Monday, May 18, 2009

Gardening Green

A late spring often means the work on the ranch and in the gardens needs tending all at once. Whether it’s the fencing or harrowing the meadows, the time to get it done is now. With the gardens, the window of opportunity to freshly mulch the raspberries, weed the raised herb garden, turn over the perennial beds, fertilize, and mulch also demands timely attention.

What surprises me is just as the wait to get into the gardens is over, they are suddenly filled with grasses that need to be pulled along with various weeds, like dandelions and Canadian Thistle. Where did they come from? One such area is the garden on the west side that adjoins a meadow along its entire length. Over the years I’ve abandoned ideas like burying a wall three feet down in order to defeat the grass because of cost. I’ve opted instead for roto-tilling, mulching, using weed barrier and so on, but without much consistent luck. Some years I've been drawn to the big guns of herbicides, but I waiver each time. However, when I’m overwhelmed with the project, I have Pete mix up a sprayer load of herbicide that he uses on the meadows. In addition to my concern for the issue of herbicide toxicity, I can barely manage the patience it requires to wait two weeks before the grasses actually give up and die.

So, this year, along with opting for organic fertilizer on the lawn, I remembered in a moment of quiet while driving to town that I’d tackled a decade and a half of grass in the raspberry patch about four years ago. At the time, I contacted a woman I knew in our CSU Extension Office and asked her for some help. When she called me back, she said she found only one person who reported having success with getting rid of grass in a raspberry patch. She was a seventy-year-old woman from North Park, near Walden, Colorado. Debbie, the Extension staff member, reported that this woman put down layers of newspaper around her raspberry plants and then mulched the whole patch heavily. I couldn’t quite believe this would do the trick. The grass was so thick. But, by the end of the summer season, the raspberry patch was impressively clear of almost all grass.

My moment of quiet while driving to town had led me in the right direction. I knew this would require that I round up stacks of newspaper which I knew were available only if I were willing to dumpster dive for them at the newspaper office. Fortunately, the dumpster was nearly full and I had only to put my hand into the container. I made sure I had ample mulch from the feed store for it would be my big gun this year. No scrimping allowed. The grass was already six inches high in places.

In about two hours I had the newspaper down, the mulch piled high, and the grass-filled backsplash to this year’s tulip display appearing well-cared for and satisfying to my gardener’s soul.

*Newpaper ink today is almost entirely soy-based and non-toxic. For those interested in the safety of newspaper ink for composting and gardening use, please visit the following links.

http://www.ext.colostate.edu/Pubs/garden/07214.html
http://www.ext.colostate.edu/mg/gardennotes/715.pdf

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