A New Approach to Weeding

The bane of maintaining any garden is the unending encroachment of weeds into the space designed for our plantings.  The headache of weeding becomes even more intense for those of us who have elected the organic approach because little, short of conventional manual approaches, is possible.  Mulching, ground covers, weed matting and similar options produce varying degrees of success.  But, ultimately, in our experience the weeds eventually find an avenue to daylight.

Our primary lavender field garden is located in our South Meadow.  While not perfectly ideal because it is not exclusively south-facing, it benefits from full sunlight exposure while gently sloping from East to West.  However, the farm’s history was rooted in livestock and today’s lawns and meadows once provided grazing space for cattle, goats, guinea hens and burros.  The consequence for us is soil so rich that we had to integrate 10-tons of crushed limestone to achieve a PH factor suitable for lavender.

Initially, our lavender field garden was cultivated, disked and weed matted.  Twenty years ago plastic matting was the popular convention.  Its limitation, however, was that it quickly became brittle following prolonged exposure to the elements.  Despite being covered with a 4-inch layer of small, round sandstone pebbles the deteriorating plastic weed mat soon incurred holes and splits which provided opportunities for the century-old field grass lying dormant beneath to emerge.  Replacing the plastic weed mat with the aerated fabric matting that became all the rage thereafter proved, for us, to be only marginally better.  Nature is tireless in its effort to reclaim land to its former, natural state; and, within a year of replacing the plastic matting with the woven alternative, the weeds were back in full glory.

For nearly a quarter-century our assault on weeding the lavender field garden has been a shovel-and-shoulder enterprise.  Neglect it for a season and the following year would find the lavender plants choked by a sea of thistle, clover, field grass and dandelion.  Measuring 120 feet by 40 feet, the lavender garden formerly required 2 – 2 ½ months to fully restore.  Then, completely by chance, Ginna discovered a partly rusting tool hidden deep in the dark recesses of the Carriage House where our garden tools and supplies are stored.  It is called a Hula Hoe.  This tool features a simple square looped steel blade affixed to a shovel handle.  Its virtue is that when pushed forward and back through the weedy gravel it upends many of the invaders while clipping off others.  In a span of three weeks the entire lavender field was cleared; thereafter, requiring only several weekly maintenance passes through the garden.

Sadly, the tool suffered metal fatigue and failed at Summer’s end.  Fast-forward to Christmas when family members were peppering me for gift ideas, my research for a replacement Hula Hoe discovered what I can only describe as the single most efficient, effective weeding tool which should be de rigueur for every gardening arsenal.  It is made in the United States and, building on the design theory of the Hula Hoe, it features a triangular shaped cutting blade that, when placed flat on the ground, slices cleanly through soil and gravel at far less than half the effort required by the Hula Hoe.  I have just completed clearing the entire 4,800 sq. ft. lavender field garden of Spring and early Summer weeds.  The project consumed a grand total of 21 hours!  That is 82.5% faster than the Hula Hoe required and 2 ¼ months quicker than conventional shovel weeding.

At the heart of its design is a pointed arrow shaped blade.  The angled edges are serrated to facilitate side assault, as well.  I opted for the longer handle to reduce the bending angle of my back.  It is called the Basic Garden Tool by its creator and manufacturer, and can be used as a hoe, weed, shovel, edger, pitch fork and rake among other tasks.  It is available through www.basicgardentool.com  

With a lifetime guarantee it is certain to be the only weapon I will carry with me into gardening’s battle hereafter.

Organic Lavender Farm Tour in Clarion County, PAThanks for this post to Chris Gemmell Co-owner and Chief Weeder at Lavender Green farm.