Ah yes. Kudzu! The vine that ate the South, and it’s still happily munching along. Originally introduced to the US in the late 1800’s from Japan as an ornamental bush, shade plant, erosion control and animal feed, kudzu is now said to be spreading at a rate of approximately 150,000 acres per year.
Coming from the North, we had never encountered kudzu in person before. We knew that the little plot of land we were buying had a kudzu problem in a cleared area, but that was not a major deterrent for us. We are used to working hard. I knew from my research that kudzu was difficult to eradicate, and just about everything I read recommended herbicide treatment combined with manual removal. We were committed to keeping our garden chemical-free, so manual removal was going to be our plan of attack.
Once we moved onto our land, we got a sense of the full extent of the kudzu infestation. Besides our front yard, there is only one other clearing on our property – the rest remains wooded. That clearing is fairly level, sunny, and right next to our creek. A perfect place for our garden, right? Just one problem. We had to remove the kudzu first!
I am sure Southern folk are chuckling right now at our naiveté. Leave it to a couple of Yankees to think that a kudzu patch would be a great place for a veggie garden!
But honey, you see here at Fluster Farm, we are serious about our crazy. We are COMMITTED to our crazy. We are crazy enough to think that anything can be accomplished if we bust our butts and sweat hard enough! And so began the Great Kudzu Battle of 2016. I don’t even think we won the battle, and the war is far from over.
First, we waited until the kudzu dried up for the year. Being a sensitive vine, it does not tolerate cold temperatures well and turns from green, leafy, and vibrant in the summer to brown and dead in the winter.
The spent kudzu vines lay in a thick interlaced matting across our future garden area. We did our best to rake and roll up as much of the dead material as we could, and then we burned it in small piles. Being under drought conditions at the time, the burning became a scheduling frustration as many of the days we could dedicate to burning happened to fall on days when we couldn’t get a burn permit. A few times the stars lined up just right, and several days over the winter were spent raking, cutting, chopping and burning kudzu vine.
We removed as much of the ground cover as we were able, then came the digging. To properly rid yourself of kudzu for an extended amount of time (forever if you’re insanely lucky), you have to dig. Removing the above-ground vines does not kill the kudzu, as the root crowns can easily regenerate the plant. To kill kudzu, you have to remove the crown.
We rented a heavy-duty, commercial grade tiller from our local big box improvement store. Many hobby farmers choose to purchase a tiller, however we believe renting is a better option for most people. Why? You use a tiller only a few times a year. When you rent, the tiller is always in proper, working condition and you incur no maintenance or repair costs. Renting for the day you need the tiller costs a fraction of what buying a tiller brand new (or used) might cost. To buy a heavy-duty tiller that could eat through virgin, never-tilled soil full of kudzu vines and roots would have set us back around $1,400. To rent it for the day? $89 plus gas. To us, it was a no-brainer. We decided whatever we could till in a day was going to be our garden area for the year.
As we tilled up the ground, we dug out whatever kudzu vines and roots we came across, then made another pass with the tiller. By the end of the day, we had workable soil. Of course, our kudzu fight is far, FAR from over, but this was a good start.
Check back with Fluster Farm next week as I discuss our soil health and how we’re working to turn our unhealthy clay soil into rich black earth!