Living with Chickweed

Any sensible home gardener knows to rationalize the inevitable.

Living with Chickweed

The other day I saw a research report from some agricultural scientist who’d decided that chickweed—that disgusting little kissing cousin of kudzu—was the ideal winter cover crop for soybean farmers. After all, Dr. Agrigree claimed, it comes on (without sowing!) in the fall after the big machines have harvested the beans, then dies off (without spraying!) in the spring just before planting time for next year’s crop. In the meantime, it reduces winter soil erosion, loosens the earth with its roots, and, when turned under, adds nutritious green matter to the soil.


I knew that. Pay me for that research discovery and let Dr. Testtube there try to find out some real answers. Like why don’t my peas germinate two years out of three? How can I keep the neighbors’ cows from getting in and pruning the corn tops? (Come up with a bovine Hava-hart trap, Doc.) Or self-thinning carrots: Breed some with magnetic-north tops so they repel each other just enough to space themselves precisely two inches apart. I mean, come on, now, use that P.H. of D. and do something useful. (And don’t play with genes, either. Some things you shouldn’t get into.)

Still, I oughta give Doc Tissueslide some credit: He (she) didn’t invent some new high-potent poison, Chickacide—the new post-emergent toxin able to pollute distant waterways with a single application (if used according to directions) No, instead she (he) (it’s her turn to go first) resorted to the trick any sensible home gardener knows: Rationalize the inevitable. Meet defeat by declaring victory.

Chickweed taught me that long ago. Heck, I can’t pull all that stuff out. It’s too prolific (shoulda been named after rabbits). Oh sure, I can beat bunnyweed (hmmm-never mind) back in September, maybe even rein it in through October. But in November? Are you kidding—you want me to weed the garden in mittens? When I don’t have any crops left? Nope, by then I’m working on growing a woodpile. (Say, Dr. Horty-toity, need another grant idea? Come up with a formula for home-pressed chickweed logs.) Besides, long about next May, what happens? Surprise! The chickweed all drops seeds and goes away!

No sir/ma’am, Dr. Agrivation, you picked an easy one there. Chickweed I can live with.

My problem is that my garden needs a whole lot of other explaining. (So does the rest of my life—but most of that isn’t lying in plain view in front of my house. I mean, if people could see my sex life as easily as they can my garden … )

“Say, Reggie, didn’t you grow peas this year?” (“No, I pray for peace. I grow broccoli. You can buy starts of them at the store.”)

“How’re all those flowers I gave you doing?” (“Fine. Every little bit of compost fodder helps, you know.”)

“Don’t you think August 4 is a little late to start okra?” (“Well, not for next year.”)

I dunno. Maybe I can talk my way around such technical criticisms. Not everyone asks such questions—or calls my bluff when I answer them. But I can’t fool any of the people any of the time when it comes to my weeds. It’s the failing all can see. A virtual rainforest of rampant greenery right next to the house—and none of it what I planted.

The old song about the farmer and his taxes begins,


“We worked through spring and summer,

The winter and the fall.

But the mortgage [read “weeds”] worked the hardest

And the steadiest of us all.

It worked on nights and Sundays.

It worked each holiday.

It settled down among us

And never went away.”


That’s it! Croon that tune next time you weed your onions! See if you go back out there the second and third and fourth time those little “guardians of the soil” regerminate! Weeds can’t be beat. They’re a bad influence on people. Yep, as the shrinks used to say (about a different kind of weed, mind you), they’re anti-motivational.

A buddy of mine once got out of his second-story bathtub, wrapped his lower half in a towel, stepped into the hall, spotted a groundhog in his garden, grabbed a shotgun, opened the window (good move, that) and blasted the critter to stewmeat. Nice trick—but it wouldn’t work with weeds.

Another friend ordered one of those Swedish stirrup hoes with a wheel behind it. Roll it through your garden and neatly slice those weeds right off at their ankles. Sounds like fun, steering your garden unicycle through the broccoli obstacle course. That tool costs $150, though—that’s too much green for those greens.

Maybe I should build four walls around my garden to keep visitors out—like the ones around construction sites in New York. The ones with those signs: “Temporary Inconvenience—Permanent Improvement.”

Or I could play a tape recording all night long—the kind that’s supposed to keep raccoons out of the corn. (“Really, dear weeds, it’s nothing personal. There’s quite a nice garden right next door. Why don’t you pack up your roots and move?”)

All fantasies, not solutions. I’m afraid a market gardener I know, the kind who toils from frostdate to frostdate, was closest to having the right solution. He said stoically, “I know exactly what’s going to happen to my farm the year after I die. It’ll be taken over, completely repossessed—by weeds.”

See? Perspective, that’s the only solution. If you half close your eyes, you might even be impressed by that mass of green. No ugly bare ground in that garden. And, after all, I can still find my crops—most times, anyway.

So I’ve learned to live with weeds. I joke about them. I ignore their nasty little brown time bombs—I mean, prolific seedheads. And I do pull some to give very young crops or ones I especially care for a fighting chance. Mostly, though, the Devil-in-the-garden, the buffalo clover, the lamb’s quarters, the shepherd’s purse, the crabgrass, the thistles, the spurge, the bindweed, the purslane, I live and let live.

After all, come October, they’ll all get beat out.

By my good friend.



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