To Weed or Not To Weed

Farming Southern Spain styleWhen the summer growing season started, I was conscientious about pulling all weeds out of my brand-spanking-new garden beds. As summer wore on, and my work load grew in direct proportion to the outside temperatures, I weeded a little less and concentrated more on harvesting and building more raised beds.

I did take the time to notice that the corner of the far raised bed has a huge number of stink bugs. It also has a larger number of weeds because it’s close to the outside of the garden, but to be honest, it is mostly because it’s squash, and I didn’t feel like weeding under the prickly stems and leaves.

My tomatoes, which were right next to the stinkbuggy squash, had almost no stink bug damage. I patted myself on the back for choosing good varieties and moved on — or did until the local Texas Market Grower group began to toss this subject around in this week’s round of discussion.

The initial question was inspired by Michael Ableman’s book, Fields of Plenty. He actually proposes that we not weed, or at least not as thoroughly as I had been taught was necessary.

“Competition Control

    Every plant improves soil structure by spreading out its roots and tunneling
    through the dirt, and in a natural setting, plants interact with a number of
    beneficial microbes — particularly certain kinds of bacteria, fungi, nematodes,
    and protozoa — to get the nutrients that they need. In this symbiotic
    relationship, plants literally feed the life in the soil by excreting food for
    the bacteria and fungi through their roots. Thus, the presence of any plant is a
    boon for the overall quality of soil. And because each plant has a slightly
    different niche, having many different kinds of plants leads to imroved balance
    in soil ecology.”
    — Michael Ableman, Fields of Plenty

Many local plants bring nutrients up through their root system  from the subsoil and enrich the top soil in which we plant our crops. (Clover, for example, is a nitrogen fixing plant, so makes a great cover crop for fallow grazing fields.) The more variety in the plant population, the better variety of nutrients gets brought up to the surface soil. He goes on to say that when “weeds” or local plant variety grows to the point where they are overshadowing your crop or winning the competition for water and nutrients,  scythe or flatten them down to swing the advantage back to the crop. Thus your soil gets the benefit of the variety of plant life, and your crop gets the benefit of improved soil.

Back to my stinkbuggy squash. I had been picking the squash and using it, and hadn’t really thought about the fact that there wasn’t a huge amount of damage from the stink bugs. Mmmmm. Maybe it’s not the squash attracting those bugs, but the weeds. Maybe these stinking bugs are so happy on my weeds that they’re leaving my crops alone. (For the most part this growing season, they did.) Maybe not weeding is a good idea. It sounds good to me. I’ll pay a lot more attention to this notion after the Fall garden gets going.

Happy Gardening!

Julie

Squash Me!

squash and cucumbers
How many is too many?

Anyone who has ever grown squash knows you need a way to dispose of this stuff. I’ve heard that you can break a friendship under the weight of gifted zucchini, but my friends are stauncher than that. The fact that they are no longer taking my calls or answering the door when I stop by means nothing — for I know that come September they will be clamoring for the spoils of my early fall harvests. Who would turn down fresh basil, lettuce, swiss chard etc. (Although you’d think they’d take the squash to stay on my good side…)

Until then, I’ve been searching for a way to make squash disappear.

If friends and family stop taking this particular offering, do I really need to eat it myself? I know from my Weight Watcher days that veggies have zero points, but…the squash out of my garden this summer is so sweet that I’m pretty darn sure I can gain weight eating it. I needed more ways to dispose of squash without hurting relationships or myself.

My first thought, prompted by the sight of a rotten summer squash in my refrigerator’s bottom drawer, was to compost all the ones I couldn’t eat right away and move on to eating the other good stuff coming out of the garden. After all, the squirrels, raccoons, and possum would benefit from all this healthy goodness. But then I realized how much effort I would be putting into feeding the local pesky wildlife and put my thinking cap back on.

I called the Food Bank. That’s right. The local food bank will take produce! Eureka!

Squash mashes down to almost nothing in the food processor. You can pulverize it and use it to thicken soups and sauces. Works! Mmm. Pretty creamy too – and less bad for me by far than a cream sauce.

I considered putting it on the next-door neighbor’s porch and run like hell. Unfortunately, they have a gun and know how to use it.

Dried ZucchiniMy favorite by far is this next one. The newest thing in my kitchen is a dehydrator. ($13 from Good Will) A whispering fan sends warm air wafting upward through thinly sliced vegetables, drying them to thin crispy goodness. I sliced up one of my more robust varieties, sprinkled a little sea salt over the pieces, spread them out on the trays and left them whirring away overnight.

Voila! Zucchini Chips. They are so tasty I may have to market them. Oh wait, perhaps I should Google it first to see if it’s Been Done. Oh well, so I’m not the first to think Zucchini would dry well. It’s still a great idea.

If you’ve got any good squash tips you want to share – feel free!

Happy gardening,

Julie