March 12, 2011

2011 Goals: Choosing My Battles, Part 2


I have to admit that when I first divided this long post into two parts, I never dreamed anyone would actually be curious as to my solution, LOL.

When it came to saving my strawberries from the invasive, tenacious grass, I didn't feel that I had a lot of options.

  • herbicides were out
  • eternal weeding was out
  • abandoning them was out

I decided that a two part solution was the best. That meant first moving the strawberry plants, and then smothering the grass. Thanks to a few long term brush piles, we've learned that smothering is one thing that seems to permanently rid an area of anything growing there.

I had decided on a new spot for my strawberries when I figured out my companion groups garden plan. It would mean a lot of extra work, but I wasn't willing to invest countless more hours in a losing battle.

Starting to dig a new bed, where at least
some of my strawberry plants will go.

During a spell of nice weather, I started preparing a long row along the edge of our vegetable garden. I added compost and wood ashes, and hand turned the soil.

Removing strawberries from the old bed

Transplanting the strawberries meant scraping back the wood chip mulch, pulling up the landscape cloth, and removing the strawberry plants to their new location.

A messy mass of grass roots strangling this poor strawberry plant

As you can see, the grass roots really had a stranglehold on my strawberries. I'm actually amazed they survived at all.

Strawberries being transplanted before it rains again.

I had more plants than row, so I widened this to make room for onions and asparagus too. Eventually I'll get it bordered. I was able to transplant all of my everbearers, but I still need to transplant the Junebearers. Unfortunately it started to rain right after I accomplished the above (and rain and rain), so I still have some more transplanting to do.

Once the ground dries out and I can get the Junebearers moved, we will cover the old strawberry bed with heavy mil black plastic. I know, I know, I hate the stuff too. But once it's done it's job, we'll remove it. Then we can double dig, rake all the old roots out, and start over with something else.

The comfrey will have to stay where it is, because it develops an extensive root system which is key to it's productivity. I do not want a set back on that this year, but on the other hand, it's a taller plant than a strawberry, so I should be able to mulch it thickly and more successfully. I'll use the cardboard I've been collecting to mulch between these, and cover deeply with shredded mulch.

On the plus side, I managed to salvage most of the wood chip mulch and use it on our fruit trees and bushes. The landscape cloth itself was torn to shreds, so that was a loss.

Initially, I thought I would be able to conquer the grass and leave my strawberry bed where it was. It's frustrating, because this is not how I want to be spending my time. After thinking it through, moving the strawberries made more sense in the long run. Admittedly, I haven't won the war against the grass invasion yet, but saving the strawberries is a major victory. One that I'm satisfied to get.

20 comments:

permaculturecottage said...

Oh dear...my second attempt and now I've lost what I wrote...anyway, love your blog! Lots of great info. I grow strawberries here in Ireland, but in hanging baskets so as to prevent decimation by slugs!
I love the fact that you also spin! I'll be back!
Colette

Leigh said...

Colette, thank you so much! After swinging by your blog, I can heartily return the compliment. I've thought about containers for my strawberries, but I must have a hundred or more plants. Maybe I should experiment with just a few!

tami said...

Best solution possible...Move and smother.

When we first moved to NC, I fell in love with Palmetto Sawgrass and placed two of them in my yard not understanding that they become monsters as they grow. I had one back by our bedroom window which also was close to the natural gas meter.

I eventually got a note letting us know that our bill would be estimated as they couldn't read the meter (please, bend over and brush it aside).

Well, we cut it WAY back and then used the heavy black plastic (and bricks) to smother the area.

After 1 year we uncovered it, but within a week had shoots sprouting. Covered it back up and year 2 finally saw enough rot so we could get rid of it completely.

Effective, but it takes time.

Mr. H. said...

Sounds like an excellent solution and at least with the plastic you know the weeds won't be able to penetrate it.

I bought some comfrey and have the little roots patiently waiting in the basement to be planted if our ground ever thaws out. Did yours grow pretty quickly? I'm trying to decide whether or not to plant all 12 roots close together or seperate them as you did.

icebear said...

Oh i hope you do win that battle, its frustrating to put so much work into these things when they don't turn out as you hoped. I got my first comfrey roots last summer, from Horizon Herbs. I didn't have anyplace to put them at the time so i poked holes in a large bag of potting soil and popped them in. I hope they made it through, we'll see soon enough!

Rain said...

Geez, that wire grass/weed is horribly invasive! I'm so glad you found a solution, because yes, forever-weeding is NOT an option. I can't wait to see how your strawberries grow! That's so great! I may try a strawberry bush this summer too! :)

Woolly Bits said...

I moved most of my strawberries into plant boxes (long rectangles) and put those onto a sort of timber "ladder" (not as steep and with steps as wide as the boxes). this means that the couch grass and ground elder can't reach them anymore. they are not quite as productive and I have to water them during dry spells, but slugs can't reach them easily either and I can cover the whole thing with netting against the birds! not easy to do if you have huge amounts of plants though:)) I still have some strawberries in the bed, and it's impossible to get rid of all the ground elder and grass around, so it will creep into the veggie/strawbs bed again anyway:(( but I hope you have more luck with your new bed - if it means less weeding, it was worth it!

Mama Pea said...

Gosh, you really do have a weed problem. I think if you had left the strawberries where they were they never would have had the energy or nutrients to give you much in the way of a harvest because of how very invasive the weed problem was. As far as the time and effort to move the plants, think of it as a one time thing. Once it's done, you won't have to do it again! Good luck with killing off those weeds. They look like they've been on steroids.

Leigh said...

Tami, I'm really glad you mentioned this because I am planning to plant some saw palmetto. I use the berries in Dan's herbal prostate tincture, and so we need our own source. I didn't realize it was that tenacious though, so I will be very careful as to how I plant it. Thanks!

Mike, my comfrey got a pretty good start last year. I was supposed to keep the flowers picked to help it get established, but didn't do so well with that. I planted my comfrey in a grid pattern, with plants spaced at three feet. This was on the recommendation of the folks I bought it from and this year I can start harvesting the leaves for compost, mulch, and feed. I plan to try a few plants in a polycultural bed in the future.

Icebear, I love Horizon Herbs! They have the absolute best variety. Do report on how your comfrey does. It's a great plant.

Rain, that was it exactly! We love strawberries too much to not win this battle. Do try some strawberries. They make a great container plant.

Bettina, I love your solution. Your comment confirms something I've been thinking about; that a work free garden isn't realistic, but rather a manageable workload, based on what works best in our individual situations.

Mama Pea, LOL, they do don't they. They seem to thrive on abuse. This stuff pops up in other places, but so far I've been able to keep the rest of it under control. Hopefully I can get this area under control too.

DebbieB said...

Ah, a good solution! Mama Pea brings up a good point - if the weeds were sucking all the nutrients away from your berry plants, then they're better off moved away from them.

My DH loves to make strawberry ice cream from fresh strawberries - a container sounds like a perfect idea!

Jane said...

I learned something new from reading your post,about smothering weeds. Thanks for sharing this. Blessings jane

Jane said...

This really worked out best in the long run as you need to move the strawberry plants to a new location every couple of years anyway. So this was one of these things that look bad in the beginning but had a silver lining.

Lynda said...

I'm exhausted just reading your posts! We've had a couple days of sunshine and the weeds are everywhere...I just got back from the local grocery store with a BALE of flattened cardboad boxes (I'm going to do the lasagna method of gardening)...I'm going to be busy this weekend! Great post, Leigh...you got my butt in gear!

Leigh said...

Debbie, yes, she did bring up a good point which is one of the reasons why I had to move them. We haven't tried fresh strawberry ice cream yet, sounds yummy!

Jane, I've found smothering with a heavy mulch of at least 6 inches works well for most things! This grass obviously isn't one of them. :(

Jane, that's a very good point. Makes the whole project seem less discouraging, LOL.

Lynda, I'm glad you mentioned the lasagna method because I need to try that too. Dan wants to go bio-intensively in the vegetable garden, where we'll be rotating things, but I think the lasagna method might help me conquer the front yard sooner!

Alicia@ eco friendly homemaking said...

I really like this post! I love to grow strawberries but find that they sometimes can be quite a challenge. Thanks for the tips.

luckybunny said...

I'm not even near gardening weather yet, so I appreciate seeing such pictures and your posts about such things! :) I've learned a lot in the past two posts. We won't be growing strawberries, I'll have to hunt the wild ones in the forest, but this will be our first year with blueberries and our second attemp at raspberries. You've caught my interest though in strawberries!

Leigh said...

Alicia, I'm finding they are a challenge to grow too! Hopefully I'll soon be able to say they're worth the effort!

Luckybunny, ooo, wild strawberries! I can only imagine how delicious those are. Every time I visit your blog I see plenty more snow. Does it ever melt up there??? :)

Jennifer Dobinson said...

What a great blog. You have a lot of great links too. I enjoyed reading your articles.

Tom Stewart said...

Leigh,
I too have desided to Chose my Battles this year. Against the weeds, Deer and Rabbits!
We will be building raised beds this year and filling them with our own growning medium ( 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 worm casts and 1/3 compost). This way there will not be any weed seeds to start with and the growing medium is so light that pulling any weeds that show up will be a breeze>
As for the Deer and Rabbits, Each raised bed will have a hoop house built over it and that will be covered with chicken wire. I will also be getting a 22 rifel to impress to the Rabbits that they need to find greener pastures elsa where!

Leigh said...

Jennifer, thank you! I'm glad the links are of interest. :)

Tom, that's a good idea about the chicken wire. I'll be interested in how well it works for you. I love it that you can make your own growing medium. Makes me think I need to start some worms too!