adding whatever I have on hand to smother weeds that do dare to come up- such as grass clippings mixed with leaves, etc. Once the soil is a good loam, I don't 'bother' it as most do- turning and tilling just adds more work and more weeds. Using a broadfork or u-bar to loosen the soil each year, or season is best...that is after you've got a good loam. When I had my 4x4's, using the SF method, I added a box height every year until they were 3 high, I believe- and again careful not to disturb the soil in the bottom box, but just add another, with fresh soil.

Also helpful is planting seedlings instead of seeds ( I use soil blocks to start my seeds) that way they stay ahead of the weeds! In any case, if you don't disrupt say the top 4 inches, but just add compost to the top as you plant and then mulch heavy (which also helps in high heat) eventually weeds won't be a bother- it takes time to get there, but it's worth it.

Keep us posted on the progress! And don't lose heart...you'll figure it out!

Tessa

Peggi said...

We have the same grass (looks like it anyway) here in NV. Roundup didn't work for us, it came back ASAP. Actually, it never even died. I got a tool that has four spikes at the bottom, the top is shaped like a T. You put the spikes down in the ground and twist, it does a great job of ripping out the grass. Once majority of the big runners are out it is easier to keep up with the baby blades. As long as I keep up with getting the little blades out on a regular basis the grass doesn't take over.

Anonymous said...

Cardboard works great as a weed barrier.

meemsnyc said...

I would dig it up, get at the roots. That would be my choice.

Dani said...

Missed having you around Kate! Good to see you back.

Matt said...

I've had decent luck solarizing with clear plastic...but it would take most of the season to work. You would probably be back in business by fall.

Unfortunately, with all that grass around the boxes, it will probably come back with any of the techniques mentioned. I think you need deeper boxes to prevent the grass from going under and up. Or as someone else mentioned...a good amount of path material around the boxes to keep the grass away from the edge. Good luck.

Susan said...

Welcome back, Kate. I know what you mean when it comes to that blasted Bermuda grass, but honestly, the only way to eliminate it (or at least give it the best try) is to use "total kill for Weed & Grass" by Ortho. Remove your good dirt, and blast the darn grass three days in a row with the stuff. It's much better than roundup. Then put down several layers of weed cloth, and a thick piece of cardboard before placing your good soil back in the plot.

Once you get rid of the grass, you'll enjoy your vegetable gardens much more. Good luck!

Julia said...

That's funny. I was just having the roundup/Monsatan conversation with myself this morning.
Good luck on this - I fight it all the time too!
I'll be anxious to hear (read) what happened!

donna said...

Good to see you back, you dirty girl. lol

Short on time right now, but I'll be back. Your Florida gardening makes me jealous.

donna

Daphne said...

I never grow grass around my garden for just that reason. It is too hard to keep out. My last garden had a grass block (concrete pavers on their side) about 6" under the soil all the way around the garden. That way I didn't have to deal with invasive grass much. I mulched my paths. If I were building a sqft garden in my grass I would put the boards under the soil at least 6" to eek the roots from spreading in. The garden soil is just too rich and grass is just to vigorous. Right now I have pavement surrounding my garden area. I'm not going to get creeping weeds in that way. Makes me happy, but I don't get grass in my paths to make it look pretty.

DJK said...

HOT MULCH THE SHIT OUT OF IT! Put down black plastic for a couple weeks.


I don't k now much about it, meaning that I've never had to do it, but I've read about it in some blogs. The heat is the killer...

Anonymous said...

I am not sure if it is legal in your country, but we here use flame throwers to set all the weeds on fire twice a year and let it burn down to ashes. Works 100 percent, and I am talking about a pretty massive farm where it is extremely hard to keep grass/weed out.

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