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Gardening: attack of the weeds

Though taken weeks after the initial weeding process, this picture properly shows a similar intensity of weeds growing in a garden left unattended.

By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff

“Hey, remember when you ate dirt?”

Without context, I can understand why you might be confused. Am I quoting a parent talking to their now-older child about habits they had when they were younger? Is it a friend referring to someone taking a bad fall and wiping out?

In this case, it was my friend’s brother talking to their golden retriever about one of her favorite puppyhood activities. But if you’ve ever gardened, you would know that this phrase takes on a whole new meaning.

After getting our fence up successfully and weeding our plot at the Medfield Community Garden, my dad and I waited a few weeks to return. Daily temperature readings on the soil suggested that it was better to hold off on planting until there was consistent warmer weather. This, as we found out far too late, does not imply that one shouldn't visit their plot in the interim.

Just a couple weeks later, we returned, planning on spending an hour planting our seedlings. That, in itself, had been a battle of questions. Do we grow them at home and transfer them to the plot later? Do we buy them from a nursery? Or do we stick seeds in the ground and hope for the best? We decided to stick with seedlings for the time being, hoping that if they had made it out of the soil, they would have a better chance of surviving the season.

But nothing, except perhaps a hungry goat, could have survived in the plot that was waiting for us. What had just weeks ago been a perfectly even plot of soil was now an explosion of green weeds. There wasn’t a single patch of dirt large enough to plant a single tomato. I heard my dad sigh. “Well, we better get to work,” he said, eyeing our tomato seedlings, sitting in a plastic box in the corner of the plot. For a second, I actually pondered whether I knew anyone with a goat that I might borrow to help get rid of these weeds. I didn’t. And even if I did, I doubted they would be available on such short notice. I accepted that this was going to be a lot harder than I thought.  

Now, if you’re like me and have never gardened before, you might think ‘well, this can’t be too bad. It’s just some weeds.’ It’s actually the second hardest part of gardening. My dad had taken to using a shovel to dislodge some of the biggest patches. While the bigger patches seemed to be some of the hardest to pull out, I stand by my belief that the smallest of weeds are the worst, especially in great numbers. One by one I went, carefully plucking them from the ground. I did this for at least a half hour, covering my jeans in dirt as I crawled on the ground to yank them from their invasive spots. At some point, I threw off my gardening gloves to get a better grip. Eventually, I got up, grabbed the rake and began carefully scraping up the weeds. Soon, there was a pile of the unwanted vegetation in the corner of the plot next to the seedlings.

I’ve read "Macbeth" twice and have never felt a true connection with any of the characters until this point in my life. Gardening has somehow allowed me to empathize with Lady Macbeth, of all people. In Act 5, scene 1, Lady Macbeth, haunted by the murders she has facilitated, sleepwalks around the castle. She delivers her infamous line: “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!—One, two. Why, then, ’tis time to do.” The moment marks the start of her going mad.

By the time we finished weeding, I was covered in a layer of filth, with soil caught in my shoes, mud on my elbows, and an unholy amount of dirt caked under my fingernails. I was fully convinced I would never feel clean again. If someone told me I looked like a cadaver who'd just crawled out of the ground, I would have agreed with them.

After planting our first set of seedlings, my dad and I left the garden, making it clear that we would never leave it unattended for more than a couple of days. Neither of us ever wanted to do that again. The seedlings were in the ground, but at what cost? Now, I’m in no way saying that gardening turns people into Lady Macbeth. However, weeding changes a person. Rest assured that I was not hallucinating or psychotic by the end of the weeding affair, but the experience did make me realize we had to be more efficient with how we dealt with the invasive plants. 

That night, I FaceTimed with my friend, Lydia, on whom I have relied for gardening tips, and told her about my experience. "Don't you remember when I told you about the nightmares about weeds I had last year?" she said. Lydia battled the weeds and learned enough to know that weed prevention was a critical part of gardening. It's why this year, she has straw and cardboard laid between her plants in the garden. 

Weeks after, my dad and I are still battling weeds through a trial-and-error system. We have since heeded my friend’s advice and purchased a bale of straw to use for weed prevention. But the annoying plants are just as determined as we are, and each week, they seem to peek through the straw as if to remind us that they’re still here. My dad has since purchased a tool used to pull weeds out from the root by twirling them around like spaghetti on a fork. It seems to be the easiest way of managing them, though I don’t recommend it if, like us, you let it get so bad that you can’t differentiate between a plant and a weed.

While I do not spend my nights sleepwalking because of my garden concerns like Lady Macbeth worries about murder, this experience did change how I think about the garden. Though obvious, I've realized gardening isn't a sedentary thing; our plot is not something I can leave unattended. Just as Lady Macbeth works to make her husband king, I have to make sure that my vegetable garden grows. With weeds, bugs, droughts, and tomato plants that seem to grow like... well, weeds, it seems that the garden needs to be attended to more than I expected.

This is part of a series about a first-time gardening experience at the Medfield Community Garden. The first part of the series can be found here.

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