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Back To Square One

April 23rd, 2011 by Karsten

I’ve just checked back in to my allotmenteer site - after an absence stretching over 2 years - to get the site up and running again. In saying that - the site has actually done quite well in terms of visitor numbers - it’s just that I haven’t done anything to keep it updated.

I have to admit that it’s pretty much the same with my allotment plot. I’m basically back to where I started about 5 years ago, only my plot is in a slightly better condition due to all the hard work I put in those first couple of years.

Digging the soil on my plot now shows clearly that it’s been beneficial to dig in those tonnes of organic matter - I now have plenty of worms working my soil - so it’s all good.

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to tend to my plot over the past two seasons, mainly because it has been totally infested with marestail weeds, successfully taking over all growing areas. Anyone who has been dealing with marestail is well aware what that means. They are notoriously difficult to get rid of, and though you wouldn’t think they can stop vegetables etc. from growing - they do!

This year I have tried to dig a part of the plot over, painstakingly removing as much of the marestail roots as possible, but I’m looking to take another couple of methods in use. I’ve found a systemic weed killer, called Kibosh, which apperas to deal with the marestail very well.

The problem that Glyphosate based weed killers have is with penetration, so another method I’m going to try out is injecting RoundUp into some of the marestail plants.

I am, of cause, going to keep all site visitors up to date with any developments.

Another thing I’m going to do this season is to get my wormeries back up and running, and post about those developments on these pages as well. As I go along I’m going to put together a guide on how to build a wormery, which I’ll make available for download, and also a guide to take things to the next stage and build a real worm farm on your plot.

Watch this space!!!

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Weed number 1: Couch grass

March 26th, 2007 by Karsten

Couch GrassCouch grass (Elymus repens) is our weed number one - more due to how common it is than how difficult it is to control.

It’s a rather invasive weed that, if not controlled, quickly will take over a large area. Couch grass looks like any other tuft of grass, but under ground it spreads by rhizomes and long white spagetti-like stems, which will produce new shoots, from where new tufts will grow.

The new tufts will form its own stems and rhizomes - and the circle is complete!

On an open plot couch grass doesn’t really pose much of a problem. If, however, its roots spreads and gets itself entangled in the rootballs of fruit bushes and shrubs on your plot - you have a problem!

Cultural control

Digging out couch grass is possible - but it’s a bit of a task if it’s widely spread. While digging, make sure to remove every bit of root you find, to avoid the couch grass re-growing and the problem worsening.

New shoots of grass should be dug out immediately - removing all roots. While digging out the roots - use a fork rather than a spade - to avoid cutting the roots.

Dug out roots should be burned or disposed off - to avoid them re-growing. Never throw them on your compost heap!

Chemical control

Glyphosate based weedkillers like Roundup is extremely effective against even heavy infestations of couch grass, and (if used correctly) should kill off the lot in just one application.

Leave the weedkiller to do its job for about 3 weeks - and promptly treat any new tufts of grass that may appear in this period of time.

The treated area must not be cultivated until the grass has died back completely.

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Weed number 2: Field Horsetail

March 25th, 2007 by Karsten

HorsetailHorsetail (Equisetum arvense) - also known as mare’s tail - is one of the allotmenteers (or gardeners in general) worst nightmares.

It’s a quite common weed to be found on a lot of plots - seemingly one that you have to learn to live with - since it’s more than difficult to eradicate.

The well known TV gardener, Alan Titchmarsh, once said something like: “If you find horsetail in your garden, and you want a garden without horsetail, move house!” Enough said.

Horsetail mainly spread through its creeping underground rhizomes, which can go down as far as 1.5 metres. The growth starts out in spring as asparagus-like shoots, and later in the season develops into fir-tree like plants as shown on the picture. The top growth dies back in winter.

Cultural control

The rhizomes can be forked out of the top layers of soil, but regrowth is inevitable. Shallow weeding should be avoided, as it worsens the problem.

By regularly removing new shoots as soon as they appear above ground, the plants seem to weaken, and infestation can be reduced quite a lot over a couple of seasons.

Chemical control

Horsetail is resistant to most weedkillers - at least those that can be used anywhere near other plants and produce. This is due to the plants having an outer cuticle that protects it against penetration.

Some success can be achieved by using a systemic glyphosate based weedkiller like roundup in late summer when the plant is growing fast. Before application of the weedkiller - run a rake across the patch you want to treat - or trample down the plants, in order to break the protective cuticle on them.

Any new growth after the first application should be treated promptly - and further treatments later in the season - or early in the next season may well be required.

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Weed number 3: Bindweed

March 24th, 2007 by Karsten

BindweedThe third weed in our countdown is bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), is a herbaceous perennial climber that will not only take over your plot, but also “strangle” other plants if left to it.

It has shallow, fleshy roots that spreads very quickly through the soil, and can go down up to 5 meters. Any bit of roots left while trying to eradicate the plant can grow into a new plant, and it can end up on your plot hidden in the roots of new plants, manure or soil.

Cultural control

Bindweed is extremely difficult to control organically - but with a couple of years persistent digging and hoeing it is possible to get rid of the plant. In saying that, though, it will readily spread from neighbouring plots if left untreated.

First step in the war on bindweed is to get as much of the rootsystem out as possible while digging you plot in autumn/winter. Next you must consistently hoe out any shoots that try to come out in summer, as this will significantly weaken the roots for the coming season.

Chemical control

Bindweed is effectively and easily trated with a systemic glyphosate based weedkiller, such as roundup. The problem lies in not killing other plants in the proces. To avoid any other plants being affected by the weedkiller, make sure there’s no chance of the spray drifting onto them - or apply the weedkiller onto the leaves of the bindweed - using a paintbrush.

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Weed number 4: Bramble

March 22nd, 2007 by Karsten

Bramble and stem with shootsThe second contender in our countdown of allotmenteer enemies is the omnipresent bramble (Rubus fruticosus).

This nuisance perennial weed spread in two ways - through its root network or by layering new shoots from its long stems - and doesn’t represent much of a problem if you have got one or two of them on your plot.

If, however, you have inherited an overgrown plot with brambles on it - you’re in for a bit of a fight, as they can soon take over un-controlled areas.

Not all allotmenteers wager war on the bramble though - some even grow them near the perimeter of their plots - mainly due to its excellent anti-intruder qualities. Also its berries are excellent for making jam and attracting wildlife.

Cultural control

The bramble isn’t too hard to remove by hand if you have got one or two of them. The real problem arise if they have been allowed to spread.

Start out by cutting all stems back to the roots - and dispose of them - preferably by burning them. Then - using a fork - try to lift the entire rootball. Do not use a spade for this, as the bramble will re-shoot from any roots cut through by the blade. Again - get rid of the roots - either by burning or throwing them on a skip.

Chemical control

When going down the chemical route - you still have to cut back all stems - and dispose of them. This is to prevent the bramble to continue layering itself while the chemicals do their work - and to limit your use of the chemicals to a small area.

Once cut back - treat new growth as and when it emerges. While a glyphosate based weedkiller like roundup will do the job (usually requires more than one-two treatments), other weedkillers (brushwood type) are more efficient. The advantages with using the glyphosate based weedkillers is that they are readily available and that they don’t leave residues in the soil. The brushwood weedkillers are harder to get hold of - and will linger in the soil for around 6-8 weeks.

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Weed number 5: Japanese Knotweed

March 21st, 2007 by Karsten

Japanese KnotweedJapanese knotweed (Polygonum Cuspidatum) is to gardeners what MRSA is to hospitals - a super-weed!

It was introduced to the UK in Victorian times, used as a “stabiliser” of the banks around newly established lakes (due to its massive roots), but lacking the control provided by its native “natural enemies” soon spread across the country, mainly along railway embankments and onto abandoned/derelict pieces of land.

Japanese knotweed is very rare on allotment sites - though I’ve seen some grow right “next door” to ours - but if you come across it on your site you should get in touch with your local council ASAP. This is due to the nature of the plant, which will spread through its root network as well as through bits of plant material distributed to other areas.

Under the wildlife and countryside act 1981 it’s an offence to grow japanese knotweed in the wild, and disposal of any parts of the plant and/or any of its root system must be done to a licenced landfill site (Environmental Protection Act 1990), as it is classed as “controlled waste”.

Cultural control

Treating Japanese knotweed organically is a “mission impossible” for a number of reasons. The rhizomes of the root system can penetrate to a depth of 6 feet underground - and the plant will re-shoot from even the smallest rhizome left behind. Also, there’s the waste problem to take into account.

Chemical control

Glophosate based weedkillers seems to be the best weapon against Japanese knotweed. Ideally an application should be made in early autumn before the plant dies back for winter. This can, however, be a difficult task because the plant can grow to 2.1m (7 feet) or more over a season, and growth is quite thick as well, so access can be difficult.

Another method is to let the plant grow to a height of about 0.90m (3 feet) in spring, and then apply the weedkiller! A second and third application in a season, when new shoots have reached a height of 3 feet, is not uncommon.

Using this method should kill the plant off in 3-4 years. This period can be cut in half though, if a specialist contractor with access to stronger formulated weedkiller treats the plants.

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March 20th, 2007 by Karsten

We all love to hate them! The weeds that never ceases to try taking over out plots, come rain, hail or shine!

Particularly the perannual nasties that keeps coming back year after year, and spread through underground rhizomes. Especially for the strictly organic plotholders these are a pain in the backside.

This week I’m going to do a series of articles about these weeds - in fact I’ll do a countdown on the top 5 nasty perannuals - and possibly continue later on with more information on other types of weed - and how to treat them.

I will try to keep a balance between chemical and organic warfare - bearing in mind that at least one of the weeds (though not very common on allotment sites) is nearly impossible to combat either way.

If you have tips and tricks that I’m missing out on - please feel free to register and leave your comments on the site - and I’ll make sure that other visitors to get to share your insights.

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