Gardening in the Weeds

Weeds choke out the roots of your cultivated plants. Right? But is there a place for weeds in your garden? I guess it depends on what you call weeds.

I’ve planted things in my garden that have taken over. Lemon Balm? I have enough for everyone in town. Chickens like the fresh leaves, and it makes a good tea. It makes the house smell good, too. Strawberries escaped from a raised bed a few years ago and took over a twenty-foot stretch. In years with a wet spring, there are enough strawberries to freeze a few. In dry years, like this one, the turtles get more of them than I do.

I planted hyssop for the bees, one plant. I now have a hyssop bed. But I also have bees and butterflies, and this is what has prompted me to find a way to live with the easy spreaders. This year, the spreader is swamp milkweed from seeds I planted last fall.

The solution is lots of straw in winter over areas where I want to plant vegetables. In spring I create boundaries in which to build up good soil on top of the straw. This year, I cut the bottoms out of plastic swimming pools and made potato beds. The plants are big and healthy. Next year, I’ll move the pools to another location and plant something else, maybe okra or beans, in the dirt left behind.

Repurposed mineral tubs, a gift from a rancher friend, contain blackberries and goji berries. In places, I’ve pushed back the straw and planted rows of beans, marigolds, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

My garden may not look like the ones in the magazines, and some years I get less than I’m hoping for. But I have a patio full of Grow Boxes, in case the year is dry, and to make sure I have fresh tomatoes and peppers all season. They work well for okra, too, because okra needs a constant source of water to produce.

Patches of weeds through and around the garden seem to make the bees and the birds and the butterflies happy.

No weed killer! I do a few minutes of weeding every day so my chickens have fresh greens in their secure runs! There’s lots of life here. It isn’t always pretty, but my garden brings me joy. I hope yours brings you joy, as well.

Okie Farmer’s Lament

July reminds me why Oklahoma was the 46th state admitted to the union, and why, before that, it was offered to the tribes whose homelands had been stolen.  This beautiful center of our beautiful continent is simply a miserable place to be in July and August without a lot of powerful technology.

Did you know the humidity can still reach 90% in a drought, although the drought has been broken by a tenth of an inch here and a tenth of an inch there?  A light rain has fallen as many days as not in the past month. It’s too wet to mow, but the grass has no trouble growing.  Other things aren’t doing so well.

Instead of a long growing season, Oklahoma has two short ones, spring and fall. Most years, tomatoes, okra, and peppers bridge the divide of summer heat.  Sweet potato vines spread out between the rows. This year is different.  I’m losing tomato plants at a frightening pace.  I’m not sure I’ll even plant the sweet potato starts in my kitchen window.

I’m not the only gardener who is struggling.  Friends greet with me, “Are you still getting tomatoes?” instead of “How’s your garden coming along?”

Still, I’m out early to clean out chicken coops, clean and fill water founts, muck out runs and remove what’s left of watermelon and cantaloupe rinds the chickens have cleaned to the nubbin.  I gather what’s still growing, grateful for what I can get, and grateful, too, that the chickens seem to handle the humidity better than I do.

Even in this miserable season, there is okra.   And at the farmers’ market, there are cantaloupes if you get there soon enough. In my thick-walled rock house, there is air conditioning.

My old dog snores on the couch, dreaming of squirrels and cooler weather.