By Joan Mulvenna
What is a weed? Well, a weed is any plant growing somewhere that we, as gardeners, don’t want it to grow.
Therefore, any plant has the potential to be a weed, or to not be a weed. A rose bush in the wrong place would be a weed.
In a more mundane example, the bed in the picture has some self-sown seedlings of limnanthes douglasii (poached egg plant). This isn’t an edible plant but it’s excellent at attracting pollinating insects, and it’s pretty and easy to extract of not wanted. So for the moment, it is not a weed. That may change when we plant up the bed, but the plan is to keep the self-sown plants as a welcome gift.
Creeping buttercup would be considered a weed because, although it’s flowers are also pretty and attract pollinators its spreading roots and rampant growth would strangle any plants we want to grow and rob them of valuable nutrients.
And that latter point is why we weed in the traditional vegetable garden. We want to give our cultivated plants as much space to grow as possible and as little competition as possible for nutrients and moisture in the soil. If you don’t like regular weeding have a look at forest gardening, although you will need to initially remove all perennial “weeds”. With proper preparation regular weeding is not required as you aim to mimic nature, avoid bare soil and only occasionally interfere so that plants remain productive.
With traditional style gardening it is usually an excellent idea clear all weeds in February so that you free up time for seed sowing in March, a busy month. Weeds will continue to grow but having “cleaned” your beds early the task of weeding will be less onerous.
However, at this time it is so wet in Prestwich and nearby, that digging or working the soil could do more harm than good, especially if you have a clay soil. Compaction of waterlogged soil squeezes out air pockets essential to plant roots and the millions of beneficial organisms in the soil.
If you are itching to have a planting area prepared for planting once the weather improves and the ground is less sodden, you can cover an area to block out light. Cardboard or thick layers of newspaper are ideal for this as they rot down, given time. Landscape membrane is made from woven plastic, so best to use only if you plan to re-use over the coming years. The covers prevent weed seeds from germinating and kills off existing weeds. Given enough time they will rot down and feed the soil.
By mid to late March we can think about planting. Meanwhile, you can get ahead by sowing broad beans and peas in pots and keeping them in an unheated greenhouse, polytunnel, porch or on an indoor windowsill.
If you have indoor space for them to grow over the summer, you can also sow tomato, chilli or aubergine seeds indoors. If you end up with a few spare plants you could risk growing them on outside, but we’d need a gloriously hot summer for success.
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