Dealing with couch grass can be a nightmare. The roots are covered in eyes. If you break a root off and the remaining piece has an eye, it will regrow. Carefully forking over the ground and extracting whole roots is half the battle, rotavating it is a disaster because it just breaks the roots up into tiny pieces, but the roots can’t be composted on a normal compost heap, they just start growing, destroying the value of the heap. You can dry the roots out thoroughly, and once they are brittle they should be OK to put on the heap, but given the space this requires and the vagaries of the weather, it is not a very satisfactory approach. So I was very grateful when Helen aka The Patient Gardener pointed me at a video by Alys Fowler in which she describes using anaerobic composting. Sealing the offending roots in a plastic bag and leaving it for about two years apparently generates a smelly mush which contains all the nutrients the couch grass extracted from the ground as it grew. This can then be added to your soil – or compost heap – thus recovering all those lost nutrients. A kind of plant karma, if you will!
Update 2nd March 2011
I’ve given up. Even using heavy duty bags they were splitting, and given they have to last up to two years, we are resorting to transporting the spoils to the tip where at least they will be composted on the Council’s hot heaps. As the allotment buys in compost from the Council we are very indirectly still going to benefit, but I am disappointed. Th eother problem was one of volume – we had already amassed a wall of 20 bags and had only dug over half the plot! They were taking up too much room. In the future I would love to try drying the roots out thoroughly on plastic and then crmubling the remains into the compost, but again, you need space – and sun – to do this, neither of which are currently available…
I’m trying this with my nasty weeds, which include the dreaded ground elder, and I would advise you to keep an eye on the state of degradation of your plastic bags! In my experience, two years is plenty long enough to render them brittle, with flaky bits on the soil. It’s tedious and slow to clear up and I’ve learnt the hard way. I am also trying another method: drowning in dustbins full of water (rain, if there’s enough), although this does require a bit of outlay as the dustbins soon fill up – unless you can find something else (for free) that would do the job as well.
I am sympathetic – best wishes!
Hi Mag. Yes, I am a little anxious about the state the bags will get in after a couple of years. I am going to try the drowning method on some too, but I have far too much to be able to use this as the only method, I’d run out of growing room and would be able to start my own dustbin business!
Very interesting post! We’ve just re-taken an old plot we left to others in 1989, and it has the worst infection of couch grass we’ve ever seen!
Back then, one of the old boys used to dig couch down deep, and said it would die there, but having seen the very same plot after 20 odd years, it looks as if it has a permanent white five-o-clock shadow, and still has far too much!
We’ve taken half a plot now as there’s only two of us, and the cultivatable area is exactly 100 s.y. So far, I’ve spent way over forty hours digging and cleaning the couch grass out, and each hour yields roughly a wheelbarrow full of couch! There are 12 s.y left to do, and then that’s it – until next year!
The only way to do the job is to dig and sort out the clods. I still use a Terrex spade, which is an absolute godsend ((see here)and which is good for putting up one row of spits – not too big. After that, it’s a low seat and a short handled tool which is actually a cut-down Land Army cultivator, but which breaks down the clods and allows the handfulls of couch to be dragged out, sneered at and chucked!
Incidentally, I still cannot find any more Terrex references, and would have hoped that a fork attachment they used to make would still be lurking in a shed somewhere…!
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