Tag Archives: Corn Salad

How To Avoid Weeds In Your Garden

The Snarky Gardener tells you how to avoid weeds in your garden so you can do less work and produce more food.
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Several of the Snarky Gardener’s weed avoiding techniques are shown in this picture.

People and weeds have been enemies since the beginning of time. You plant the things you want and other plants have the audacity to grow instead.  Ever wonder why this is the case? Are there techniques you can use to lower or even eliminate the problem?  Of course there are – why else would I be writing this article?  (OK, maybe just to hear myself type, as my ego does take over at times).

Let’s start by understanding what weeds are.  In nature (and yes, your garden is in nature, despite what you try to do
to make it not so), weeds are used to cover and repair disturbances – fires, landslides, tree uprootings, volcanoes, sharknadoes, etc.  Bare soil is bad as the sun will damage it and water will wash it away.  Weed seeds are designed to sit in the soil for years and decades, just waiting for such an event.  Then they spring to action, coming up fast and producing lots and lots and lots of seeds.  After a year or two of this, other bigger species come in to take over (brambles, bushes, small trees, and eventually a whole forest).

When we till the soil, we are causing a giant disturbance.  It helps to cause this explosion of activity which our annual garden vegetables like, especially the cabbages (aka brassicas – kale, mustard, turnips, collards, broccoli).  Yes, I just called the vegetables we love to eat “weeds”.  Several years ago was my worst season for weeds.  It was also the last time I tilled my entire garden space.  Coincidence?  I think not.  So what can we smarter gardeners do about the weeds?

Weed avoidance strategies

1.  Don’t Till Very Much

Tilling should be kept to a minimum in your garden.  If you are converting lawn or have some really compacted soil, then till away.  I gave up my tiller a few years back and now use a broadfork instead.  It’s still technically tilling but it’s gentler (especially to the worms) and you can only do so much damage by hand (pant, pant, pant).  And to keep the soil from getting compacted in the first place, don’t step on the places where you want to grow stuff. Plan out your garden so it flows naturally, and then create permanent beds and paths.

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Using my broadfork Big Blue

2.  Use Mulch

Mulch is one of nature’s greatest inventions against weeds.  Weed seeds need light to grow and mulch keeps the sun away from them (be it leaves, straw, hay, food scraps, wood chips, newspaper, cardboard, or even man-made materials like plastic).  Plus organic mulch will break down and become more soil, helping your plants in the future.  Also, mulch not only your planting beds but your paths too.  Stomping on weeds keeps them at bay, but some actually prefer compacted soil.

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Great way to collect free mulch.

 

3.  Grow Cover Crops

Cover crops, like clover or mustard, will cover the ground and compete with weeds while making your soil better.

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Covering the soil, fixing nitrogen, and beautiful too! Also, the seedy looking plants behind the clover are corn salad going to seed, which is making an on purpose weed.

 

4.  Identify and Utilize Your Current Weeds

Have you ever looked up your garden weeds to see if they are edible or have other uses?  There are plant identification groups on the Internet (Facebook, etc) that will help you to figure out what your weeds are.  For example, I had one particularly obnoxious weed that would grow before anything else and would compete with my veggies.  Took me 2 years to ID it, but I finally confirmed that it was Quick Weed (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galinsoga_parviflora), an edible plant.  Now I just eat it.

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Lambs Quarters – a great wild edible “weed”

5.  Make Your Own Weeds

If you let your plants go to seed, especially the leafy green ones, you can establish your own edible ‘weeds”.  I currently have oregano, lemon balm, corn salad, turnips, mustard, and several others that just come up all over the garden.  Some are the first to be eaten in the spring before other less evolved gardeners are even planning their spring tilling.  Some people see these plants as “invasive”, but I just think of them as perennial annuals.

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Lots of “weedy” corn salad (aka mache)

Happy Gardening!

Cold Weather Corn Salad

The Snarky Gardener shows you that some food plants love the cold.
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Corn Salad or Mache

I first heard of corn salad (aka mache) while reading Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long, 2nd Edition by Eliot Coleman.  He discusses how some food vegetables can handle cool and cold weather.  Many of these are greens, like spinach, Swiss chard, arugula, and parsley.  The one that stuck out to me was corn salad.  This green was originally cultivated by European peasants who would forage for them in their spent wheat fields (corn is a common term for staple crops).  It seems to me this plant thrives in the cold, which is counter how many people see garden vegetables.

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Corn salad – 12/22/2013

Two years ago I naturalized corn salad in my garden so now it grows as a self seeding “weed”.  It starts to grow from previously dropped seed in August or September when we get a bout of cooler weather.  Once it grows up to a decent size, its edible in salads right up until the temperatures drop below freezing for highs (usually after Christmas in Ohio).  Then instead of dying, the corn salad will hold its own (without any cover).  Once the weather warms up in March, growth begins again and by May it’s sending out flowers and going to seed.  Of course, with protection (be it row covers or cold frames), the corn salad would be even more productive with the ability to reap any time over the winter.

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Corn salad going to seed – 5/14/2014

Winter Solstice Greens

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Purple Top Turnips and Corn Salad – 12/22/2013
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Corn Salad – 12/22/2013

On 12/22/2013, we had a Winter Solstice miracle with temperatures in the 60’s with just a little rain. This allowed the Snarky Gardener to check out his garden to see what had survived. The mustard was a dried out brown, as the previous week’s lows in the teens killed it off (as expected). Next year’s potato patch will appreciate the extra biomass, fumigation and sulfur the mustard will provide. What did survive was the purple top turnips and the corn salad (pictured above) plus onions, leeks, and thyme. I picked through the turnip greens to thin them out then covered the remainder with leaf mulch to protect them until mid-March (like I did earlier this fall for the spinach, rosemary, and peas). Leeks and thyme were also pulled before the weather turned nasty again the next day.

Even though I’ve been fall gardening the last few years, I’m always amazed at what survives through the cold. This winter has been early and often with plenty of ice and snow. But out in the garden the greenness and deliciousness continues.  And March is just around the corner.

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Washing the corn salad – 12/22/2013
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Thyme and leeks – 12/22/2013

 

Let It Snow (twice)!

This fall we’ve had serious snow twice so far (several inches each time) here in Northeastern Ohio. While most people have not even thought about their gardens since the first freeze back in October, the early snow had me worried. Many of my fall duties were incomplete, including digging up and bringing in my rosemary herbs (they died out there last winter – sniff). Also, the fall leaves I gathered into big honking piles did not get as distributed as I would have liked. I found out this summer that some plants (lettuce, spinach, kale, turnips, peas, corn salad) could be covered with mulch 5 or 6 inches deep in the fall to “overwinter” them. Then in mid-March, you just pull off the leaves and viola, they will start growing again. Nifty trick having food producing plants when other unsnarky gardeners are still planning for the summer.  Anyways, I was finally able to finish these tasks on 12/4/2013 with most of my fall babies no worse for wear.

If you look at the pictures below, you will notice some of my plants didn’t do as well by December (especially the sad Swiss chard in the middle foreground). In the back left, my mustard is going to seed, which is good because I needed more for cooking and next year’s crop. But you will also see that there’s quite a bit of green considering it’s December in Ohio. On the right foreground, my purple top turnips are looking great. I will thin these out (yum) and mulch the rest in the next week or so. Also, near the Swiss chard, you should be able to make out bright green areas near the ground. That’s my corn salad and onions, all ready to eat. We used them plus mustard greens, carrots, and kale to make a wonderfully fresh salad (again, in December in Ohio).

P.S.  I don’t think “unsnarky” is a word, but with use it will soon become one.

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Snow on 11/12/2013
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Snow on 11/12/2013
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Melted snow on 11/16/2013
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Snow melted on 11/16/2013
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Snow again on 11/30/2013
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Snow again on 11/30/2013
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Melted snow again on 12/04/2013
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Snow melted again on 12/04/2013

Succession Planting 2013

Succession planting is the process of planting one crop after another.  This sometimes means planting something every two weeks (like bush green beans or lettuce) so that you can have a continuous supply.  Other times it means the gardener (snarky or not) will plant something in the spring (like spinach or peas) and then when it peters out with the warming weather, put in something else (like corn or squash), then when summer comes to a close, grow fall crops (like turnips or mustard or spinach).  For my garden, I do both with a preference for the spring/summer/fall system, as I like to grow as much as possible for as long as possible (insert smugness here).

Here’s an example with my summer potatoes and then my fall turnips, peas, and corn salad.

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Potatoes in early Summer 2013
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Turnips, peas, and corn salad in Fall 2013

Here is my monthly garden progression so you get the idea of succession over a whole season.

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March 2013

In April, I decided to use Cascade bush peas to get my Three Sisters corn/beans/squash mounds started. They make a good spring time filler while the gardener waits for the temperatures to stabilize above freezing.

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April 2013

By the way, this was the first time I coerced my Three Sisters garden to actually work out in three years, with the beans going up the corn like they were supposed to instead not growing at all.  Persistence pays off this time – yeah me.

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May 2013
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June 2013

The turnips in the top middle near the potatoes were totally accidental as I let one of my Purple Top turnips go to seed. I’ll try to use the same technique next year by moving some of my overwintered turnips (bottom left quadrant in September) to other parts of my garden.  I planted the upper row of Tendergreen bush beans first and then the second row about 2 or 3 weeks later.  I would have done a third row in August but the pumpkins ended up taking over from the west.  This area will be planted with Roma tomatoes next year. (Yes, I’m already neurotically planning next year’s garden, including a new one in my front yard next to my tree line).

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July 2013

The Ho Mi Z mustard in the upper right corner is currently going to seed as of this November post.  I’m going to collect as much as I can, but there will definitely be random mustard all over the place next year.  Again, I love to have edible weeds (or volunteers as they are sometimes called).  The mustard was planted as a “cover crop” as I knew I was putting in potatoes in that area next year. Mustard is supposed to help potatoes by countering nematodes and weeds. Plus you get delicious greens for salads, etc and seeds for cooking and making mustard. I picked Ho Mi Z (aka Dragon Tongue) because it was on sale at Johnny’s Seeds last year.

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Mustard going to seed – Fall 2013
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August 2013

The Tyee spinach, New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia), and Cascade peas will be covered with leaf mulch this fall and uncovered in the middle of next March.  This will allow them to overwinter and be ready to go in the spring, saving a month or two of potential growth.  This will be my first year trying this, so I’ll post my findings for your enjoyment and knowledge.

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September 2013
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October 2013
November 2013
November 2013