When we first started working in the garden at the end of May 2014, overgrown weeds were covering the ground in the raised beds and area around the beds. It took multiple volunteers hours to remove unwanted vegetation and make the beds ready for planting.
First, we used large shovels to dig out weed with shallow roots, but needed to pull most of them out by hand. Here is a tip: when removing weeds, place your fingers as close to the ground as you can along the stem. If the roots are sturdy and don’t come out easily, use a hand shovel to dig around the plant. You need to pull out the entire plant with the root system and all, otherwise the weed will come back!
After we removed as many weeds as we could pull out of the ground easily, we raked any remaining ones into piles and gathered them up. The soil also needed to be raked and tilled in order to loosen before planting. In the end we had a huge pile of weeds in a tarp, which was taken away by a team from Awbury Arboretum to be composted. Staff from Awbury also showed us how to test the pH of the soil with a pH meter. We found soil pH to be between 6.7 – 7.0 in different areas of the garden, which is great! Not too alkaline or too acidic (pH of 7.0 is neutral).
Although we had tamed the weed jungle, tilled the existing soil and added new topsoil, we were not done yet. The following week, staff from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society helped us dig trenches down the middle and across the existing beds to create walking paths so as not to step on the soil. Stepping on the soil compresses it, and can damage the root systems underneath. We used wood chips to mark the paths, though these wood chips did wash away over time if more were not added. Finally the beds were ready for our research plants, which were being delivered from the St. Louis Ozone Garden.