The nightshade plant family is as varied as large family full of relatives can be. Many of our favorite vegetables are nightshades; potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and okra. Even the habit forming tobacco plant is in the nightshade family. In addition, there are quite a few unsavory characters lurking around the family reunion; belladonna, ground cherries and horse nettle to name a few. These plants are toxic. And wouldn't you know it, some of the horse nettle variety are lurking around the farm.
A "diva of dirt" gardener friend has often said to me that a weed is just a plant that is in the wrong place. This definitely applies in this situation. A toxic weed is taking up residence near my gardens, and even in them. Wrong plant, wrong place. Unfortunately my organic eradication plan is going to take some time. I have been selectively cutting these with my scythe wherever I can find them, but it seems hopeless, they are persistent, mostly where ground has been disturbed, like my garden. They are especially dangerous to small children whom may find their bright yellow berries to be appealing and eat them.
I feel very little attachment to these wicked little plants. They are bold enough to sport thorns on their stems and on the undersides of their leaves. I have to suppress the urge to lean over and pull them with my bare hands, an act that leads to instant punishment. My drive to remove them often outweighs my fear of thorns, and I have been known to gingerly move the plant stem around looking for a place to get a purchase on it and pull without being bitten. I rarely succeed.
I have noticed this year, that these plants are under particular stress. Pests have played havoc on them, nearly all are blighted and suffering. The drought conditions of June really stress these plants out and to top it off, the potato beetles and flea beetles love them.
Then there is the organic gardener's principle of trap crops. Should I even be pulling this plant out at all? If they are so tasty, and in such a weakened state, perhaps these little buggies will leave my beloved nightshades alone, and only harass these ugly nightshades?
I know last year that I was astonished at the speed with which the Colorado Potato Beetles reached my potato plants. Almost immediately upon emergence, they attacked. Within a couple of weeks my poor taters were shredded. It was all because this plant acts as a harborage plant in addition to its trap crop duties. I have squished many a Potato Beetle as it perched on these plants and munched. Glass half empty/glass half full quandary.
Since I seem unable to get totally ahead of the nightshades near the garden, I can always dump the dang glass out and make sure that my desirable nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes)have all of their immune systems functioning, and that they resist pests with full strength due to good cultural practices.
1) shallow tilth, keeping the nutrient rich topsoil ON TOP
2) additions of rotted manure, and compost to encourage a lively microbial life in the garden bed
3) additions of lime to straighten out the pH of the soil. Acid soil binds the minerals and prevents plants from using them. Maintaining the proper pH gives the minerals mobility and they can be used by the plant to build their biological defenses. Oh yes, and store these minerals in their fruit, which we humans like to eat. More nutrients for us bipeds.
4) proper watering these weed plants do not get the benefit of water during the drought conditions
Another neat observation; with the stress and possibly disease going on with these, the horse nettle may be its own worse enemy this year. They are potentially, in their weakness, spreading disease amongst themselves. Self annihilation.
Now if only crabgrass could annihilate itself from my garden, we would be on to something.