Moving weeds

    Moving starts out as a rational process. Boxes are labeled and numbered, like is arranged with like, all of it is wrapped and taped carefully.

    In my recent moving experience it ends differently – random items shoved into garbage bags and laundry hampers with all the foresight of a burglar.

    One of the last, and most unhinged, things I did when I moved was to fill up a couple of trash cans with some finished compost I couldn’t bear to leave behind. It was good compost, a crumbly mix of yard and kitchen waste enriched by chicken manure and straw. I didn’t realize I was undertaking an experiment in the process, one that after a few months is drawing to an end with some very conclusive results.

    My new garden has nothing in it; not even weeds, really. Imagine what Philadelphia looked like the day after the last glacier retreated, and that’s where I live. In my imagination my couple puny cans of compost would seed the barren ground with fertility, initiating an Eden-like transformation. And actually, this is what happened, but not in a good way.

    Instead, I successfully imported almost all the weeds I had been battling for years to my new property, including this plant, Pennsylvania smartweed. An annual, it exists in lots of gardens in Northwest Philly but isn’t given much due – it’s so innocuous that it almost passes for a cultivated plant. In fact, it has a cultivated relative known as Persicaria that Thomas Jefferson liked, and can still be found in some old gardens around here.

    Rule number one when composting is never to let weeds get in the pile. I know this, but sometimes I have a hard time throwing all that nice biomass into a can. Instead, I have often put on my magical-thinking cap and told myself that it’s okay to compost weeds if they haven’t developed seeds. In theory there shouldn’t be a difference between composting cabbage leaves and dandelion leaves, right?

    That cap must have been on backwards, because magical thinking didn’t keep the weed seeds out. Besides smartweed, I am successfully growing pigweed, ragweed, groundsel, oxalis, and a bunch of other undesirable plants that had not crossed this particular threshold before now.

    The newly colonized weeds are getting yanked, and will go into a trash can this time around. But whether or not I’ll be able to eradicate their descendents from my virgin soil is still unknown. My guess is that the Pandora’s Box of unwanted plants has been opened, and we already know how that story ends.

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