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In the Weeds!


 JW: If there's one thing that every gardener dreads--it's weeds-- and there are so many of them too, and so many possibilities for weeds! What to do? Well, let's get some expert advice from Fred Monroe, he is from Monroe Family Organics in Alma. Thanks so much for joining me today.

FM: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Fred Monroe from Monroe Family Organics in Alma, Michigan.
Judy Wagley
Fred Monroe from Monroe Family Organics in Alma, Michigan.

JW: And you have a large farm--how many acres?

FM: We grow on about 11 acres.

JW: So you have the possibility for a lot of weeds.

FM: Yes, yes. And I have to admit there have been some years when it has looked very weedy. We are certified organic, so we don't use chemicals and we've had some messes.

JW: What are some things that the home gardener can do to keep the weeds at bay?

FM: Yeah, there's a few ways. One is to use a mulch, and that can be like straw, or that could be a black plastic. We use some of that in the fields and that you just kind of lay the black plastic out and then you just punch a hole wherever you want the plants. And so that kind of covers the rest of that area and prevents those weeds from coming up.

JW: Would this be OK for any kind of plant--vegetables, flowers?

FM: It's a decent for most. The only thing that you will have to watch is if it's kind of a wider spreading plants and your plastic is a little on the loose side. The winds could kind of rub against the plant a little bit--that plastic kind of moving up and down against the plant. So as long as that's not the case then you'll be OK for the most part.

JW: So mulch, step one.

FM: Yeah, mulch is a good way to go. The other is you know, kind of look where you're watering. If you can try to focus your watering just around the plants instead of a broad base, you know, sometimes you can't. You can't do something else. Sometimes you have to use a overhead sprinkler that covers a whole area. But if you can avoid that and you can just put water right where the plant is, that's better. We use a drip line.

JW: So don't water your weeds-- or your possible weeds.

FM: Exactly. If you're watering open ground, you're obviously watering weeds.

JW: Is there any way to avoid weeds?

FM: You know, without synthetic chemistry, you're going to have some weeds. And so we always have some hand pulling at the farm. Still, we have a lot of mechanical stuff the home gardener wouldn't to help us out with that at our scale, but even with that equipment, we still end up, you know, pulling weeds by hand or hoeing some.

JW: What else?

FM: Well, if you have open pathways where there's bare soil exposed and like, let's say that you have a rain that dries back out, what's happening underneath the ground is the weed seeds are germinating-- even if you don't see them. And so if you wanted to, you can take a tiller and lightly till the ground, just to work under those seeds. Or if you have a push cultivator, you can do the same thing. That's the way to get those weeds before they're very big and hard to yank out or hard to kill. The smaller you can get those weeds out, the better it is.

JW: Any other ways to avoid chemicals while taking care of the weeds?

FM: Yeah. So if you're able to keep the weeds from seeding out. That will really help you in subsequent years because the difference between like having a square foot that has like 15 weeds coming up versus like 1500--that makes a big difference. And so if you can get away from that, that's that is a lot better. If you're starting like a new garden and you have a lot of perennial weeds, one thing that you can do is called “tarping,” and that's where you put down like a literal tarp that is dark enough to shade out all the light. If you leave that on the ground for you know, some weeks, that will kill everything underneath and that can get you around your perennial weed issues because like in an existing garden where you already have open soil, it's usually going to be annual weeds, so you have to fight with those perennial weeds. If that ever gets away from you. Tarping is probably the best way to approach that.

JW: Is there ever a time to resort to chemicals?

FM: Yeah. I mean, if you know, we can't obviously on our farm. So that's just a no go completely. But you know it just depends on the person--if they feel they have to. You do have to be careful when you use herbicides because they can kill the weeds, but they also kill your garden plants too. So you have to be really careful.

JW: Those are some great solutions, thank you. And you know, there are folks who like to get out and pull weeds. They say it's very meditative and very nice. So maybe we can find all of them and invite them over?

FM: Yes, absolutely! They're in high demand!

JW: Fred Monroe from Monroe Family Organics in Alma, where you grow beautiful produce to sell at your CSA and to shops and restaurants. Thanks so much for joining me today for “From the Ground Up!”

FM: Thanks, Judy.


Judy Wagley is WCMU’s midday host, and is the producer of The Children’s Bookshelf from From the Ground Up! She guides listeners through their weekdays from 9am to 3pm.