My gardens are being overwhelmed by cheatgrass, hare barley (I think), field bindweed and cleavers. The grasses are thick and lush, unfortunately, and cleavers is thriving in areas I can’t reach, but the dogs can brush against those weeds and scatter their seeds.
Cleavers (Galium aparine) is also known as catchweed, goose grass, sticky weed, sticky willy, Velcro weed and grip grass, among other printable names. It first came in as a ground-hugging vine, but now it’s upright stems, to a yard high in some places. Leaves are born in whorls of six to eight leaflets on square stems. Leaves bear some resemblance to the ground-hugging herb Sweet Woodruff. You’ll know cleavers when you touch it, since it has tiny hooked hairs on the foliage and seeds, lightly clinging to human touch or passing animals.
You can control a small infestation of cleavers by pulling the plants. Some herbicides will kill this weed too, but be sure the label says it will kill cleavers and carefully follow label instructions. If you are to pull these weeds, it’s best to pull them before they set seed. Their very tiny white-to-green flowers, star-shaped, are difficult to see unless you’re specifically looking for them.
Some humans develop a rash from touching cleavers, but it is used on other folks as a poultice, treating burns, wounds and poisonous bites and stings. The tiny Velcro-like hooks or hairs make it unpalatable for raw consumption, but if you harvest it before the fruits or seeds appear, the leaves and stems may be cooked and served as a leaf vegetable. The roots may be used as a red dye.
Those tiny soft barbs make this plant useful to stuff mattresses (after it’s been dried), maintaining a uniform thickness. In ancient times, Greek shepherds reportedly used clumps of cleavers to strain foreign objects from milk.
It’s not attractive to destructive insects, perhaps showing its beneficial side. It does halt feeding activity of the Oriental leafworm moth, at least.
This weed is native to Europe, North Africa and Asia, and some regard it as native in America as well. It certainly has naturalized here.
Fifty years ago, one of my favorite vegetables — Yukon Gold potatoes — was introduced to consumers. Gary Johnston bred this variety at the then 2-year-old University of Guelph, putting that Canadian university on the culinary map. The first year we grew it, we shared with friend Judy Austin, who declared its flavor and color induced her to think the potato was buttered. It’s still one of my favorites for baking.
My white peach tree is heavily loaded with fruit, and I can only thin bottom limbs. I’m hoping the tree will properly thin upper branches itself duri
ng “June drop,” a time when heavily loaded fruit trees drop fruit that was not properly pollinated or is underdeveloped. Apple and pear trees are more known for fruit dropping than other fruit trees, but they all do it to some extent.
The problem is that if the tree has more fruit than it can handle, it will drop all fruits green. Some fruits will continue to ripen off the tree, but in my experience, peaches don’t. It’s heartbreaking to destroy these fruits, but to get ripe fruit from the tree, thinning is necessary.
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