Monday, June 20, 2011

Effective weeding involves getting to the root of the problem

The EZ Digger makes weeding more efficient

Simply Living
(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel June 20, 2011)

I've been pulling weeds. My body is sweaty and smudged with dirt, but my mind is surprisingly clear.

Before working in the garden, mental weeds had infiltrated my thoughts. A muddle of small (and some not-so-small) problems had taken root in the fertile soil of my imagination. Bit by bit, they had multiplied, overshadowing seeds of reason.

Fortunately, a desire for fresh tomatoes broke the cycle.

I got up and went into the garden, brushing past unwanted growth on my way to the tomato plants. After filling my basket, I looked over the situation and made a decision. I set the basket down on the bench, put on my gardening gloves and got busy.

I've always liked weeding. There's a certain satisfaction to be had thwarting the spread of insidious invaders. A few good yanks can dislodge an intruder. A couple of more tugs and a stack of spent greenery has filled the wheelbarrow. Weeding is honest work that produces visible results.

I can't believe how quickly time went by as I unearthed one tenacious sprig after another. My husband was already in the garden. Knowing my mood and seeing me so unexpectedly occupied, Ralph tentatively approached with a question.

"Want to use my weeding tool?" he asked, referring to the EZ Digger, a plow-shaped hand spear he bought from Fedco Co-op Garden Supplies in Maine.

Ralph has been singing the praises of this weeding tool for months. He loves the way the 7-inch-long by 3-inch-wide blade with the tapered point slices through soil to release deep roots.

"You don't want to just pull out the tops," he's always saying. "To do a good job weeding, you have to pull out the roots."

Ever since he first tried the tool, Ralph has encouraged me to use it. Unfortunately, I have always shunned his advice, casting a deaf ear on his repeated pleas. In my mind, weeding is supposed to be hard work best done with brute strength and sweat alone. Any tool that makes it easier seems oddly out of place. However, this time when he asked, I accepted his offer. I picked up the tool and took it in my hand.

The sharp, pointy blade reaches deep in the ground, loosening the soil around stubborn roots. Rather than replacing the "yanks, grunts and tugs," it complements them, making the job more efficient and satisfying.

Ralph and I worked alongside each other compatibly. He listened to music on his headphones while replanting vegetables while I discarded worries and unpleasant thoughts with every pulled weed. I tossed stress and unhappiness on the compost along with piles of pulled plants. By the time we were finished, the garden looked better, and my mood had improved.

It's no surprise that gardening is therapeutic. Tending a flowerbed or a patch of vegetables provides far more benefits than food for the table or blooms for a vase. Gardening is exercise. It's also relaxation. Digging in the dirt — with or without a useful tool — dislodges worries, along with weeds.

But my husband is right: Regardless of how hard you work, weeds will return if you just break off the tops. Whether mental or physical, getting to the root of the matter is essential.

Find the root. Pull it out. Start over fresh.

Sometimes the only way to get out of a funk is to get into the gunk of hands-on gardening.

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