ChickweedI do a lot of gardening during the three months it usually doesn’t freeze. We have to select varieties that won’t bolt with our long days and will mature with a short season, but those plants that do grow well up here grow with a vengeance.

Unfortunately, so do the weeds. And the mosquitoes.

I don’t use herbicides, at least not unless I can control exactly where they go. Painting the cut surface of an aspen with brush killer is one thing, but I will not apply herbicides to soil growing plants I intend to eat. I use physical and light barriers, like the IRT plastic I mentioned earlier or a thick mulch of grass clippings, but unprotected ground is rapidly covered with chickweed.

weedy garden

Would you believe this was tilled in early June?

There are certainly other weeds in Alaska. Lamb’s quarters are common, and so is tall buttercup and strawberry spinach. Birch seedlings proliferate like weeds, and poplar (especially balsam poplar) has a bad habit of sending up shoots many yards from the parent tree. Most of these, however can be pulled and stay pulled. I swear chickweed likes being pulled and tilled under.

It’s a deceptively mild looking weed, with stems that are hair-thin just above the root—the better to break when you’re trying to pull it. It happily entangles itself with the thyme, and forms a thick mat in the rows of beans and peas. Given support, like the sides of my raised beds, it reaches a foot or more in height. It grows like mad under clear plastic.

Chickens (and poultry in general) love it. The one time I did not have a problem with chickweed was the few years I had ducks – but the ducks, unfortunately, liked other things in the garden. Like strawberries.

“But it’s edible,” some people say. “It’s a wonderful source of nutrients and even tastes good.” Fine. They are welcome to pick all they like in my garden, but there is certainly more than enough being grown (mostly not intentionally) to provide plenty for anyone who wants to eat it. Certainly I’ve never seen any being offered for sale at the Farmers Market.

One of the problems with trying to pull it is the mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are notorious in Alaska. The big ones, often referred to as the Alaska state bird, are not really a problem. They overwinter as adults, come out well before the temperature is above freezing at night, and are slow and relatively easy to swat. The annoying ones overwinter as eggs, hatch a little later than the big, slow ones, and come in clouds. They are fast and almost impossible to swat.

Insect repellant? Fine if you can tolerate it. I have at times gotten a worse rash from mosquito repellent than I have from mosquito bites. Interestingly, I had almost no mosquitoes when I had the ducks. I’m sure there were larval mosquitoes in the duck pond, but the ducks apparently found them as tasty as the chickweed.

Too bad the place I have now is not appropriate for keeping ducks.