Thursday, August 6, 2009

Pulling Weeds

I’m lying on my belly in the alley. Our driveway is the dirty slope on the left. I’ve been pulling lots of weeds, for my sins, preparatory to filling the cracks they're in and seal-coating the driveway. I mentioned this in my Post-Apocalyptic Salad blog. What you’re looking at is dirt that collected where the driveway asphalt is lower than the alley concrete. You can see some of the vegetative devastation, too. Weeds, feel the wrath of Tom! Two alleys make a tee here, which explains how I can be on my belly in the alley and looking across another alley at somebody else's garage door.

It’s probably criminal abuse of tools, but the best thing I’ve discovered for yanking weeds out of cracks is a pair of needle-nosed pliers. I also use a screwdriver and a putty knife to scrape and pry. I tried my fingers, and wound up leaving a lot of root below grade. Fire from a propane torch was likewise useless: tops blackened, but there was plenty of juice only nanometers below. Ancient herbivores were browsing weeds long before hominids started chipping flint and laying asphalt, so weeds have adapted, and I expect new growth, even through seal coat, from tissue left behind. Gretchen, fellow scullery volunteer at Open Arms of Minnesota, suggested salting the cracks, and I may so do before applying petroleum products.

Something interesting I’ve discovered is that purslane, for all its above-ground branches, has but a single root, only a few short hairs wisping from it. A small white carrot.

I’ve thought about dentistry as I’ve worked, and I’ve thought about cancer surgery, but only a little, recognizing that there are similarities between weeding the driveway and removing decay or treasonous cells from a body. I dig in and try to get all of the offensive growth. In case I miss something, I leave a little poison (salt) behind to thwart new growth.

I’ve also thought about succession. Cracks appear in rock/asphalt for whatever reason. Winter moisture freezes in the cracks and enlarges them. Soil and seeds drift into the cracks. One plant makes things congenial for another. Some make the environment cozy for animals, ants mostly in the driveway. Animals plant more seeds. Maybe it’s coincidence, but there was a pretty messy mix of purslane, quack grass, eensey-teensey ants, and a couple of other things where I took the picture. Still, I couldn’t help thinking of some permaculturists I met who kept getting volunteer raspberries next to their hazelnuts.

Interesting as all of this may be, I'd rather have questions. Answers make me too comfortable, and I haven't come up with many questions. So far only, "Should I add the soil in the picture to my garden? Does the city salt the alleys? (Maybe not; I've never seen them do it; nobody's speeding there; I've fallen nether bits-over-teakettle on slick ice under fresh snow; I'll call.) If it does salt the alleys, is the salt still in the dirt?"

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