Thursday, March 6, 2008

War On Weeds!

I haven't been able to work outside these last 2 weeks because of the ever changing weather. It rained, it was windy, it was overcast, I was sick...and today I finally was able to get outside again.

Lo and behold, my beautiful newly rototilled vegetable beds were speccled with weed seedlings, some almost as big as my lettuce transplants.

Boo. Hiss. I wanted to cry and swear at the same time. Swearing was quicker.

Its my fault, I told myself when I tilled them to spinkle some preen or plastic or something so I wouldn't have this issue while waiting for the soil to warm up and hardening my seedlings.

I'm trying to prevent weeds in my garden with as little crazy chemicals as possible and without spending a ton of $$$. Make that next to no $$$.

Last year we experimented with solarizing one area of grass to kill it and it worked really well, and it must have killed the seeds too since theres only the occasional weedling here and there. The rest of the yard that was crabgrass/st.augustine/bermuda grass up to 2 weeks ago is a while nother matter. Even tho we soaked it with roundup weekly for a month, rototilled the dead grass under and raked and handpicked as much of the grass as we could theres little shoots of some sort of grassy plant coming up all over. I'm not sure if its from seeds or rhizomes or both. UGH.

The other side of the yard that gets the brunt of the Santa Anas is a hotzone for weeds with so many seeds blowing there. Everyspring the whole area is green, and it looks pretty for a few weeks, until I realize its not grass or clover: its tumbleweeds, purslane, common mallow, and some crazy tangled vine thats a royal pain in every orifice of your body to pull out.

I've been soaking wave after wave of tiny seedlings a week after every drizzle we get to try and sprout/kill all the surface seeds, but theres no shortage of them. Of course, I've also rototilled the area 2 times already this year since our soil gets hard as a brick on top when it rains when gets really hot the week after. Silly me forgot tilling brings up years of other weed seeds...*gulp* We're in an area that was orginally a desert chaparel, so the plants out here grow fast, grow deep, and are next to impossible to kill once they are established. Only was I was able to pull most of them out slowly over winter was after the roundup killed them and the roots finally release some of their grip.

I hate using roundup, but I needed some serious help getting control over the yard. Now that the soil is warming up and every weed seed is trying to sprout I'm trying to get control over the situation best as I can so I spent my summer picking vegetables and not bent over for hours every day weeding. Even tho I started at the end of December getting the yard ready I feel like I'm falling behind. I have drip irrigation setup but as my newly dug beds proved the weeds are just denser closer to the emitters. I really need a way to suppress the weeds so they don't overtake my vegetables and herbs.

Our original idea was to use this really nice dupont heavy duty weed prevention fabric they have at Lowes. It lasts for years instead of months, a nice plus for an area we can garden in year round, it lets in air and water and guarentees weeds can't grow thru. Sounds awesome, but its $25 a roll and for the area of yard (west side densely planted vegetable beds) we're covering it would cost us around $400 plus the anchoring pins. Thats just one side of the yard. Yikes. Great idea, not financially feasible at this time.

Another common solution is mulch. I like mulch, its simple, it keeps roots cool and moist, blocks weeds...but the cost, sheesh. I can't use hay because in the winds out here it would just blow away. I'm looking at some sort of a nice shredded bark that won't blow away and isn't too "chunky" for kids to walk on. 1 bag at Lowes is about $4.50 and covers 12 sq ft of a 2 in depth. Our yard (total) is about 2,000 sq feet. Thats roughly..*pulls out calculator* $730 worth of mulch. Preen came out with a cool mulch thats color treated not to fade and has a chemcial to prevent weeds from growing, but thats over $5 a bag. ($913 total for the whole yard). Great idea, too expensive for our needs.

I tried to see if anwhere local offers free mulch like the City of LA did, and to my dismay San Bernardino County does not. I called my local waste division, got passed on the phone to a bunch of people before I got to a guy in Riverside who knows of a company that makes mulch/compost in a huge facility but when I called its for professinal use only and not availible to the public, sheesh. He had heard of a facility on Riverside Ave that has a sign in front that says open to the public but he didn't know if it was free or not or the exact address. Riverside is about a 45 minute drive for me, so I'm not sure if its worth all that hassle. It its nice quality stuff ( as in, no trash, animal droppings or a splinter hazard for the kids) I might be tempted. I need to do more research on that place. But for the time being it looks like if i want mulch I have to buy it.

Today I rototilled another 1/3 of the yard and marked out the 3ft wide beds and 18in wide pathways with mason's twine. I love the look of the neon pink lines. I'm serious, I love bright colors. I had a jug of preen I bought last year and forgot to use and had a grand ole time shaking it like a polaroid picture until all the beds had a sprinkling of it. I didnt sprinkle any over my lettuce, peppers or chard tho. Freaky named chemicals don't belong sprinkled on my veggies, espcially as I like to pick the outside leaves off for salads. I made sure my daughter didnt step on it or touch it, I scrubbed out shoes when we got inside at the end of the afternoon and I watered the whole yard to activate the stuff. I hate using chemicals anywhere near my kids, but I needed something to control these damn weeds and I had already bought this stuff. I hope it works.

Tonight I stopped by Lowes and got a jug of Preen's Organic Vegetable weed preventer, which is just corn gluten. Much safer around kids. Hopefully it works well around my leafy greens and the seedlings I'm going to set out at the end of the month. I tried to do some research and see if I could just use cornmeal on the coil, but everything I read mentioned corn gluten, not corn meal. I'm sure Preen is ripping me off at $13 per jug, but I have no clue where else to buy that stuff in bulk.

We also picked up a box of heavy black plastic to solarize the small section of yard we aren't planting ( yet). Silly me got black since when we used the clear stuff last year our neighbor said black works better. Then I got home and looked it up and all the sites say clear plastic warms the soil faster and deeper. Gosh Darnet. So tomorrow I'm going to take it back and exchange it. OR I could put it out where I had wanted to put my squash and melons and cucumbers and try to get a head start in case it gets cold again. I'm not sure.

Supossedly black plastic is great for warming the soil but out here where the summers are really hot the trapped heat can bake the roots, not good. So I'm still debating whether to use it to get my vines started and remove it, get them started and leave the plastic ( and hope for the best) or maybe by the time summer rolls around I can get some mulch to cover the plastic so it doesn't get so hot? Or skip the plastic altogether. LOL I dunno! Its not even the spiffy garden plastic, its just heavy duty contractor's plastic. My concern with the vining plants is I have to space them out so much for room to sprawl that until they are all filled out the dirt and all its nice added compost is prime weed real estate unless I do something. * le sigh*

Ah the joys of gardening. Not only do I get to pour over catalogs and websites obsessing what I WANT to grow, but I have to plan a stratagy of attack to keep stuff I DON'T want from growing. Oh well.

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