‘Can you hear that noise?’ my little feathered Robin asks with his head tilted as he listens to the soil beneath him.
‘What noise?’ I ask, knowing full well it’s a dumb question and I will only now be lectured on the remarkable hearing and sensory perceptions of birds such as Robins.
‘I don’t know what you would do without us,’ he proudly boasts, puffing up his chest to show off his red plumage.
‘Get a lot work done on the plot,’ I reply in jest.
‘Listen, there it is again’ he says cocking his head to the left. ‘It’s drowning out the worm noises and disturbing my digging.’
‘What are you on about?’ I ask, completely at a loss as to what my little friend is trying to tell me.
‘They’re digging those bloody tunnels again and they can shift earth faster than a clew of worms.’
‘A clew of worms?’
‘Didn’t they teach you nowt at that school up North?’ he asks accentuating his take on a northern accent. ‘You can call it a bed, or bunch, but I like clew.’
Robin then in one sharp stab jabs the soil and retrieves a piece of bindweed, white and stringy and faintly resembling a very large worm.
‘I told you that you have to dig this stuff out! It’s disturbing my foraging and I bet the worms don’t like it either.’ Robin says spitting the offensive string of bindweed to the ground. ‘It’s like spaghetti junction down there. Over by the path it’s surfacing!’ he proclaims pointing with his little wing to the corner of the plot where the path and bushes meet.
I get up off my bench and go the shed. Moments later I return with my fork. Robin has flown off probably thinking I was ignoring him and in search of some easier pickings.
I set about digging over the area he had been picking over. I quickly expose what could be best described as a bowl of spaghetti. I realise this isn’t going to be a five-minute challenge, but more likely a full half hour one and retreat to get my waste bucket so I can collect this exposed motorway from hell.
Bindweed can be dealt with by chemicals. These travel back through the roots and kill the plant, but I am wary of spraying other plants and it has to be ideally done as they surface and then taken in through their leaves. You can treat the area to a good dose of diluted vinegar or Epsom Salts and even boiling water also does the trick. Better still, why not mix them all together? But again, all these mixes may not help all the others who occupy the soil.
When I first got my plot, or should I say overgrown wasteland, I spotted the tentacles and unmistakable leaves of this old foe.
‘We can rotovate the soil over once the top is cleared,’ was the offer made by the Site Manager who obvious was keen to use his rotovator on anything he could.
‘No, it’s fine I can dig it all out,’ I replied.
The thought of the roots being chopped into hundreds of individual bindweed plants filled me with horror. Bindweed has this defence mechanism inherent within all bad weeds which are deep rooted or invasively spread their roots - they don’t want to come out easily. As soon as you give bindweed a tug it snaps, says goodbye to the piece left behind, and asks it to carry on the fight and keep tunnelling.
The only way to have any chance is to dig it out, and keep digging it out, and keep digging it out.
Does bindweed offer us anything? Not really, as its seeds are toxic and alkaloids are present throughout the plant.
Bindweed is one allotment challenge faced by many plot holders. Like the Forth Road Bridge it needs constant attention and maintenance. Turn your back for a few weeks and it spreads its roots and once it surfaces it binds itself to anything and everything vertical in its sprint and quest to reach the sky. The basic difference between it and Japanese Knotweed is that it must be supported in its upward quest. If left for a season it can create a blanket over whatever it found to climb and unravelling it often becomes impossible. It does have attractive white bell-shaped flowers but these merely hide the sinister weaving tentacles behind. It is said that its flowers can be made into a cold tea and when drunk it can act as a laxative, well that is somewhat appropriate!
‘That’s bindweed!’ comes the voice of gardening experience.
Finally, there is the problem of disposing of the dug-up bowl of spaghetti. There are many alternatives with some advocating burning, but that’s not altogether acceptable today. Some advocate bagging it for green waste, but that’s hoping that the refuse collectors can treat it. Some bag it and then apply the chemical killers. However, the one thing is certain, it doesn’t go on the compost heap.
Mind you, we gardeners do like a good challenge.