25 July 2010

Working in the Garden with God

I usually spend summer Sundays in the garden – the nearest Quaker Meeting is more than an hour away, and as that doesn’t seem like a good use of fuel or time, we are “Isolated Friends” … still Quakers, but not in regular attendance at our nearest Meeting.

So, I listen to God in the garden while I work.

Today’s message was clear:

Genesis 3:19: In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

See, in lots of gardening books, they say “just turn over the sod, and next year, you’ll have a perfect spot to grow your garden”. So that’s what I did. I turned it. It was pretty and brown. Then, before I knew it, I had knee high grass growing where I meant to put plants! I didn’t realize until just this year that it’s not sod that I am working with … it’s ancient pasture grasses, with a thick matting of roots sheltering the rhizome root system of quackgrass.

Now, I readily admit that it’s lovely stuff for the sheep to eat … but this stuff does not go away just because you faithfully turn the soil over. It spreads by the roots – so any little piece of root left in the dirt just becomes another plant. Rototilling is a means of plant distribution – not destruction.

So, I spent the day as no doubt many of my ancestors have done, on my knees in the dirt, digging up invasive roots with a mattock and my gloved hands. Once an area of dirt is mostly cleared of roots, you can grow other things there. You’ll have to keep pulling the quackgrass that makes it through, but eventually, it’ll die off if it hasn’t got any leaves above ground. The runners spread up to a metre though – so you need a good clear boundary around your plants.

Now that I know what I’m dealing with, I’ve got a plan. It involves a lot of digging, mostly.

I did pull out some high-tech tools – I’ve put landscape fabric down in many spots. Some of the fabric is covered with raised beds filled with screened dirt (filtering out the quackgrass rhizomes, so that the plants get a bit of a head start and can hopefully outcompete the grass), and some – particularly the areas along the of the garden (where the grass works it’s way in from the adjoining pasture) are covered with a heavy layer of straw mulch, with a spot of dirt every so often containing a transplanted calendula flower and sprinkled with a few more flower seeds in hopes that something pretty will grow.

So, it was a long day of digging, but it’s the first step towards a truly productive garden. Get the nasty stuff dug out now, and although I’ll always know the sweat on my face when I work in the garden, there’ll be a little less of it – and a lot more harvest.

The garden teaches both consequences and grace: don’t keep up with the weeds, and as a consequence, there’ll be less food to eat … but then, even if the weeds have gotten ahead of you, you can change your ways now and see a better harvest. Grace.


  1. I've been conquering my lawn, which in all it's terribleness, is not much lawn and mostly quack grass a various other weeds [some edible, thankfully].

    My only hope from a future of brutal weeding has been mulch, mulch, mulch. I still have to pull what can fight the mulch, but it comes out far easier.

  2. Yep - mulch and weeding. I can think of worse ways to spend an afterenoon, really. :)

  3. I like your blog! Its always nice to read about other small farms in Canada!

    I have fields of that same grass! Its hard to deal with. The best success that I have had making a garden in it has been with cardboard. About two layers of cardboard, making sure to cover every little spot. Top it with all the garden waste in the fall, chicken manure, kitchen compost, the cut grass when mowing, old hay/straw and fall leaves chopped by the mower - anything organic and as much of it as possible. Throughout the season I add to the mulch just to keep the weed and grass seed from germinating in it.

    It has worked well. There are still the odd weeds to pull but not many.

    Good luck with the new garden!


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