Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Tomato Patch surprise: Going against the grain

My Cape Cod weeder, tool of choice
to uproot wheat seedlings
I took a shortcut when I mulched my tomatoes with straw this year.  I didn’t put sheets of newspaper under the mulch.  And this week I’ve had to uproot hundreds of bright-green wheat seedlings that were poking up through the beige straw.

Taking care of the seedlings was relatively easy.  I used my Cape Cod weeder (see photo).  Wherever I saw a wheat seedling, I just pushed and pulled the weeder’s angled blade at the soil line under the mulch.  The young wheat plants easily yielded their grip of the garden soil.  As I finished weeding around a tomato plant, I fluffed up the mulch—leaving the Tomato Patch looking “like new.”

Time:  Less than two hours.  I probably would have spent that much time easily if I had put down sheets of newspaper before I put down the straw—so I’ll call time for both approaches a draw.  My only second thought was that putting down paper probably makes for a nicer looking bed and prevents growth of lots of nuisance weeds.  Lesson learned: I think I’ll put down paper again next spring.

A wheat plant growing in the Tomato Patch is a weed, to my way of thinking.  Any plant growing where someone doesn’t want it is, well, a “weed.”  I want white clover to grow in most of our yard—so it’s a welcome ingredient of our turf.  Someone else who wants a “perfect” fescue lawn, of course, would consider white clover—you got it—a “weed.”

But with all the wheat weeds, I’ve been wondering why so many wheat seeds were in the beautiful bales of straw I bought at a local farm.  Was the combine not operating perfectly?  Were the seed heads a day or two too “green” to yield all of their seeds to the machine?  Or was this “not that unusual harvest byproduct”?

I don’t know the answer, but my spring surprise in the Tomato Patch is over.  The uprooted wheat plants shriveled when the sun dried their roots and became part of the mulch protecting my tomato plants from rain-splashed garden soil that may carry a variety of tomato-disease organisms.


  1. Interestingly, I'm having the same problem this year AND I DID put down builders' paper (in lieu of newspaper) under my straw. At first, I thought it was because I purchased the straw from a different farm, but I now think it's an "unusual harvest byproduct." Maybe it was too damp or too dry; too early or too late. But, like you, I have more wheat growing than I have ever had. Coincidence? I think not. Jeanine

  2. I also get wheat seedlings every year in my garden even though I put down newspaper before my straw. I don 't get other weeds when I use newspaper.

  3. I've read that letting bales sit, unopened, for two weeks in the weather gets any seeds in them to germinate, which ends the wheat surprise. It's no fun when that happens. I've started getting my bales early and just letting 'em sit out. It seems to work. I was thinking about skipping the newspaper this year, but now I won't! julie

    1. Great idea, Julie. Next year I'll buy my bales earlier and let them enjoy a spring shower or two.