As far as I know, Leonard Cohen wasn’t talking about those special plants in the garden that you can’t get rid of. I don’t mean weeds. Most weeds are nothing by comparison. I’m talking about the ones take over, that can’t be constrained and where the smallest piece of root produces another plant. They range from mint to horseradish to Jerusalem artichoke. There are others but these are the ones that we’ve had to deal with.
The first, mint, was pretty easy. The conventional wisdom is to cut the bottom out of a pot and sink the pot with the mint in it into the ground. And snip off any bits that touch down outside the pot. Sounds easy, right. This peppermint had been in the ground in the pot for a couple of years and it was on its way to the compost heap to be replaced by a true peppermint. It ended up there faster than expected when I noticed mint leaves growing outside the pot.
Horseradish is a bit tougher to deal with. We planted it the same way that we planted the mint but in a much larger and deeper pot. That didn’t slow it down at all. So we dug it up carefully and sifted the soil for bits of broken root. Then we re-potted it in a large fibreglass pot and did not cut out the bottom although we did drill a couple of drainage holes. And then for that summer we pulled up shoots here and there throughout the beets and carrots as bits of roots that we had missed produced new plants. We persisted and soon, without sunlight, the roots died. We’ve not seen any new plants this year at all. When we harvest the horseradish, we’ll dig up the pot and empty the plant and soil out onto a tarp. After taking what we need, we’ll re-pot the smaller plant in fresh soil and sink the pot again. So far so good but the summer still has quite a while to go yet.
And then there is Jerusalem artichoke. This one is impressive. We had decided to move it out of the raised bed where we grew it for the first time last year. It was huge and difficult to get past. We were still discussing where it should go when we saw that it had jumped the confines of the raised bed and was coming up in the grass all around the bed. So we quickly dug it all out and sifted all of the soil in the bed down to a depth of about 18″. And we dug out under the walls of the raised bed. And we dug up the bits that were in the grass. That worked for the raised bed because nothing has come up. But we were too late because it had escaped and was working on taking over the garden, the property, Manhattan, Berlin…………
In the grass, digging it up doesn’t work because you always seem to leave a bit of root. So we’re going to Plan R aka Roundup. I don’t believe in using chemicals because there are plenty of good natural alternatives for just about all the problems that you can encounter in the garden. And there is one for this as well: dig, dig, dig and sift, sift, sift. This raises visions of Bill Murray’s escalating battle against the gopher in the movie, Caddyshack. I can see the grass with all these gopher holes where I’ve been digging in search of elusive bits of root. Notwithstanding, I think there’s a time and place for chemicals. Roundup is a systemic poison which means that it is taken into the plant’s system thus killing it. Since we only have individual plants, I plan to paint a number of leaves of each with a paint brush and keep doing that every time that I see another plant pop up.
Jerusalem artichoke isn’t really high on our list of root cellar vegetables but it keeps really well and tastes great baked in its skin with a bit of olive oil and herbs. When it’s ready, bite a bit of the end off and squeeze out the pulp. It has the texture of roasted garlic and the flavour is a wonderfully subtle nutty taste. It’s quite rich tasting so it’s more of a treat rather than a staple.
To constrain the Jerusalem artichoke, we plan to use the horseradish approach. We’ll use the two Rubbermaid containers from the apple rootstock and plant the tubers in them. The roots will be completely contained and the holes in the bottom will provide drainage if needed. In the fall, as with the horseradish we’ll lift the containers, empty the soil and tubers, select the tubers we want, change the soil and re-pot the tubers to overwinter in the ground. If we decide we want more chokes, then we’ll use more Rubbermaid containers.
Although gardens tend to Nature, I hope that we’ve struck a workable balance here.