Last year I had the brilliant idea of using scrap carpeting between garden rows to control weeds.
In this year’s garden I have further extended and perfected this technique. As the gardening year winds down and time nears to take up the carpeting for the winter, this, I feel, is the moment to share my method with the world.
By coincidence I have just finished reading David McCullough’s wonderful biography of the Wright Brothers. While I in all modesty cannot compare my little innovation with the invention of the airplane, it strikes me that there are some parallels: their untutored, homegrown genius; their dogged persistence; the abuse and skepticism with which their claim was initially met; their refusal to accept government funding.
Not that the government ever offered me funding, but if it had, rest assured I would have turned it down.
When humanity almost universally believed that “man will never fly,” Wilbur and Orville listened to their own inner voices, as well as to other aviation pioneers who counseled, “watch the birds.”
I listened to my own inner voice, which whispered, “watch the weeds.” How could I not, when they were taller than me?
My innovation of carpet mulch is built on the backs of a mulch pioneer from the ’40s, Ruth Stout, as well as that of my neighbor farmer, Swartzy, who not only introduced me to plastic mulching three years ago, but annually lends me his tractor attachment to lay it. I lay about 1,500 feet of plastic mulch for the grandsons’ fall pumpkin business. I also put a few rows of plastic mulch in our vegetable garden. The space of earth between the plastic will grow up in weeds unless it is kept cultivated, mulched or mowed (or sprayed with herbicide, which I don’t want to do with vegetables.)
My innovation is using junk carpet as a mulch to keep down the weeds. The carpet comes free from the nearby county recycling center. It is easily cut to three-foot widths with a utility knife to repurpose it for a new career in agriculture. That, friends, is recycling.
Although almost any kind of carpet will work to suppress weeds, I use only “indoor-outdoor carpet.” (That’s a joke: it used to be indoors, now it’s outdoors, bada-boom.)
I had some failures. In my early experiments I tried using vinyl flooring and rubber roofing, but my wife Honey complained of slippery footing,
Once I laid strips of an old Harvest Gold-colored carpet from the 1960s. Unlike modern carpet, which has a synthetic backing, it was woven on jute, which rotted away and left a tangled mess. Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good epitaph for the ’60s: the jute rotted away and left a tangled mess. (Do you even remember the ’60s or know what “jute” is? I doubt it.)
Picking bush beans is too hard on Honey’s back, so we always plant pole beans. After the seedlings sprout I erect a six-foot fence of hog wire for the bean vines to climb on. Much easier to pick standing up, and you can reach through the hog wire to get the ones your lazy husband missed on the other side. Green bean picking goes on for weeks and weeks. Once the family is exhausted, we invite friends to come pick. Last week Mrs. Sonny Jr. and her sister from the Green Valley Dairy, a short distance up Gas Valley Road, came over to pick beans. They were amazed by the wall of green beans and the cushy carpeting underfoot.
“My wife will pick beans only if she doesn’t have to bend over and can stand on carpet,” I explained.
They got buckets of beans and returned the favor by giving us several pints of Green Valley’s delicious homemade ice cream. It was a good trade.
I was going to write about another gardening innovation of mine – trellising watermelons – but sadly I am out of space for today and that experiment didn’t turn out too good anyway. (Gravity damage, stretch marks on watermelons . . . it wasn’t pretty.)
(Fred Miller’s third book, “A Dead Carp on Shadyside Ave.” is $10, available locally at Calcutta Giant Eagle, Pottery City Antique Mall, Museum of Ceramics, Frank’s Pastries, Connie’s Corner Restaurant, and Davis Bros. pharmacies.)
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