I received an email from some nice folks in Ohio who are getting ready to start an organic community garden on a site that was formerly pastureland. According to the email’s author, “There are some weeds.”


She went on to explain that their local extension agent told them they must use a chemical herbicide on the pasture before getting started, or else they’d have nothing but weeds in the gardens. Oh dear. I don’t know what kind of weeds they have in their part of Ohio – come to think of it, I don’t even know what part of Ohio is their part of Ohio – but that’s neither here nor there. I’d be willing to bet real live money that they don’t deal with as many noxious, stubborn, prickly, stinging weeds as we do in Texas.

Regardless, it’s disturbing to learn that their extension agent is so quick to recommend poison to get rid of whatever weeds they do have. Especially considering their community gardens are going to be organic. Were I to ever meet this agent, I’d give him or her a good finger-waggling, that’s for sure. (I’m talking about my index finger, now, not the one next to it. We wouldn’t want any of those Buckeyes thinking we’re a bunch of uncivilized heathens down here.)

Fortunately, the community garden people got some advice from a farmer in their area, as well, and they were curious whether we’d agree with what the farmer had suggested. It involved rototilling the garden area, spreading manure, letting it rest, rototilling the manure into the soil and then lightly rototilling again a little later on to uproot any sprouting weeds.

I showed this part of the email to Farmer John to get his yea or nay on it, and he gave me a nod of approval…though I wouldn’t classify it as an enthusiastic nod. It was kind of a pensive nod, really, and I suspect I know the reason. Pretty much no matter what you do, the weeds will still come. Heck, even the nastiest, most toxic chemical herbicide application eventually requires reapplication. And most certainly, when weeding is accomplished the clean, non-toxic “old-fashioned” way, keeping weeds in check is a constant battle.

Here at the farm, our crop of young leeks have been virtually overtaken with henbit. Wild sunflowers surround and intertwine with the green onions;

grasses compete with burgeoning cilantro;

and the early peppers in one of the hoop houses became almost indistinguishable from the sunflowers and pigweed growing up around them.

What with tending to bi-weekly harvests, while squeezing in some time to continue planting for the summer, it’s been tough to find ample opportunities to weed. It does happen, thank goodness, but only after it gets to the critical point. Last week, when Farmer John, Dana and I were working the NW Austin farm stand, Mary and Vicky spent the morning hours going through both hoop houses liberating the tomatoes and the formerly weed-engulfed peppers.

See how the peppers are smiling now? Even after some hoeing early on, this down-and-dirty hand weeding was needed to finally accomplish the job.

As for the email about the new community gardens in Ohio, the last paragraph read:

“We’re going to have 4’ wide raised beds and after our veggies come up we are going to mulch…to prevent weeds from coming up. We also have 40 people to maintain the beds and weed.”

In my reply, after admonishing the extension agent and praising the local farmer, I touched on the subject of mulch, weed seeds and residual herbicides. At the end I added, “Truthfully? If you’ll have 40 people available to weed, let ‘em weed.”

And maybe in the meantime, they can fly them all down here.

* * *
Harvesting the leafy crops are going to be a challenge with today’s dry, gusty winds and tomorrow’s possible a.m. freeze, so quantities might be a little lopsided (lots of this, none of that)…but we’re doing our best! Here’s what we plan to bring to Wednesday’s farm stand:

The first of the spring kohlrabi; pink and purple radishes; spinach; lettuce mix; Euro salad mix (lettuces, chicories, arugula, cress, and more); beautiful head lettuces — green Butterhead, red Butterhead, Romaine and Red Leaf; bunches of Asian mustard greens; bunches of chard; green onions; green garlic; leeks; bags of arugula; escarole; bunches of cilantro; the first garlic scapes;

and anything else we find (in the weeds!) ready for harvest.

Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)