So far in the Stoep Harvest series we have covered how to plan your organic vegetable garden, increase your soil health, plant your crops and make compost. Last month we looked at the benefits of mulching. Today I am writing about weeding and pruning in the organic garden.
Your garden should now be in full swing, with food growing all over the place. In our (large) vegetable garden, we are getting 2 or 3 baskets of harvest every week! It is such a delight to pick our entire meal from the garden. We have everything from strawberries to sunflowers!
In addition to our beautiful food crops, there are plenty of weeds! As you will know, these also grow abundantly in the hot weather and compete with our vegetables for space, light, water and nutrients.
I like to see a weed simply as “any plant growing where you do not want it to grow”. This definition stops us from seeing certain plants as ‘bad’ or as ‘the enemy’. They just need to be relocated! Weeds may include carrots in your lawn or roses in your hanging basket of strawberries!
Weeds can actually serve a great purpose in the organic garden. It is good to wait for any unknown plants to grow and reveal their identity. I have enjoyed many harvests from plants that I have not planted. If I was a strict weed remover, then I would have missed all of this! You have probably experienced tomatoes growing all over the place. In our garden, we’ve found comfrey, rocket, strawberries, gooseberries, potatoes, lettuce, just coming up without our planning! These plants can either be kept where you’ve found them, or carefully moved to another part of the garden.
If you do not want the plant to keep growing, then it can still serve a purpose. These plants may be ‘harvested’. I pull them out of the soil and then either lay them flat on the vegetable bed to mix with the mulch, or I move them to the compost pile. This way, no nutrients are lost – everything is recycled back into the garden.
It is critically important to ‘harvest’ weeds before they flower and produce seeds. If you let weeds stay in the ground too long, their seed will reproduce a crop seven-fold. Take out those weeds before they flower and save yourself seven years of further weeding!
Moving on to pruning, at this time of year the pruning work is to train and shape your vegetable plants. Here are three ways to prune your vegetables throughout the summer:
- Training climbing plants – encourage your tomatoes and other vertical growers to keep to their trellis by cutting off any branches that are growing away from the trellis.
- Removing old or dead leaves and fruit – this makes sure the plant’s energy goes to new growth, rather than being wasted on a dying part of the plant. Remove old flower heads (dead-heading) such as marigolds, cut off wilting leaves from your leafy plants like lettuce and spinach, and pick off any fruit that has gone bad (strawberries, tomatoes, peppers etc).
- Delaying flowering – You can extend the life of a plant such as lettuce, by cutting off the central stalk that produces the flowers and seed. This works with most leafy vegetables.
Pruning thus guides your plants into greater productivity and greater health. Together with weed harvesting, this means more food for you and a stronger and healthier garden.
- Western and Southern Cape: beans, beetroot, cabbage, carrot, eggplant, lettuce, peas, peppers, potatoes, radish, squash, sweetcorn, and tomato.
- Inland: beans, beetroot, cabbage, carrot, leeks, lettuce, potatoes, sweetcorn, and swiss chard.
- Coastal KZN: cabbage, radish, and sweetcorn.
Enjoy harvesting weeds from your garden! Next month we will look at the huge topic of organic pest control.
By Sam Adams
Sam runs Living Green, an organic food gardening company in Cape Town.