The pleasures of just-in-time gardening

I went out this afternoon and nailed the wild onions in the myrtle bed. I must have pulled out over one hundred onions that measured between a quarter inch and and inch-and-a-half in diameter. A huge percentage came out intact: onion bulb, stalk, and roots.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEarlier in the spring – with all the onions sticking out!

It took less than an hour.

I have been waiting for this day for weeks: first, we had to have had rain within the previous day or two, so the ground would still be moist. Second, the temperature had to be mild – today was in the mid 60s: this bed is in the full sun, and I wilt faster than lettuce when it gets hot. Third, the onions had to be at the perfect point: mostly spent from their spring push, but not yet flowering; I think this minimizes the bulblets left behind, but don’t quote me on that, as I didn’t get down in the dirt and count. And lastly, there had to be some energy left in me by afternoon, after I finished writing.

Every year, the onions spring up in that bed. I think it’s both the bulblets left behind AND the ones whose stems broke off when I tried to remove them the years before (the latter ones may be those 1.5” monsters). It may even be some that grow from last year’s seeds. Because the bed is covered in myrtle, the soil is very favorable for those seeds that get started: moist and friable. They love it.

Me, I hate their tall, unwanted and untidy stalks sticking up like weeds – for that is what they are here – in among my little purple myrtle flowers.

My weeding time is a precious commodity: I don’t get to it often, and there is so much stuff in the garden that needs attention – weeding, pruning, fertilizing. Moving plants from where they are not wanted to some place they are. Coaxing ground-cover to cover. All with limited energy, so I really have to prioritize.

Two years ago I couldn’t do much of anything – the back pain had been growing steadily worse for years. DH had to do much of the weeding, in the summer when he was off from teaching – and New Jersey is HOT and HUMID. He hated it.

Last year was the first in many that the yoga had dealt with enough of the pain, and improved my flexibility so I could sit on the ground or a low stool for enough time to make a difference – and I had an assistant. We dealt with the backlog of thistles in the pachysandra, dandelions in the beds, and weeds in general everywhere. An hour at a time. Many days. Sitting on the ground. I didn’t quite start early enough – and paid for it. I didn’t realize that weeds would have the audacity to come back – and it wasn’t until we had cleared some sections two or three times that DH said, “Why don’t you use Preen?” and we did.

This year I am much more limber (thank you, yoga). And have a bit better handle on the energy (nap before, nap after). Alas, no assistant – but I got out there early, and Preened the heck out of everything BEFORE most of the weeds got started (failed on a few sections – or the rains washed it away?).

And I have been using my limited time and energy in a new strategy: just-in-time weeding. No logic to it EXCEPT: 1) I tolerate weeds growing past the point at which I would have tried to remove them in previous years, and 2) I give priority to the ones that are about to flower (onions, dandelions) or spread (wild strawberries). I let the weeds exhaust part of their energy turning into mature plants, developing extensive foliage (relatively), and putting their effort into getting ready to propagate – and just before they do, I pull ‘em up and toss them.

It’s a bit weedier than I like – but the benefits are amazing: maturer weeds come out of the ground better, because their stalks are sturdier, and well attached to their roots – which come out, too. And every thistle that doesn’t get to flower this year is one less thistle to spread its billions of seeds for next year.

And today, by waiting until those onions were ready, I cleared them ALL out in a reasonable time – and got out to enjoy the day.

I’m also learning just-in-time pruning strategy: wait until the thing has flowered, and get out there and trim it back if it needs it, because you can’t cut more than a third of it off at a time (handy rule-of-green-thumb), and if you cut at the wrong time, you lose this year’s flowers. This Fall everything is going to get cut back like I should have done it last year – I left too many of those things out for the winter, and it took more days than it should have to clean the winter stubble and leaves.

Oh, and did I mention? I almost managed just-in-time fertilizing – I watched the weather reports, and got out there several days in a row for a short while each day before the rains, so the water would soak all the fertilizer in, and get it off the leaves – and everything looks gorgeous. Next year – get it out earlier so it falls on the ground UNDER the plants before they start putting up their leaves.

How does YOUR garden grow?

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