Thursday, March 26, 2009

Leaves of Three...

Work continues on reclaiming my overrun garden. The nice thing about having my raised beds overgrown with weeds is the fact that the soil is still nice, light and fluffy since quite a few years ago I double-dug the beds when I created them, and hadn’t walked on them since. The weeds held the soil in place and kept the rain and snow from compacting the soil while I was out of commission and unable to garden, so pulling the weeds hasn’t been too much of a problem.

My biggest problem is poison ivy. It came creeping down out of the woods, silently, stealthily, and quite simply took over the upper beds. My garden is a series of raised beds on a hillside, the upper beds being nearest the woods. If you don’t have a poison ivy issue, drop to your knees this very moment and give thanks! Seriously! I mean it…it’s one of the nastiest things to deal with and try to eradicate from a garden. Oh, it can be sprayed and killed, however, as an organic gardener I really don’t want to be spraying toxic chemicals all over my garden. So what’s an organic gardener to do? I’ve tried killing it in the past with homemade weed killers (vinegar, salt, alcohol, water mixture), which knocked it back some, but it didn’t really KILL it.

So, I got to the root of the problem by no less than pulling it out by the roots. You have to be dressed for battle with no exposed bare skin unless you’re willing to writhe in agony for days and days as you scratch at the worst itch you’ve ever experienced. Long pants, long-sleeved shirt, double gloves (I wear latex-type medical gloves under leather work gloves)….You could wear a face shield of some sort if you wanted, but I was brave (stupid?) and went without, knowing that if I touched my face with the dastardly plant, I had five minutes to race to the house and wash my face with soap and water before the oils could cause me grief. And the grief doesn’t start right away. It could be several days after exposure before the itching begins.

Poison ivy is a pretty plant. I love vining plants, and PI is one champion vine (though I don’t love it!) The vines can run along the top of the soil, like little super highways, sending down roots and voila!, a new plant pops up, only to send out its own network of roots and vines. The roots and vines go on and on and on. I’ve got some PI vines that are close to thirty feet long that I pulled out and tossed in the “poison ivy pile”. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do with all that PI I’ve pulled. I can’t burn it. Well, I could, but I don’t think the neighbors would be too happy when they end up broken out in a PI rash, since the oils can be carried on the smoke. The above photo shows the stack of PI that I yanked out of six garden beds--that's a five-gallon bucket for a size reference.

I found that my best friend, while yanking out the PI, is a rake. One of those strong, sturdy rakes that doesn’t bend and flex. The tines grab the vines and roots as I’d rake it across the soil, letting me know where the little BLEEPERS were, then I’d grab the vines/roots and pull. I’ve also got a nifty method of pulling and coiling the vines to keep them from slapping me in the face, but that’s too difficult to explain. I guess if you pull enough of the stuff, you’ll figure it out.

I think I’ve got my garden beds clear of the poison ivy now, though I know there are still roots hidden here and there, which I’ll probably end up grabbing at some point thinking they’re some other type of root (with my bare hands, no less). Oh, and as well as I was protected, I still ended up with a poison ivy rash on my wrist; probably from taking gloves on and off. My clothes went into the washer after the PI slaughter, and went through two wash cycles to assure the urushiol (the poison ivy oil) was gone. My leather gloves? Well, I think they’re destined for the garbage as I’m not sure a good washing or two would get the urushiol out of them.


  1. I've had good results using Burt's Bees Poison Ivy Soap. It wasn't much of a rash, as poison ivy rashes go. But the soap did help soothe the itching for several hours at a time at least. I don't think I'm as allergic as some people are. I plan to keep it that way though. (I've heard that the allergic reaction is a function of lifetime exposure.)

  2. Thanks for the tip, Kate. I'll have to give the Burt's Bees soap a try next time I tangle with poison ivy!