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There are master gardeners — and then there’s me. Master gardeners are dedicated, well-prepared sons and daughters of the soil, who have been certified by state Extension programs. They are a wealth of information on successfully growing plants, shrubs, flowers, fruits and vegetables. Alas, although I’m the descendent of generations of farmers and have lived on a farm all my life, I fear the horticultural gene might’ve skipped over me.

As this spring’s gardening season continues, I’m forced to admit that I’m a poor role model in this regard. Rather, I’m a good resource for gardening “don’ts.” Don’t do as I say in this department — and surely don’t do as I do, either. It will not be the recipe for success.

If weeds were a cash crop, I would surely be wealthy. I manage to grow a lush crop of them every year without even trying. Unfortunately, all too often they end up choking out the things I want to thrive.

Thus far this year, the weeds have taken their toll on our new asparagus bed, the proposed planting area for some tomatoes and peppers, and the flower beds holding bee balm, lilies of the valley and tiger lilies. In fact, the only useful things growing relatively weed-free in our garden at the moment are a late crop of sugar peas and a row of spring onions. Otherwise, our weeds have reached new heights this spring.

Sometimes when the growing gets tough, what’s required is lowering your standards and resolving to do better in the future. That’s the approach I’ve been taking, and I think it’s working. Instead of looking at weeds as my enemy, I’ve started regarding them more as temporary “frenemies,” by finding a silver lining to their existence.

Although most of our beef herd has been put out to pasture for the summer, four of the cattle remain in our barnyard. I’m sure they’re tired of their usual rations of hay and grain by now and I see them looking longingly at the green countryside surrounding them. That’s why I’m pleased to be able to share some of our most prolific weed varieties with them, giving them a pleasurable taste of spring’s bounty.

Don’t ask me what the names of these weeds are. I could pick them out of a lineup — and have done so at Penn State’s Ag Progress Days, where they generally have an array of common weeds on display. The weeds’ corresponding names are listed with them, but I seem to have a mental block when it comes to recalling the names of these pesky species. Instead, my main interest is in knowing if any of them are harmful to livestock. Anything on the safe list is eligible to become cattle snacks.

The War Continues

There’s one devilish little weed that has just cropped up in the past year. It’s a very delicate-looking vining plant that sticks annoyingly to other plants, garden gloves and skin as if it were Velcro. Grab onto this stuff and it’s like entering a tug of war with a challenging opponent. I’m not sure if this plentiful pest is poisonous or not, so I prefer to think of this anonymous weed as “bio-mass.”

According to the Google dictionary and Oxford Languages, biomass is defined as “organic matter used as a fuel, especially in a power station for generation of electricity.” I’m still looking for a power station in need, but if I find one, I sure have some great contributions to make to its cause. In the meanwhile, this sticky vine gets cast onto a compost pile, hopefully to decompose into obscurity.

If this growing season is like most others, Dennis will join me in gradually winning the war against the weeds, with victory finally being declared with help from the first frost. We will fight these battles with hoes, rototillers, string trimmers, mulch and weed killers, depending on the scenario. Past campaigns have resulted in a fragile truce with thistles, mulberry bushes and trees of heaven — meaning, we’ve won a few battles, but we also realize these wars aren’t really over and further skirmishes lie ahead.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to make embarrassed apologies as friends and neighbors stop to visit and find that our garden, flower beds and shrub areas are not nearly as pristine as they should be. We keep hoping to make more progress now that we’re both “semi-retired,” but it often seems our list of infirmities might be growing faster than our efforts to be weed-free.

In short, if you’re a gardener with a problem, don’t take it from me — find a master gardener through your local Cooperative Extension office. They’ll have just the advice you need to succeed.

Sue Bowman is a freelance writer in southeastern Pennsylvania.

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