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I’ve resigned myself to the fact that whatever I do in my garden this year is primarily in preparation for next year.

In my post earlier this month, I discussed the thick tangle of weeds that I attempted to till through this spring when I started my new garden.  A couple of my Facebook friends recommended white vinegar as an organic weed-killer, but I ultimately rejected that idea because I didn’t want to harm the earthworms and the various insects and micro-organisms that build up the soil.  Just because something is organic or natural does not mean that it will be gentle with the earth underneath the weeds.  For me, that is the most important goal here – to create a thriving garden that works with, not against, nature.

Instead, I decided to go with my original plan and smother the weeds, primarily using material right here in front of me:  roofing paper left outside years ago behind the house.  The rolls have been standing on one end next to the back door so that they are crimped by their own weight on the end that rested on concrete.  They no longer unroll evenly, and undoubtedly are worthless as roofing paper.  

So I unrolled the paper over the area I intend to garden next year.  Then I anchored it all in place with large rocks and bricks and broken pieces of concrete, because out here on the Illinois prairie the wind can be intense on occasion, to put it mildly.  Yes, I was somewhat concern about what chemicals might leach from the paper into the soil, but then I realized that this very same product covers the entire roof of the house anyway.  I figured a couple of weeks directly on the land would not likely be much worse than decades of the equally polluted rain water that falls about fifteen feet away my garden plot.  So I’m reporting now that I’m quite please with the results.  

Here's a good look at the weeds I am trying to kill along the edge of the roofing paper that I am using to smother it out.

Here’s a good look at the weeds I am trying to kill along the edge of the roofing paper that I am using to smother them out.

As it turns out, roofing paper repels water and does not absorb it.  It would not be a good choice in a garden for any length of time.  But because it is black, it quickly bakes any vegetation underneath it.  Within just two weeks of summer sunshine, all vegetation beneath the roofing paper is dead.  

Now,  I’ve moved over the paper to expand my garden further, and I’ve heavily mulched the vegetation-free ground with layers of newspaper, brown paper bags or grass clippings covered by pine bark mulch, conveniently on steep clearance at the Walmart nearest us. Over the fall, winter and early spring, earthworms will feed on the mulch and soften the earth for planting next year.

 

 

Here's my garden now, partly mulched in preparation for next year, with another strip covered in roofing paper.

Here’s my garden now, partly mulched in preparation for next year, with another strip covered in roofing paper.

I’m happy to report that I have some zucchini growing in the one corner, seven plants in total.  That should be adequate for eating now and freezing for later.  It’s nothing close to what I had planned for my garden this year, but sometimes you simply need to be patient.  I’m not entirely talented at that, I’m afraid.

My zucchini is off to a good start.  My grandchildren gave me the seeds for Mother's Day this year, a gentle hint that they are expecting zucchini cookies before too long.

My zucchini is off to a good start. My grandchildren gave me the seeds for Mother’s Day this year, a gentle hint that they are expecting zucchini cookies before too long.

 

With the graduation of my youngest two children from high school last year, I made a rather adventurous decision to move from Indiana to my grandfather’s farmhouse in Illinois. And now that we are here, and I’m wondering if I might have been a little nuts.

The house is a civil-war era structure, with the additions of kitchen, bath and laundry/front porch made at various times along the way. It’s not cute, nor is it remotely picturesque. What we are using as a garage (aka, “the shed”) has an attached hen house and a feeding trough once used for horses. I’m surprised that the corn crib, unused for decades, survived the harsh, harsh winter winds of the past year.

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My father has owned and rented out this house — and the farmland — for the past thirty years. It’s structurally sound, but frankly pretty beat up, inside and out. I had the romantic notion that I could live here, garden, and finish writing a novel I’ve been working on for a couple of years. Ha! I think the joke is on me. The yard is a tangle of weeds, every corner of the house needs work, and I miss my grandkids. I spend most of my time bouncing from project to project, painting one room, stripping the finish on the wood floor in another, mowing back the lawn, digging up the weeds in the flower beds, tilling the garden, mowing again, and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning.

I found strawberries planted and hiding underneath the overgrowth behind the shed. I want to move them up closer to the house where they can spread out and thrive. There is a beautiful apple tree, planted — my dad says — by my grandfather years before he died. There are grapevines too, and I am waiting to see what they produce this summer. I have no clue how to tend them.

A month ago the winter backed away enough for us to till the garden, and the thick growth of some unidentified species of tough plantain weed made us give up after a thin strip was plowed on the west side of the house. My plans for an organic garden need some fresh assistance. Help me, readers. What will kill this stuff? Currently, I’m simply trying to suffocate it underneath anything I can find. A previous renter left behind several rolls of roofing paper, which I have spread out next to the strip that we tilled and held down by rocks and cement blocks. I may not have my great garden this year, but maybe there’s hope for next year.

In the meantime, I’m concentrating on zucchini, which allows me to stagger my planting some. And the late planting helps me avoid those nasty zucchini bugs, so it’s actually a good thing. Plus, those grandkids I mentioned will be mightily disappointed if I am not sending my famous zucchini cookies back to them in Indiana by summer’s end.

An abandoned pen out by the cedar tree once kept goats.

An abandoned pen out by the cedar tree once kept goats.

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