Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Winter weekend warrior

This past weekend, I did my first real yard work of 2008. We had a few hours of hazy winter sun on Saturday and Sunday, and I decided to tackle a hillside infested with Himalayan blackberry vines. I had avoided this project all last year, because the hillside was an overgrown mess, and I knew I'd be shredded by thorns and probably fall and/or turn an ankle, because with all the growth, I couldn't see where the slippery spots were. When I finally started working on it, I made an important discovery. Tasks like this are much easier to do in winter. Without all the overgrowth, I could see where to step. I could also clearly see the base of each blackberry vine, so I knew where to direct my clippers. And, a major bonus, I didn't break out in hives from touching grass pollen (oh, the joys of being a gardener with allergies). The work was still hard, but it wasn't unpleasant. And, I was able to clear in a couple of hours what would have taken a half day or more during the growing season.

I did some other weeding as well and realized that weeding is also easier in the winter, when the ground is soft and not overgrown. It can be difficult in clay soil, because a huge ball o' clay may come up with each weed. If you have loam or well-amended clay, though, you may be able to launch an effective attack against perennial weeds, catching them off-guard while they are resting up for the spring onslaught.

Obligatory health and safety warning
If your idea of exercise for the last couple of months is walking to the refrigerator to fix a plate of leftover holiday food, take it slow out there. If you go from sedentary to full-throttle in one weekend, you may spend the following week becoming good friends with an icepack and a bottle of Advil. In my experience, the best way to avoid muscle strains from yard work is to do moderate weight training year-round. You don't have to be Mr. (or Ms.) Universe, but about 20 minutes of weight lifting a couple times per week will keep your muscles in good working shape for your next war on weeds.

Now get out there and fight! (er, I mean weed...)


Meg said...

Yes! I do blackberries in the winter for the same reason (though we don't have as much land to deal with as you guys, we do have a LOT of blackberries in our backyard). I was out two weekends ago taking a whack at them, and then spent the next day with the hot pad out for my low back, so I LITERALLY feel your pain on this one! Do you do anything besides just cut them back? I have a friend who manages the terrain at a golf course and who, last year, recommended we cut them down to the ground, drill a hole in the remaining stem, and drip two drops of gasoline into the hole. But, somehow, that feels both dangerous (me and flammables liquids? Not a good combo) and also a bit dramatic. At the same time, just hacking them back every year means hacking them back EVERY YEAR. So, any advice would be appreciated!

Janet said...

Up to now, I've just hacked them back, but this year I'm going to violate the Geneva Conventions for Organic Gardening and begin chemical warfare. As soon as they start growing this spring, I'm going to spray them with brush killer--just a small amount, since they won't have grown into a huge thicket. I'll let everyone know how that goes.