As I pulled up the overgrown weeds from the vegetable garden last week, I watched while thousands of seeds from the spent flowers flew in all directions and landed on top of the soil.
At one point I tried to scoop up as many as I could, but I knew it was a lost cause. I realized with dismay, I would be fighting the evil Hairy Galinsoga for as long as I will likely be gardening. That translates to forever.
My only satisfaction was in knowing the final remains of this horrible plant would be cooking on my compost pile. Basically, if I can't beat it, I will eat it. Next year the broken down remains of this weed will be used to feed my soil in the spring.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking I shouldn't be putting those plants on my compost pile because that will only spread even more seeds next year. Maybe. But if my compost pile heats up properly with the correct layering of dry and wet materials, an occasional turning and just enough moisture, I just might be able to render those seeds non-viable.
It's a risk I'm willing to take to get lots of rich compost. The benefits will well outweigh the potential weeds. I'm going to be fighting the weeds anyway. A few more won't make much difference.
Hairy Galinsoga is a common problem with vegetable gardeners, although I haven't talked to many who have quite our problem. Every gardener seems to have a problem weed. I've heard from some who fight pigweed and others who complain about purslane.
In our fight with Hairy Galinsoga, we can host a marathon weeding session, radically eliminating every detectable plant, and within three days a carpet of green seedlings will cover the entire garden. When very young, we cut them off just under the soil with our favorite tool, a long-handled winged weeder.
I love this tool. They come with short handles too, but those are more for people who get down on their knees in densely planted flower gardens. Our long handled weeder is perfect for weeding an entire row in a few minutes and an entire garden in less than an hour. In addition to having a signature weed, each gardener usually also has a favorite weeding tool.
Every day, at least once, we go out to the garden and use the winged weeder. About three or four times a week, we hand-pull the weeds that insist on growing alongside our precious plants. We get them small so they don't disturb the plants' tender roots and sometimes we cut them rather then pull them out to avoid pulling the plant out too. Fighting weeds in the garden is a constant battle, but if done correctly, it can be therapeutic and not as time consuming as you might think.
In August of 2004, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs named Hairy Galinsoga the ''problem weed of the month.'' You wouldn't think this plant could be such a problem because it only spreads by seeds and it is an annual. It doesn't spread underground like quackgrass. It doesn't come back year after year and it has shallow roots that don't require the use of a spade or other tool to pry it out of the ground.
But turning the soil to make furrows for planting turns up hundreds of new seeds. Seeds that were hiding underground, waiting for the chance to germinate. The problem with this weed is the enormous numbers of seeds each flower produces and the persistence of each and every seed to germinate.
I don't know how this plant found my garden. My neighbors don't seem to have this problem. It may have come in on a wayward plant a very long time ago. We might have brought seeds to our yard on the bottom of our shoes or clinging to our pantlegs.
This year was exceptionally difficult. At the end of summer, just as the Hairy Galinsoga was starting to gain ground, I had surgery on my hand, which prevented me from getting into the garden for regular control.
I felt more than a bit smug last week when I walked to the garden after a few nights of killing frost to see the remaining plants had turned brown and withered. But they, too, will be pulled out and tossed onto the compost heap, hopefully before the garden is buried under snow.