Friends Don’t Let Friends Garden Like This.

Sunni's picture

Hell, civilized individuals wouldn’t let their enemies garden like this!

I had forgotten why I never did any planting in the beds around this house ... until I attempted it yesterday. Yes, I was finally going to set out the lily of the valley and gladiolus that I bought a year ago in Wyoming. (They surprisingly didn’t look too bad, considering their neglect.) I was using my trusty hoe to cut through the grass that has popped up in the (now quite old) bark mulch covering the beds, when it caught and I heard that dreaded, familiar Riiip!—of plastic.

Arrrrgh! Someone had laid a covering of black plastic, and then put bark over it. (Since we rent this house, I don’t know whether to blame the current owners, a previous tenant, or the original builder of the house—although I doubt the mess is that old.) I remember when this was a highly recommended practice: one was supposed to cut holes in the thick black plastic for the desirable plants to grow through; the plastic suppressed weeds, reduced the need for watering, and helped keep the ground warm. It was a quick and fairly cheap way of getting a clean, well-manicured look to one’s flower beds.

The mess that greeted me when I bent over to examine the hole puts the lie to the technique. The mulch had decayed into a decent soil, and the grass from the lawn spread up into it. But not just in the mulch layer: thick strands of grass roots ran all over the place underneath the plastic as well. Adding insult to injury, the area where I’d chosen to plant the gladiolus bulbs was graced with two layers of plastic.

I hoed and I dug; I pulled and cut at the plastic; I cut and ripped grass roots. And every step of the process I cursed and questioned the lineage of the individuals who’d gifted me with such a total wreck of a flower bed. Sure, it’s a quick, relatively inexpensive fix for a weed problem, and it does look nice once one’s done. But long term, it creates more problems than the short-term satisfaction is worth.

I have a strong suspicion—based in part on a wisp of memory that I’m almost afraid to test—that the black plastic plague surrounds this house. It may even extend in to the yard on the north side (that’s the memory wisp I don’t want to verify). If we owned this property, even though it would be much better to do so, I honestly don’t know if I’d be willing to expend the time and effort it would take to undo this awful mess. Y’see, a fair amount of the landscape plants that had been planted in the beds are now gone—some disappeared before our arrival, others died more recently. So, much of the area is bare ... except for the enormous dandelions and creeping grass. It is unsightly. Extensive work is needed. But despite my love of gardening, the investment is not a portable one and I simply am unwilling to make it. I am willing to keep making holes in the plague in order to plant some more things, as much because I cannot resist gardening as to challenge the dandelions and grass.

On happier subjects, I am nearly done with the vest that I’m knitting. Early next week I’ll learn how to finish the top part; with luck I may even be able to learn how to seam the pieces together in my class. I’m looking forward to it. And while I’m trying to decide what to learn next (I’m leaning toward cables because I have noticed that the sweaters that I lust for the most tend to have a lot of cabling), I have this snakey scarf to make for a very special friend. If only the yarn for it would arrive!

My hands have already become accustomed to working on something for much of the day, and they complain at their current idleness. I think I’ll go practice more with the yarns I have stashed away ... it helps de-stress me (much needed since my favorite method—a long soak in a warm bath—isn’t a viable option here); and by playing with the different thicknesses of yarn on various sizes of needles, I learn a lot about stitch definition, gauge and tension, and how differing yarns work up—all valuable information that will help me be a better knitter.


Removing plastic can be quite a job. Eight years ago, when we first started working on the property we found large sections with black plastic underneath. It took a lot of time and work to remove it. As you are discovering, long-term it is a mess.

We are testing some basic hydroponics in coconut shells, with worm waste water for nutrients, which is working very well. I really need to get the gardening blog up so we can write about it.

I also recommend raised beds. They do not have to be permanent structures. Just some cheap wood planks nailed together, or perhaps cement blocks. Then dig up the ground for soil. It makes the gardening a lot easier.

On another topic, is your computer functional?

“Worm waste water?”

I have never heard of such a thing; if you’ve time, please enlighten me! Just a few links to resources you think worthwhile would be much appreciated.

On another topic, is your computer functional?

No; the last encrypted message I sent was a complete failure. And my external drive appears not to have a copy of my home directory on it, so I’m loathe to start my machine often, in case doing so may be hard on the drive in there ... so I’m renting the snolfs’ computer while I research and build a new one for myself. I’m working on the research right now ...

I am considering installing GPG on here, and copying my keyrings over so that I can have civilized email conversations again. Maybe that’s a good reason to duck out on the hardware research for a little while.


Links: way too many. Search for "Worm Composting" or "Vermiculture". This WikiHow article is pretty good introduction.

I am still in the process of getting pictures up on flickr, but here is a rather poor one of the
worm bin
I built (Annie designed). It is larger than we need but this gives the worms plenty of space. With this we can dump all the compost material in one spot. When the worms turn the material into fertilizer, That is to say, worm poop :) we remove it and use another spot. The great thing is we do not have to worry about killing the worms because they have more than enough room to move and do not get stuck in their own waste.

The waste water in their urine, although I think there is another technical term for it. I built the boxes at a slight incline, so all the waste liquid drains into buckets. This is also excellent fertilizer, and it seems to be a sufficient nutrient for the hydroponic plants (sorry, no pictures yet).

Worm poop.

I have told the snolfs that the “decay” of our compost pile is largely slug and worm poop, but I don’t think they believe me. After all, how could animals make earth? One of these days, they’ll think about it again and the light will pop on ...

Jorge, your photos are great! I miss having a banana tree in the back yard, to say nothing of oranges, lemons, and limes gloriously, fully ripe and fresh from the tree. The grapefruits may have been my favorite, though. Although, truth be told, while we were in México we didn’t have all those plants in our back yard—but Lobo did have an uncle with a ranch in Quintana Roo, and it had all that and more.

I was surprised to see a greenhouse as part of your setup, thinking that such is only of use in colder climates. For what do you use it?


What we have is not really a greenhouse. It is not covered on the sides. Locally it is referred to as a "huerta", but that has to be a regional usage because the word translates to "orchard".

The difference between "invernadero" (greenhouse) and "huerta" is the sides.

Now that the definition is out of the way.... The reason we built this was to protect plants from excessive water in the rainy season (mid May through mid November), but it turns out that this really helped during the rest of the year as well because it cuts the intense sun of dry season. So things like laksa, which normally die off during the dry season, flourish there. It is only about 100 meters square, so we are planning on building another one. Plus, if the hydroponics work out, I will build a structure for that.

Grapefruit is something I need to get. I would love to have it here. One day.

Off to repair the water system in the chicken coop and install a few new electric points.

Candied grapefruit peel ...

If that sounds good to you, let me know and I’ll send the recipe I have for it. I do not care for candied orange peel at all, and while grapefruit peel can be rather variable—some peels are wonderful, while others have a bit of bitterness about them—I can happily gobble it all down. I’m sure it’d be much better with home-grown fruit.

Thanks for the explanation; that’s very interesting, as well as a good reminder that even “paradise” can be improved a little.

Speaking of Gardens...

I am considering installing GPG on here, and copying my keyrings over so that I can have civilized email conversations again.

Speaking of gardens, I know a quiet one online where you can chat encrypted with a few friends... ;-)


That’s the one I was heading for the other day, but my machine froze ... and I don’t remember my credentials to log in from this one.

I just tried to install GPG, but got 404 errors for almost all of the files. Guess that means this distro is no longer supported. Frustration abounds in my digital ‘verse, but I’m working on workarounds.

Yeah yeah yeah! :P

Well you can always call me via the phone number on the contact page at my blog if you need technical support. ;-)

She loves you?

Too insecure. :-P

I will be working on the problem tomorrow. Let’s hope the offerings Jac made were sizable enough, and durable enough to see me through what’s ahead.

black plastic

My condolences. :( I once rented a place with that stuff all under the front yard. It was also full of some kind of runner grass.

I've used plastic sheeting, cursed it, fought it and blessed it in turn for many years.

Gardening is, almost more than anything I can think of, a constant compromise between the ideal and the possible - with a good chunk of total unpredictability thrown in for good measure. Maybe that's the challenge that keeps us at it all our lives. No matter how much you learn, or how well you perform the known tasks, there is always an unknown variable that can bite you at any moment! LOL

I guess things like mountain climbing might offer similar challenges, but gardening seems much more practical.

Yesterday I was drooling over all the plants being offered at a local shop and became intrigued by a new weed barrier sold in rolls. It looks something like the carpet in the old Marine Base offices, only a bit thicker. LOL Maybe they recycled the stuff... who knows. It was indestructible.

Let us say that I was interested - until I saw the price! Yikes!

I have a roll of black plastic here someplace. But I use it to cover raw mulch to speed composting. Not sure how much I really need it here, but it was impossible to compost without it in the desert.

Still have SOOO much to learn about gardening in Wyoming. We had temps into the 70s for a week, and Tuesday I left the windows open all night because it was so warm. On Thursday I planted my overgrown tomato seedlings. Yesterday (Friday) it snowed all day, and we had three inches of wet sloppy snow by this morning.

Oh well. When it gets time to plant tomatoes, I'll have to buy some. But NEXT year I will not start the seeds too early, I promise!!! :)

Good Golly...

I don't envy you at all. Especially in a rented place, where you don't get to take the investment of time and energy with you. Have you considered container gardening? Because that COULD go with you if/when you move, and you could grow more veggies that way. And containers could be anything, right? could even be those plastic boxes (the ones you store Yule ornaments in) from Target, or Wal Mart or wherever. That way, if you wanted to, you could grow peppers, tomatoes, flowers, watermelon, cabbage, snap peas (with a string trellis?) and so on and so forth. No need to invest all of that energy on property that isn't yours. And if you were set on it looking really nice, you could get pretty colored clay pots from a garden center (or hey! make your own!), and plant your flowers/veggies in those.

Can I just say how much I miss you? Because seriously. I really miss you a lot, Sun. I know you're all joyful and busy - and I love seeing you all joyful and busy - but damn it I miss you.

I’ll say the same.

I miss you, too. Will you be taking classes during the summer?

Have you considered container gardening?

My herbs and tomatoes are going to be in containers, except for the peppermint and a small rosemary shrub, both of which were planted last year in a small raised bed by the house (yes, the black plastic plague runs under the bed). Knowing that containers require more attention, I limited myself to just tomatoes as a crop, because I’ve snolfs to play with, a trailer to try to improve, recipes to try (and to create—I think I’ve got a good alpha version of fruity oaty bars to test, but we lack sugar at the moment), and knitting to do. And just a few books to read, and friends to (try but miserably fail to) keep up with!

I cannot believe I forgot

to mention what I was planting outside, and why. I’m distracted by too many things today, including the nice weather.

We have several seeds and bulbs that I think will grow best if they’re planted in the earth, rather than containers. That includes lily of the valley, and gladiolus bulbs, neither of which I mind leaving behind because they’ll add some nice color—and in the case of the lilies, wonderful scent—to the place. Neither is particularly hard to find, or expensive, so why not leave this place a little better for my being here?

black plastic-- yuck

The first apartment I lived in when I moved out from my family home had lovely flower beds around the front, ground floor windows. They just begged for some cheery plant color. I asked the manager of the place if it was okay if I planted some flowers, and she said go for it. I discovered the black plastic underneath as I tried to plant primroses. I got them in, but what a pain.

I don't have any black plastic, but I have some nasty bind weed. Bah. That's on my to-do list this week, as is knitting. I haven't knitted in over a week as I was trying to finish my overdue library book Tee and I both read.

Sending hugs your way!

Is it compostable?

I don't have any black plastic, but I have some nasty bind weed.

Ugh! Will it compost after you pull it, or does it view a compost pile as ideal conditions to spread even further?

I haven't knitted in over a week ...

Heresy! ;-D Truth be told, I’ve not knitted much, as I quickly got to the point in my vest where I needed to wait for my next class (I don’t have the pattern at home) to proceed. Instead I’ve been doing small swatches of stockinette with my stash of needles and yarns; it has been enormously educational. Yesterday I found a fairly simple eight–row pattern that I scribbled from somewhere, and tested last night; it will make a pretty scarf.

Hugs to you and yours! Oh, and a text will be coming your way sometime after lunch today ...

option #2

If you compost it, bind weed will take the opportunity to spread itself throughout every bed you place compost in. Blech. I'll put it in the recycle container I have for yard waste. BTW, beware of commercial compost. Much is made up of the gunk we don't want to put in ours to spread around our useful plants.

I know! It is heresy!!! I am very caught up in that Emberverse series and I needed to finish book three to get it back to the library. I bought Tee book 4 as a gift for Easter and he's about done with it. He's being cheeky-- he doesn't want me to start it until he's finished with it (I read faster than he does). I'm going to try and pick up book 5 with a lovely gift certificate one of my colleagues from my weekend gig gave me. I'll have some bartering fodder then =).

Looking forward to your text!!!!

so true ...

I've also had terrible luck with purchased compost being full of noxious weed seeds. I have piles where I collect the pullings of weeds like crab grass and they eventually rot down but I wouldn't risk spreading it on my garden ... it might look like compost but I'm sure it's loaded with the types of seeds that can last 4000 years in the desert and still sprout.

A previous resident here used lots of landscape fabric which doesn't seem to prevent weeds; they seem to start on top of it and then work their way down into it. One bed actually has a blue tarp under the wood chips. Now that really did prevent weeds, but it prevents planting anything as well.

Oh how I wish there really was a lazy man's way to garden!