May 24, 2011

The Under Appreciated Art of Hand Weeding

No Mulch Here! It's true, I hate mulch ( garden snob!). I use tons of it, but not in the nicer perennial beds closer to the house. If I could afford gardeners, everything would be hand weeded, but such inefficiencies must be limited to the gold and blue garden, and the ephemeral bed where the wild flowers grow.

During these wet days of spring, with most every day bringing us rain and cool mist, all plants are making tremendous growth, in fact, most trees and shrubs make their annual growth during these next few weeks, so we should not bemoan the rain. In the vegetable garden, perennial beds and borders, the herbaceous plants and veggies are exploding into growth ( just look back at blog pics from a week or two ago). As these plants grow, so do the weeds.

I was reading a gardening book about a relatively experienced gardener, who started gardening in their 30's. She wrote about how challenging it was for her to weed in her early gardening years, which I found interesting, since I've gardened and weeded since I was a young child, so identifying weeds from young flower seedlings or vegetable and herb seedlings from weeds, since this was a skill that was clearly learned, but one that I have taken for granted. If you are a new gardener, don't dispair, we all must learn proper weeding techniques, and each of us will customizing depending on where we live, and our level of experience.

BEFORE - A row of Arugula,  lost in weed seedlings. These weeds will be taller than the intended crop in a week or so.
Broadly speaking, proper weeding and thinning is simply about removing competition, since most plants require space in order to maximize their growth potential. If there is one mistake many gardeners make, it's planting their plants too close, I even do it, but intentionally in most cases. A row of turnip seedlings thinned out to 8 inches apart will produce larger turnips, than a row thinned to 4 inches, and turnips with rows 10 inches apart will produce fewer turnips than rows 18 inches apart. Learn to read your seed packets and catalogs, and trusted books for proper spacing cultural guidelines. Some skills are self-taught, but we are talking about agriculture here, so if you want superior lettuce heads, grow lettuce properly, not in a pot, a container or over planted and under-thinned.
AFTER -  Once I weeded, the arugula, I decided  not to thin out the row, since I am cutting enough daily for salads ( with roasted goat cheese and honey, yum) that this row will be harvested in a couple of weeks.

Dwarf European Lettuces can be planted closer than full-sized varieties. I have planted these 10 inches apart, with plans to this every other head, as I harvest. Notice the Fennel seedlings? These ferny seedlings have been intentionally broadcast over the entire bed, so I must weed around them. Fennel ( and dill) will self-seed, and those that emerge where nature planted them, will be more robust since Fennel and Dill hate being transplanted.
Chickweed and Galen soga are pulled out by hand in the lettuce bed.

The mini-lettuce is starting to look fine. I have planted 9 different varieties, with dwarf mini Cabbage in the other half of the bed.

The Belgian Endive that I planted 4 weeks ago needed to be thinned carefully to 10 inches apart. These will be thinned again, and I will use some greens for braising.  Since these are grown for their roots, which grow like carrots -the must be no transplanting for these Endives are grown for their thick tap root which must grow straight and thick. Remember, these will be dug in the autumn, and potted in sand and kept in the dark, to force the chicons we all see in the high end markets, commonly known as Belgian Endive for crisp winter salads.

Turnips and Broad Beans, along with onions are planted too close, but I know that the turnips will be harvested in a couple of weeks, and the onions were just some extra sets that I had - I've been picking these as green onions all spring for soups and salads. If I wanted to grow storage onions, this method would not work, but sometimes, French intensive gardening is OK, as long as you manage the harvest times.

The Salsify that I planted a month ago has been weeded, which was a little difficult since the bed was full of crab grass and dock seedlings, and Salsify or Oyster Root, looks exactly like grass, when it is young.


  1. I'm not a big fan of mulch either -- well, bark mulch anyway. I do like to mulch with compost. And I like hand weeding. I've tried using things like stirrup hoes, but I'm just too clumsy with long-handled tools. My best tools are my fingers.

  2. hopflower9:58 AM

    Yes, proper and timely weeding is very important. Hand weeding is almost all I do; but I do have a shovel and pick weeder for tougher and larger weeds in certain areas. There is something quite satisfying about cleaning up the garden!

  3. Having moved across the country, I find identifying weeds to be a real challenge.

  4. I too am impressed that you know what your weeds are, I know some and the rest are just plants in the wrong place. I find weeding very meditative, and enjoy the sense of accomplishment of a well weeded bed. I also used to shy away from the look of mulch, but found a wonderful organic buckwheat hull mulch that I've used the last few years in the garden I love, solving the mulch problem. Your garden looks wonderful, Linda

  5. I hate the "imposter" weeds -- the ones that look so much like the seedlings you want to keep. Urg.

    I've never intentionally not mulched though, unless a groundcover was growing in that bed. Interesting.

  6. For me gardening and planting is fun, i am doing this for my extra time I and I really love it.. I have a small garden in my backyard and I also appreciated it hand weeding than using any tools.. :)

  7. I have too much weeds with my turnip and radish---- what can i treat with herbicides????


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