Jeanne Grunert is a freelance writer, blogger and book author from south central Virginia. Her books include "Plan and Build a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden" and many others, available on Amazon and wherever fine books are sold. Learn more about Jeanne, her books and her garden at


Weeding Tips
by Jeanne Grunert - posted 04/15/16

While dandelions make a nifty tea, nobody wants to look at a sea of nodding seed puffs amidst their perennials. Weeding often takes backseat to other, more glamorous garden tasks. I love planting seeds: lettuce, radish, peas, beets, you name it. I don't mind watering or staking top-heavy plants. The weeding, however, often seems endless.

It's a thankless task, isn't it? I mean, you start, and if you're lucky, you finish in one afternoon. But then next week, the weeds come marching back...with a vengeance. 

Each season here at Seven Oaks, my Virginia farm, brings with it new weeding challenges. Today the dandelion and chickweed, in a few months, the wiregrass and artemesia. Oh joy.

If, like me, you hate weeding, here are a few tips to make weeding if not more enjoyable, at least less burdensome. 

  • Weed in the early part of the day, while the dew is still on the grass. Dew and rainfall make the ground softer and weeds easier to pull. That's especially important for clay soils where hard-packed clay resembles baked bricks.
  • Wear gloves. You may be nicely weeding along and suddenly encounter brambles or another thorny plant. Worse still, your may brush against an angry wolf spider or other insect who thinks your hand is about to ambush him. Gloves protect your manicure and your flesh from both flora and fauna out to get you
  • Pull the easiest weeds first. Go for the big, ugly sons of a gun first. This way you'll feel as if you're making great progress just because you were able to clear a large section of weeds.
  • Weed near your home first. Another trick is to start weeding closest to your doors or windows. It's instant gratification to look outside and see a nicely cleared patch.
  • Don't compost your weeds. Some gardeners disagree with this, but I don't believe in composting weed plants. If you compost them while they are in seed, you could sow a nice crop of weeds in with your compost the next time you add it to your garden. If the compost gets hot enough, it should kill the weed seeds, but can you really be certain it will? I don't like to risk it, so I recommend discarding weeds in the trash. Mine get tossed into a pile on the edge of the woods on my timber farm. If they seed the area, so be it, but if not, my trees get a little extra nourishment.
  • Find your favorite tools. Tools can help you dig out the tap roots of stubborn weeds such as dandelions. I like a long, narrow bladed trowel for digging out dandeliions, but there's also my lovely Cobra Head weeding tool, which I love, and a digging fork, which is a useful gadget for prising up weeds. I use a long-handled  hoe on some areas of the yard with a nice, sharp blade. I like a good wheelbarrow to collect my weedy goodies and a nice metal pail, an inheritence from my in-laws of an old laundry detergent pail (yes, powdered soap used to come in metal pails!) that works well in the garden as a weed catch-all. You've got to find your own method, which will come through trial and error as well as recommendations from experienced gardeners.
  • See to your own comfort. You may wish to invest in a fancy, padded kneeler. I use a padded weight bench - just the bench - from an old weight lifting set of my husband's that has long since been discarded. It saves my knees from the rocky ground. A nice straw hat with a wide brim shades my eyes, and thick cotton gloves protect my hands. Jeans, t-shirts, and work boots are my comfortable go-to getup for weeding. Make sure that you are comfortable, and don't forget the water bottle. Weeding is thirsty work!


I don't believe in chemical weed control in planted areas. Walkways and driveways are another matter, and although I don't like chemical controls, sometimes they are necessary. For the rest of my garden, it's good old sweat equity. And boy, do those weeds make me sweat. They make me battle for every inch of ground I can take in the garden. Someday, I'll learn their secret. In the meantime, I use these tips and tricks to find another patch of ground in which I can sneak more iris, daylilies, columbine or petunias.


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Lettuce Planting Time
by Jeanne Grunert - posted 04/01/16

For most gardeners throughout Virginia, now is the time to start sowing lettuce. If you are new to growing lettuce in the home garden, then let me introduce you to some fantastic varieties, colors, textures and leaf shapes you may never have seen before.

Stores usually stock Romaine, Iceberg, and maybe, if you're very lucky, red leaf or a frilly green leaf variety. Salad blends and mixes contain many fun greens, but they're expensive. A package of lettuce seeds can cost anywhere from .25 cents to $1.99, which is probably what you're paying for a head of lettuce anyway. Sow that package of seeds and reap anywhere from a handful to dozens of heads of lettuce!

To grow lettuce, you'll need full sunlight. That means six or more hours of bright, direct sunlight each day. Lettuce, like most garden vegetables, likes a rich, well-drained soil. Keep the seeds moist after sowing them in the garden and don't plant them deeply. Just sprinkle a tiny amount of soil over the seeds. The seeds germinate in about 10 days, and depending on the variety you planted, you'll be able to start cutting heads of lettuce or leaves in a few weeks.

Try these heirloom varieties for some amazing tastes, colors and textures in the garden. Seeds can be found in local stores or at many online vendors.

  • "Oak Leaf" varieties, which have frilly, oak-shaped leaves and a mild, slightly bitter flavor.
  • "Rouge d'Hiver", an heirloom red leaf variety
  • "Amish Deer Tongue", an heirloom variety with rounded, mild tasting leaves.
  • "Brune d'Hiver", a French heirloom lettuce first introduced in 1855 with light green, pink to red tipped leaves.
  • "Garden Rose", a red Romaine type.

Learn more about planting lettuce and extending the lettuce harvest on my blog, Home Garden Joy.

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Planting Peas
by Jeanne Grunert - posted 03/18/16

Back in New York where I learned to garden, my next door neighbor was a retired chemistry teacher who loved to garden. Mr. H taught me to plant peas on St. Patrick's Day, a tradition that I've pretty much kept up here in Virginia. Comes St. Patrick's Day, or a day or two before, and you can find me out in the vegetable garden happily sowing about 100 pea seeds into the raised bed.

A friend told me that in Virginia, she was taught to sow peas on President's Day. That makes sense for southern climates where early spring heat, rather than a frost, can threaten your spring pea crop.

To grow peas, you'll need a sunny spot with rich, well-drained soil. You'll also need a trellis or support of some kind. It can be as simple as a few stakes pounded into the ground with garden twin stretched and tied between the stakes, but peas are climbers, and need to wrap their tendrils around a good support to raise themselves skyword.

Peas should be spaced about 3-4 inches apart and planted 1/2 inch to 1 inch deep. Keep them well-watered until the germinate, then water only when truly dry. Peas don't like to be too wet. 

I prefer to grow the pea variety called "Lincoln." It's an heirloom pea from around 1908 that produces abundant pods, resists disease, and stands up to the May heat here in south central Virginia. Dianne Relf from the Virginia Cooperative Extension site recommend "Knight", "Green Arrow", and "Sugar Snow" and "Wando" pea varieties for their ability to withstand fusarium wilt, which is indeed a problem for many Virginia gardeners.

If you'd like to learn more details about growing peas, or see more of my gardening adventures, visit my website and the article entitled Growing Sugar Snap Peas.


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