At War with Mother-in-Law’s Revenge

When we first moved in, Kay, the previous homeowner, came to pick up some mail and offered some gardening tips on how to care for all the beautiful perennials she planted in her 40 years in the home. One of the first things she said was that I needed to pull the “mother-in-law’s revenge” early and often.

What’s mother-in-law’s revenge, you ask? Well, Kay didn’t really know what it was but she named this formidable garden invader after her mother-in-law gifted Kay a few seedlings for her garden claiming they’d be the perfect filler and ground cover for her beautiful front gardens. Kay’s mother-in-law passed shortly after she planted them and said they’ve been haunting her gardens ever since. The seedlings quickly multiplied and choked out many of her strongest plants. She’s been pulling them from her garden–and cursing her mother-in-law–every year since.

Since making this our home and taking over the gardens, I too now curse Kay’s mother-in-law every time I have to weed it out of the gardens. It doesn’t just cover the open, available real estate on the ground, it likes to hide in the middle of other plants–like my hostas, chrysanthemums, and russian sage–making finding them early and pulling a bitch. And despite my best back-breaking, weed-pulling efforts, it seems to come back with more vehemence each time. I’m telling y’all this stuff could flourish in a vat of bleach with no light.

Finally, I did some research last year and discovered the real name of this pest–goutweed. Goutweed is an extremely aggressive, invasive perennial. Savvy Gardening calls it the “cockroach of the botanical world” and “a beast to eradicate”. While on the prohibited or restricted plant list in some states, goutweed can be found in some garden centers under the name of “bishop’s-weed” or even “snow-on-the-mountian”.

Turns out, Kay’s approach of pulling the plant, which often comes up fairly easily, is one of the worst things you can do! Goutweed stems from a web of rhizomes which branch far and wide underground. You see, rhizomes have a nasty habit of multiplying from broken or left behind roots in the ground–like when you pluck gray a hair and five more emerge, thriving and taunting you.

So how do you get rid of it? It’s a painstaking process. Many sites recommend fully covering it with plastic, essentially “cooking” the devil which can take anywhere from 8 weeks to 2 whole seasons. You can also smother it by cutting it down and covering it with cardboard and mulch – 2-3 feet beyond the menace’s prersence. Another option is spraying it down with a vinegar solution or even chemical-based weed killer like Round-up.

My initial plan was to try the smother and cover method. I figured I could cover around some existing plants and add good soil above, building up the gardens and planting new perennials which would look better in the front of the house than black plastic. Besides, I had PLENTY of cardboard thanks to Amazon and Christmas time which I stored for several months. Unfortunately, when we prepared for hosting my sister-in-law’s engagement party in May, Sr. wanted the garage clean and recycled all my cardboard. To be fair, I caved and gave him permission.

June is always a busy month at work and difficult for me to get in the gardens and then I was out of comission for several months with nausea in my first trimester. By the time I got back to life–and the gardens–in September, mother-in-law’s revenge had ravaged the front gardens.

Exhausted and over it, I’m not ashamed to say I finally caved and turned to the chemicals. After all, this was war. I came to terms with the fact that there’d be some casualties, like my russian sage, mums, and a few other perennials. After the first careful spray, I was disappointed that the beast didn’t begin to wither within hours. I had totally imagined a scene out of The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy douses the Wicked Witch with water and finally ends her reign of terror.

No such luck. However, after a few weeks a difference could be seen. AND my chrysanthemums didn’t die! Two more rounds of spraying and I’ve made a serious dent in the rein of Kay’s Mother-in-law’s revenge.

Unfortunately, the arrival of the cold weather has stalled my progress because the chemical sprays are recommended for using weather above 60 degrees. Looks like there will be more work in the spring. I’m thinking I may need to srpay again a time or two and then will likely cover with cardboard and fresh soil so I can plant a few new beauties. This will allow the new plants to thrive while the chemicals dissipate under the decomposing cardboard barrier.

I also haven’t touched the bed of hostas in front of the kitchen bay window yet but I plan to smother and cover that small bed. With my Japanese Maple in that bed, I don’t want to use any chemicals. Besides, the hostas are overgrown and can’t be divided because they’re infested with goutweed so removal or covering is the best option. I’ll cover it this winter and it’ll be fun to design a new perennial bed there in the spring–something that doesn’t have hostas maybe?



This week on the Half-ass Homestead June 22-28, 2020

Grace has taken to driving the hens around… not sure if they like it as much as she does 🤣

The past two weeks have been busy one on the home front and with work for me. It’s weeks like these that I’m thankful to be doing this whole garden homesteading thing with the Norris family.

Work has ramped up between creating two online courses, preparing for our first virtual summit for educators, and meeting with customers to plan for next school year, I feel like I’ve been glued to my MacBook for two weeks straight. And, though Brian Sr. had a couple of days where he started to feel better, he quickly took a turn down hill with severe pressure and nausea. We’re hoping for more answers and relief next week given this new medicine he’s on. On top of that, I’ve discovered I’m now allergic to poison ivy (turns out it’s bound to happen when you spend three weekends with a weed eater killing that stuff). So much itching!

Last week I didn’t get out to the garden once but often looked out the window and would see Clint and Vinny watering the garden, hanging with the hens, or eating lettuce and spinach off the plant. Grace, Ella, and Brian Jr. often joined them. They even dropped off some radish on Father’s Day! So grateful for them!

The kids tried radish for the first time, Grace was the only one who liked it even a little. I really enjoy some fresh slices on my sandwich but look forward to a few suggestions from some of our Facebook friends, especially roasting them!

By the time I got out to the garden this Friday, it was in desperate need for some harvesting! It’s amazing how much of a different the grass mulch has made for our crops!

Tarin, who has been busy with work herself, joined Ella and I in the garden for some picking. We got quite a haul!

On Saturday, we harvested rhubarb and I picked up some straw to recover our walking paths. Grace took pictures:

It’s about time for a second planting of carrots and some other crops. I’ll have to do some research on what would be good to plant.

Sunday, I spent time in the house gardens, adding cobblestone to a some of the paths, and reconfiguring the front garden by removing a bush and widening the area around our front outdoor table. I plan to add stone or pea gravel to level the space out.

While I worked, Sr. relaxed inside, the girls played by the creek catching salamanders and Brian Jr. played ball in the yard and took breaks to play guitar for the hens. It may be a little crazy, but life on the homestead is good!


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Mulching with Grass- Not So Half-Ass!

One major error we made in our big garden last year was with mulch… we basically didn’t have any. Due to a tight budget, we used straw as our walkway mulch but we overlooked mulching our growing rows. We also missed the memo about planting cover crops over winter. Turns out, the raised row garden technique isn’t so weed-free when you don’t mind your mulch.

This year, we’ve been dropping the ball on mulch–again. We had big plans, y’all, but they didn’t happen. The walkways are in desperate need of new straw but more importantly the rows were getting are dry and cracked just hours after every rain and with longer stretches of summer heat drawing close, we needed to figure out something quick.

After Sr.’s brain surgery, our great friends, the Sickles, have been helping us with the lawn. The first mow, I told Paul the wrong level to cut at and the lawn got a hefty trim. With so much cut, we had rows of clippings across the lawn Sr. asked me to use the lawn sweeper to sweep the clippings off the lawn the next day.

As I struggled to maneuver the first load of clippings beyond out of the sweeper my first few rounds. It was a sight to see. I couldn’t seem to get the grass dumped out at the right spot. I decided to toss a few shovelfuls of clippings on the new compost pile. Turns out, grass clippings are great for compost AND as mulch.

Here’s what I learned:

IMPORTANT NOTE: You should only use clippings from untreated yards.

Grass clippings are are a great source of green or brown material–depending on if they are fresh or not–in the compost. If fresh, they count as a green and require a brown, such as dried leaves to balance things out (I’m still learning A LOT about composting and pretty much only know three things: there are “green” things, (2) there are “brown” things and (3) there should be “balance.”)

Mulching with grass clippings, it not only cools the roots and helps retain moisture, like any mulch, it also can add up to 25% of the nutrients growing takes out of the soil. When using fresh clippings, you should use thinner layers so it can break down and you don’t encourage rot.

Finally mulched rows!

Since most of my clippings were brown, I piled it on nice and thick. I was able to get half the rows done before I ran out of clippings and had to sweep Clint and Tarin’s yard. The second round of sweeping was much easier once I figured out I didn’t have to get off the mower if I used the black rope, and that I could just dump it as I drove by the front of the big garden.

Once I finished, mulching, I took some of our left over soil builder and put it at the base of the plants. They have been LOVING it and so have we–less watering, yay! And the best part – totally FREE!


Meet Brian

by Brian J. Camp Jr., age 10

*Posts are proofread by Mom for clarity and some spelling and punctuation.

This is when I was 8 years old.

Hi I’m Brian. I’m 10 years old right now, and I was born on a Columbus Day. Some things I’m interested in are football 🏈 ,baseball ⚾️,basketball 🏀, 2K MADDEN, and WWE WRESTLING. My favorite WWE wrestlers are THE MIZ, UNDERTAKER, THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR, JOHN CENA, KANE, and ADRIAN NEVILLE.

My favorite football teams are the Cleveland Browns and the Green Bay Packers. Baker Mayfield is of my most favorite football players of all. I had fun playing football for the first time last year, even though we only won 1 game against Johnstown. We still played in the playoffs because every team gets to play in the playoffs. My mom yells and cheers a lot from the stands during my games and my Dad is a coach.

Me playing QB
Me and Coach Dad

In baseball I have 3 trophies, and 6 metals. My favorite baseball teams are the Cleveland Indians and the Houston Astros.

I love homesteading because you get to do things outside, like improve a chicken coop. I hate gardening though because I don’t like bending over and pulling weeds until the weeds are all gone. But I will pull weeds for money. 🤑🤑🤑

Me exhausted after my Mom made me help in the garden

I love having chickens because you get to play with them. I also like to eat eggs, so it will be cool when they start to lay them.

Chicks dig me.

I like being a big brother because they always play with me and I like helping my mom with them. One thing that is annoying about them is they never stop arguing some days.

I like living in Granville, Ohio, even though I miss my friends back in Texas–especially my best friend, Jacob.

Me and my best friend, Jacob

At least Ohio is not always hot in the the spring and summer like Texas. I like spring the most because the weather goes from chilly to warm and back and forth.

This is a picture that my Mom drew of me.