Weeds and Garden Cultivation
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By Rob Bergmueller
Master Gardener℠ volunteer in Chatham County
As gardeners, we take time preparing the soil, conducting soil tests, adding fertilizer to ensure our plants receive the proper nutrients and we have a plethora of seed to choose from. We make our choices of seed to ensure good yields in our vegetable gardens as well as possibly trying new varieties which may extend the growing season. Our selections may be sentimental because that’s what we always grew or now we found that a friend grows this variety and it has better flavor stores better and perhaps we’d like to try something with more eye appeal.
So we have our seed that we either plant directly into the soil or we kick off our growing season early by starting tender plants like tomatoes and peppers indoors under grow lights. All the while you are hoping for bragging rights in your neighborhood when you can show that first nice tomato of the season right before you share it with the family on a BLT.
But wait a second: there’s work to be done before you can enjoy the fruits of your labor. Besides watering, seasonal fertilizing, and insect control there’s one topic most gardeners loathe. Yes, it’s weeding!
Weeds compete with your plants for water, sunlight, and nutrients. How can we get rid of them? The most efficient way to rid your garden of weeds is by cultivating. Pulling weeds is a chore and many kids received their early garden training by having to weed the garden on their hands and knees. There’s a simpler more efficient way to accomplish this mundane task hated by young and old alike. The first question you should be asking is, when do you weed or cultivate your garden. I had an old-time farmer tell me that you should cultivate between your rows when the weeds are a quarter-inch or smaller. This way they are easier to remove.
Before you fire up the rototiller, wait a second. We are going to make the weeding process more enjoyable and you won’t require fossil fuels either. You will be weeding by standing erect using hand tools. Why not the tiller? The tiller while it does a nice job of making the soil nice and fluffy also tends to bury the weeds intact. So essentially you are planting them deeper providing them with an even better foothold.
We are going to use a hoe. If you enjoy using the type of hoe that has a 6-inch piece of sheet metal fixed to a handle that’s fine. Many gardeners chop with the hoe instead of scraping the soil just below ground level and taking the weed off by the roots. This practice isn’t very efficient and becomes tiring. For a better technique, there is no need for you to even lift the business end of the hoe from the ground. Simply scrape the blade of these more modern hoes on the ground and the sharpened blade scrapes the weed from top of the soil. Weeding with a hoe is probably going to be something that you’ll need to do on a weekly basis. Most of these modern designs work on both the pull and push strokes. Like the traditional hoe, which dates back to the 18th century BCE, you’ll still have to maintain the hoe by sharpening it. This can be accomplished by securing the blade in a vice or with a C-clamp to a workbench and using a file, put a sharp edge back on the cutting edge file. Remember files cut on the push stroke so lift the file from the blade before you take another push stroke. Some of the modern hoes are designed to allow you to remove the weeds between the plants as well as down the rows. More modern hoes are called Hula Hoes, stirrup hoes, or scuffle hoes.
For more information on weed management, see the Weeds chapter of the NC Extension Gardener Handbook