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May 22, 2008

The Cardboard Garden, Part 3: The Big Reveal

With May weather getting warmer every day, I was itching to pull away the cardboard shroud that had covered my garden since January.

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I was skeptical that my experiment had worked at all. Was it guaranteed that grass and weeds that had spent the winter in darkness would really die, roots and all? Or would they be lurking beneath their cardboard blanket, rested after a long winter’s nap, and ready to burst into bloom?

I approached my garden warily, and was immediately outraged to see that a small clutch of dandelion leaves had found its way through two layers—landscape cloth and heavy packing cardboard—to emerge into the light of day. “Stinker!” I hissed at this unwanted survivor.

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Where there’s one, there’s a million, was all I could think, but
instead of feeling defeated, I was ready for war. I started grabbing
slabs of cardboard, now limp and soggy and covered with baby snails,
piling them up in a tall stack to recycle at the dump. Then I started
rolling up the black landscape cloth to see what happens when weeds are
subjected to 4 months of darkness.

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The area we had cultivated and routinely weeded last summer was
remarkably clear of any vegetation. A handful of sickly, anemic, pale
yellow weeds had finally given up and lay there on their death beds.
But the area that had not been planted at all last year still showed
signs of life: crab grass that are part of the cosmic andromeda strain
and will outlive human life on this planet.

And the wild chives and rhubarb. A few days in the sun will bring them back to life, so I gave them a reprieve.

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So…was the experiment worth it? Well, it wasn’t foolproof, but I
figure it saved me many hard hours of sod busting if those weeds had
been allowed to develop their roots and start sending up new growth.
Instead of digging up just a few clumps of half-dead crab grass and
dandelions, I would now be facing the daunting task of eradicating at
least 250 square feet of robust weeds. Oh yeah, I’ll do it again next
winter.

Merrill Williams is the publisher of Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.

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