Archive for the ‘Weeds’ Category

Tis’ a Wet Spring

It has been a cooler and wetter spring this year than normal. The average temperature for today in Albany is 72F. the high was 60F. This has been typical this spring.


There have been advantages to this cool weather. I can still pull the wild onions that litter my perennial beds out by hand. The mostly come out whole. By this time of year they usually snap off because the ground is too dry. Other weeds also pull out more easily except of course dandelions which manage to cling to the soil no matter what the condition.

I did have to water the lawn and veggies for the first week or of June so but for the past four days the rain has done that for me. Rain provides a better soaking than irrigation does and there is something about rain water that promotes growth better than city water. In part it may be the chlorine and fluoride that come with city water.

My cool loving lettuce loves this weather. No threat of bolting in this cool cloudy weather.


Weeds also love this weather. Weed seeds that might not sprout at this point are and growing weeds are thriving. I continue to battle them (pull them) but cannot keep up with the entire yard.

My sun loving plants, especially the tomatoes, do not love this weather. Their growth is slowed and setting fruit is not happening as yet.

There are fewer insects around, especially bees, which means less pollination. On the other hand the water sitting about in puddles and containers will produce more mosquitoes.

It is likely that later this month or for sure in July the heat will return and things will return more to normal. That is my expectation anyway. I am not complaining. Cool or hot each condition has its advantages and disadvantages. For now anyway the garden looks happy and all is well.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy


Small Gardens

Here is a video with some great tips on gardening in small spaces.

Yes, I’ve neglected the blog for some time. I have been busy of course but I guess I lost inspiration to write for a while. Of late I’ve been pulling lot of weeds. One blessing with all this rain is that the weeds come free easily, even most of the wild onions pull out easily. So I am taking advantage of this window of opportunity to battle the weeds and make some headway.

Hope you enjoy the video

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy




South of the garden shed is an area heavily shaded by the neighbor’s large tree. This is where our compost pile is, a small wood pile and the two rain barrels that collect water from the shed roof. This area has become somewhat over grown with weeds. Its complete transformation is a project for later this summer and for another post.

Suppressing much of the weeds that might grow there is a vine that was planted by nature. It covers an area of at least 75 square feet including most of the wood pile. The leaves are a pleasant green and it has small white flowers followed by small dark berries.

I was not sure what it was and thought about propagating it elsewhere in the garden because it seemed to grow so easily. My dear wife looked it up.

Turns out the vine is a variety of nightshade (Solanaceae). This is a large family of plants that include potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. There are over 2700 varieties of these plants including tobacco and petunias. They all contain some alkaloids. This is a poison and means that all these plants contain some poison.

In fact when tomatoes were first introduced to Europe they were seen as poisonous and not eaten. We have learned that the nightshade family vegetables are usually safe although when potatoes turn green they can be poisonous.

In the wild form growing in our yard the plant is particularly toxic to farm stock. The berries are also poisonous. A few can kill a child. The most toxic form of this plant is belladonna which is used as a poison and a medicine.

We have decided that this is one plant our yard can do without and so soon it will be removed. Having a highly poisonous plant in the yard may be a topic of conversation but is not worth the risk.


Happy Gardening,
Dan Murphy

War on Weeds

From January onward weeds sprout and grow here with a vengeance. By spring they are in full attack mode. They grow everywhere not covered in concrete. They are insidious.

The annuals among them are not so difficult to deal with. With hoe in hand one can conquer a large number of annual weeds in a short time. Perennial weeks on the other hand are a true scourge. Chop them off with a hoe and they only come back twice as hardy. Or worse, some will come back in larger number.

On our tiny plot there are two weeds that are most insidious. They are near impossible to eradicate and they thrive in this climate and soil: blackberry vines and wild onions.


While various varieties of blackberries are cultivated locally, most notably the Marion Berry, there is a wild blackberry which is a true scourge. It called the Armenian or Himalayan Blackberry, rubus armeniacus. It was first planted in the valley in the 1920s and has spread throughout Western Oregon. Canes grow at the rate of 20 feet per year easily, often more. The plant will take over acres of land in a few seasons if not controlled.

Blackberries spread in two ways. Birds and other animals eat the berries which are full of seeds. The animals then defecate the seeds everywhere and they sprout easily. A few birds, including the common scrub jay, actually bury some of the fruit presumably for a food cache.

Once the plant is established it sends out underground roots that spread the plant far and wide. If you chop it off it just grow all the faster. If you try to dig it up and leave behind even a bit of root it will grow yet again.

There are only two says to eradicate these thorny fast growing vines. You can use a very toxic herbicide which I try to avoid, or you can fight a persistent war of removal. This requires cutting them off at the ground every time they come up. It requires weekly attention and constant effort. Eventually, and eventually may take a number of years, the underground plant dies for lack of photosynthesis because you have deprived them of a leaf structure.

Wild Onions

I’ve written about these little devils before. Wild onions, allium canadense, spread quickly. They produce a flower in late summer and the seeds are carried about in a number of ways. Once in the ground the bulbs divide into bulbettes which turn a single onion into a buch of them.

Eradicating them is also difficult. They have a waxy stem (which is actually a leaf) which is impervious to most herbicides other than the most poisonous. Pulling them out only activates remaining bulbettes to grow more aggressively.

The only organic way to eliminate them is to carefully remove the entire bulb or clump, along with the soil attached and carefully dispose of all of it. This too takes patience and persistence, it will require several years of dedicated toil to eradicate them from one’s yard.

And so as I weed week after week I continue my slow and tedious battle against blackberries and wild onions. Someday, I tell myself, I will kill the last one and be free of them. If I say it outside I can hear the blackberries and onions laughing quietly. And even if I did succeed in temporarily eliminating them from my yard it would take only a year or two after my passing from this earth before they would come back unless I am succeeded by an industrious and persistent gardener.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy


Spring has sprung. Day before yesterday was the spring equinox. We now enter the six months of more light. Three months of increasing light followed by three months of diminishing light to bring us back to where we are now in September.

Our weather has been warmer and drier than usual however for the past week we have seen rain. Not a lot of rain, but enough. The weeds are delirious – springing forth in their fastest possible growth mode. Everything that has so far budded out is green and thriving.

032215-1As you see from the photo here the blue berry bushes have tiny buds but are not yet open. They remain leafless and asleep reluctant to awaken fully to spring. This will change soon however.

There are at least 9 asparagus poking up through the ground. You cannot see them in the photos but they are there and testing my discipline – this is season 2 for them and not yet ready for cutting and eating. I will let them grow but wait until next year to harvest. My mouth waters at the thought of truly fresh asparagus from the garden.

Notice the two wire cylinders full of last fall’s leaves. Well, they were full. In November they were heaping full to the top. They have now settled to half full. Before the leaves are done breaking down they will be only a few inches in depth. But long before that I will have to remove them from those garden boxes for planting.

You have cannot help notice the weeds everywhere. My knee is still too painful to kneel on so I am limited to using the hoe. I have to use the hoe a whole lot more though.

032215-2My chief nemesis, the wild onions, are everywhere. I’ve concluded that I must have imported more of them in a load of compost that I brought in last year. Most unfortunate. They must be dug out by hand and it is a formidable job, especially when one cannot kneel.

The bulbs out front are all but exhausted now. We had a beautiful display of daffodils and tulips from late January to just recently. Now only a few tulips and tiny daffodils remain.

Spring is definitely here and it is exciting. The serious work of weeding and soon of planting is upon us. I love it!

Weedless Gardening – Book Review

Good news is that I am off crutches and mending slowly. Rainy gray weather and my temporary disability leads me to catch up on my reading. Just finished Weedless Gardening by Lee Reich – here is my Review:

Title and Author: Weedless Gardening by Lee Reich

Reich’s approach to gardening is top-down. He avoids disturbing the soil as much as possible. He shuns deep tilling of any kind. He rarely even uses a rake and never a hoe. The only time he digs more than a half inch below grade is to plant something, and then he digs no deeper than he needs to in order to get the plant well dug in.

His thesis is that by digging deeply and disturbing the soil causes more weeds and decreases the natural condition of the soil which is conducive to good plant development. Among the advantages of this non-tillage method are:

–It preserves the soil’s natural layering which provides the ideal soil condition for plants and is used by Mother Nature;

–It protects the soil’s surface condition conducive to moisture retention;

–Prevents soil compaction;

–Makes it easier to use drip irrigation and save water;

–Allows planting of seeds earlier in the season when cultivating cannot or should not be done;

–Eliminates the toil of digging and double digging beds;

–Prevents the microbial disturbance of digging which disturbs the vital microbial activity in the soil and reduces initial plant growth;

–Improves the aeration of the soil by maintaining natural air pockets in soil structure caused by insects, worms, etc;

–Maintains organic matter on the surface of the soil which has a number of benefits the book sets out.

This is not all, the book provides additional advantages as well.

It is very important to spread a good mulch over the soil that is high in organic material. The best of those is rich compost. This will retard the development of wind born weed seeds and feeds the plants you want to grow.

Reich also teaches how to first prepare a bed using this method, how to best maintain a weedless planting bed; the best forms of irrigation; and feeding the soil through top dressing. The book also contains a brief catalogue of common vegetables with information on when and how to plant and transplant.

He continues with chapters on flower gardening, formal beds, and trees.

Reich also gives us a short lesson on the history of this method including references to books written since the 19th century advocating it. In short this method significantly reduces labor, saves water and retards weeds. It also provides a soil system that is naturally more conducive to good plant growth.

I long ago adopted the idea that we should never walk on planting beds or otherwise compact them. The further methods in this book take us a step closer to maintaining ideal soil conditions. I intend to adopt this method in all my garden work this year and will report back on results as the season progresses. I recommend the book, there is a lot to learn from it.

Publication Information:

Weedless Gardening by Lee Reich
Illustrations by Michael A. Hill
©2001 by Lee Reich and Michael Hill
Published by Workman Publishing Co.




The Zen of Weeds

zen_gardenI do not pretend to really understand what Zen is. I sort of understand Zen like an ant understands calculus. Still there is this impression of what Zen is that I have gleaned from an imperfect observation of Zen things and Zen sayings…. in at least one sense I think that Zen is acceptance of what things are as they are… and that includes ourselves.

So with that auspicious introduction I am developing a Zen approach to weeds. My wife tells me that a Zen approach to weeds would be to leave them alone, let them grow as they wish, and consequently I suppose let the yard and garden turn into a giant bramble patch. Maybe there is that Zen approach. But I am conflicted on that because when I visit the amazing Zen garden at the Portland Japanese garden there is not a weed to be seen. Someone spends a lot of time eradicating every weed in sight. So there is that Zen approach.

Being a rather moderate person my Zen approach is somewhere between the Zen jungle and the Zen garden sans any weeds. My garden has weeds. At some times of the year it has lots of weeds and this time of the year not so many. No matter how energetically I attack them however they are never all gone. My aim is to minimize their impact. My aim is to control them. An illusion I realize, still my aim.

In the late fall weeds sprout and grow at the rate of about 1000 per day. In the spring at the rate of about 5000 per day. On a good day I can eradicate maybe 500. So it is a constant task and discipline. I will never win. I will never have total control. But that is ok. (Pretty Zen like, eh?)

They grow everywhere. Up through gravel. In cracks in the sidewalk. Sprouting exuberantly through hard baked clay. Popping up with glee in any wet or even muddy place. The only thing that will stop them is solid concrete (six inches or more in thickness) with no cracks or crevices. Asphalt also seems to work… for a while anyway.

Since I do not envision a solid concrete or asphalt garden this does me little good.

So I continue to live with the weeds, controlling their excesses and learning that a few weeds are not that bad. In fact some are very pretty and if you do not let them get of hand they can add some variety to the garden.

There are two places where I do try to eradicate all weeds. My Japanese Garden and my vegetable garden. The rest of the yard is just a practice of tolerance and control. I settle for this because to eradicate them all either requires use of deadly poisons I choose not to use or it means I need to spend four hours every single day weeding. I choose not to do that either.

My weeds and I have an understanding of sorts. I will not totally ignore them as they will take over. I do not insist in totally eradicating them as I would not have time to do anything else in life. So I settle for this middle ground where I nurture the illusion I am in control. They tolerate my illusion and all is well. It is Zen.