Friday, October 17, 2014

Soil and My Weed Nemesis

In a prior post, I mentioned how I had yet to move a large chunk of soil off my driveway.  After I filled my new beds earlier in the summer, the leftover triple mix basically sat undisturbed under a tarp.
I had been meaning to move it to the top of the hill all summer (which is where I am planning on building 4 new beds for next year) but just never got around to it.  I barely gave that blue tarp in the driveway a second thought, although it did seem to be looking a bit “lumpy”.  Well, a couple of weeks ago I took off the tarp and this is what it looked like:
Where's the Soil?
Not only did this soil have an extremely high clay content (which wasn't obvious until it dried out and large chunks of it were hard as rock) but it was also LOADED with weed seeds – as is now evident.  There did seem to be a lot of weeds in the new beds, but I didn’t think too much of it as I never let them get that big before pulling them.
The triple mix that I got a few years ago for the original four beds had been lovely with hardly a weed to be seen - and yes, I did let it sit on my driveway for that long as well. What can I say, when it comes to moving soil, we tend to procrastinate :)  At the time, one of my neighbors purchased several yards and we split the soil & the cost.  Well, I thought I was being smart & purchased the mix this year from a different supplier because it was less expensive.  After all, soil is soil, right?  Well, I learned my lesson, and then some.

After getting rid of all those weeds, the soil looked much more respectable:
All Cleaned Up
This photo was taken about two weeks ago.  Two thirds of the soil has now been moved and I'm hoping to finish the final third this weekend.  And just to be clear, all the rocks in the picture were not from the soil - they were being used to hold down the tarp.  This soil was bad, but not THAT bad ;)

Speaking of weeds, back in a mid-September post, I showed a picture of my empty onion beds.  The only thing left in these beds were the perennial bunching onions and my weed nemesis – bindweed.  I said that I would explain why I had let the weeds grow in a later post - so here we are.
Bindweed in Onion Bed
If you have never encountered bindweed in your garden, consider yourself lucky.  It is a vigorous grower that entwines itself around any plant or structure that gets in its way.  The roots are not only extremely long, often going down as much as 30 feet, but they are also very fragile, breaking off at the slightest tug.  And every little section of root that is severed results in a whole new plant.  Bindweed reproduces by both runners and seeds.  And of course the seeds can lay dormant for some ridiculous amount of time – in the neighborhood of 20 years or more.

Pulling it up doesn’t get rid of it unless you have a whole lot of time on your hands because you will probably have to pull the same plant up dozens of times over the course of several years before it gets week enough to call it quits.  They regrow super fast – when I pull them up, they usually reappear after only a few days.  You can also do shallow cultivation every 2 weeks but then it will take up to 7 years (that’s right 7 years!!) for it to be eradicated.  The Principal Undergardener wrote a great post that pretty much sums up my frustration with this weed.
Bindweed creeping up side of bed
Since I built my beds on top of grass that has bindweed in it, it doesn’t take long for it to find its way to the top of the raised beds.  And no amount of cardboard or newspaper mulch can stop it either.  So, unfortunately, bindweed is the one and only time that I break down and use a chemical alternative.

I am trying an iron based herbicide that is absorbed into the leaves & roots and causes the cells to die due to iron oxidation.  It's called Scott’s EcoSense Weed-B-Gone.  This particular brand - Weed-B-Gone – actually has a powerful herbicide if purchased in the United States.  But on our side of the border, the same company (and same brand name) is only permitted to use an iron formulation to kill weeds (glyphosate & 2,4-D based herbicides like Roundup and Killex are banned in Ontario).

Iron based herbicides do work, although they are not as effective as traditional herbicides.  But they are, apparently, a lot safer for us & for the environment.  I still take these claims with a grain of salt – wasn’t Roundup supposed to be safe too?  But when it comes to bindweed, I’m at my wits end.

So to make a long story short, that is why there was a sea of green in the empty onion bed.  I was pulling the bindweed all summer, while the onions were growing.  But after they came out, I let the bindweed grow so that I could spray the leaves, which I did a couple of weeks ago.  Luckily, the fall is supposed to be the best time to treat this weed, although I have seen conflicting statements on this as well.
Close-up of Tangle of Bindweed in Onion Bed
This was after only a couple of weeks without pulling
Even though this iron based herbicide is supposed to be “safe”, I will not plant anything in this bed until next spring, just as an added precaution.

The good news is that once bindweed is eliminated from each bed, all I will have to do is monitor the mulched paths, specifically around the perimeter where the mulch meets the grass.  I really don’t care about bindweed in my grass – mowing keeps it more or less under control - so long as it doesn’t encroach on my beds.
Till next time…

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault


  1. I guess I'm fortunate; I have yet to find bindweed on my property. Well, good luck with the weedkiller. You are braver than I am; I'd be afraid to put any kind of weedkiller in my planting beds. And yes, I'm the guy who sprays Roundup to kill invasives, but far away from any desirable plantings. Let us know how it turns out.

    1. The active ingredient in iron based herbicides is HEDTA. This is what a report from the U.S. Environmental Agency had to say about HEDTA ( - "Laboratory studies indicate that the active ingredient is not toxic following oral, inhalation or dermal exposure. Iron HEDTA and other chelates like ferric EDTA have been extensively used as liquid fertilizers in soil and foliar applications for many years to address micronutrient deficiencies in plants. There are no reports of adverse effects following human exposure to Iron HEDTA. Moreover, the pesticidal usage of this biochemical will not have any harmful environmental effects. Studies indicate that Iron HEDTA will not cause adverse effects to mammals, birds, fish and aquatic invertebrates, other non-target insects, or plants."

      From everything I have read, the risk is minimal to none, even an hour of application. But, like you, I'm wary of any "icides", either herb or pest, in the beds, regardless of how non-toxic they are, which is why I am waiting a good 6-8 months to plant up these beds again.

  2. I'm glad I don't have bindweed. I remember it from my mom's garden when I was a kid.

    1. You are indeed lucky. I had never even heard of it before we moved to this house and I actually thought it was pretty when it bloomed the first year we were here....makes me just shake my head in disbelief when I think back on it.

  3. Oh, my! Don't think I have that and I am glad. We do have creeping charlie though. Ugh. I hate using chemicals too. Nancy

    1. If you had bindweed, you would definitely know it! I've heard of creeping Charlie, but don't think I've ever encountered it....hope it doesn't drive you as crazy as bindweed does me!

  4. Oh oh ... I also thought the flowers were pretty. I do have bindweed here although it doesn't seem so bad. I'll keep an eye on it now that I know how bad it can get. The one weed I have that is making me crazy is Bladder Campion (a.k.a. cowbell). It is everywhere in my yard.

    1. It's so funny how one weed can drive one person bonkers while that same weed is barely noticed by another. I'm pretty sure we have Bladder Campion too - I had to look it up as I didn't recognize the name, but do recognize the flower - but it is so minimal that I barely notice it....which sounds like your experience with bindweed. So long as you don't let it spread, you should be ok - and now that I know about Bladder Campions invasive tendency, I will definitely pull it next time I see it.

  5. Hmm, very interesting to hear that glyphosate is banned in Ontario. I don't use 'icides' but know other people use glyphosate as it's supposedly safe (I'm pretty sure that a recent study found it in humans, by accumulating from food eaten). that iron product sounds intersting if things ever get really bad. I do have bindweed on my allotment but just pull it out to keep on top of it. And trying not to move soil around the plot to avoid spreading it further. My worst weed is couch grass, that causes me nightmares, always coming in from the edge of my beds.

    1. I've never encountered (or even heard of) couch grass, thankfully - it sounds pretty horrid. I guess each gardener is burdened with their very own nemesis to deal with, be it weed or bug!


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