Stirring The Soil

Gardening offers many pleasures, but weeding isn’t one of them. Most successful gardeners develop their own special tricks to make the job easier, and if you coax them a bit, they’ll share their secrets with you. The best weeding trick I’ve ever learned, however, didn’t come from a friend or a book.


One spring day, Ted seeded an enormous patch of carrots, with 85 beautifully even rows. A few days later, while we were eating lunch, Ted and I noticed that our pigs seemed a bit noisier than usual. Gradually, a horrible realization sank in: the pigs were loose. Sure enough, when we looked out, we saw the whole bunch of them, rolling around in the soft, moist soil of the carrot patch.


I was just sick. Ted put on his bravest face and said, “Oh, Lois, don’t worry. I’ll re-seed it tomorrow.” Well, of course, the next morning, rain set in and didn’t let up for days. Ted never did get back to re-seeding.


A week later, I walked out to the garden. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were rows of seedlings, as neat and straight as could be. And any place that the pigs had rolled, there were no weeds, while the places they had missed were full of tiny emerging weed seedlings.


I was ready to let the pigs out again!
 
When I thought about it, it made sense. While those pigs had been having their fun, they were exposing thousands of tiny weeds to the elements. Meanwhile, a half inch below the surface, the carrot seeds remained safe and sound.


It’s called “stirring the soil,” and you can use the same approach even if you don’t have pigs. When you plant your garden, say in early April, go out with a rake about two weeks later. Turn the prongs up to the sky and go over the entire area you planted. Just move the surface soil around. You won’t do any harm to your garden, but you’ll kill so much chickweed, you won’t believe it.


When you seed again a couple of weeks later, you should wait only seven or eight days before raking, because the soil has begun to warm up and the seeds will germinate more quickly. By late May, wait only four days. With just a few minutes’ work, you can save yourself literally hours of weeding.


Ted took this trick a step further. He always harrowed the potato field just before the plant emerged, to kill the competing weeds. He’d hitch spring-tooth harrows to the Massey Ferguson and drive along at about ten kilometres an hour, disturbing the soil as much as possible without damaging the crops. It was a great time-saver in the long run.


It goes to show you, if you pay attention, you never know what you might learn, even from pigs.


About fifteen years after the “pig incident”, I gave this tip to a group of farm women. I had always thought it a remarkable pearl of wisdom. But that afternoon, an elderly woman came up to me and said, “Lois, my grandmother did that, my mother did that, and I’ve done that, and it works like a damn.”


-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer