GardenSouth

Because all gardening is local

Flower

Archive for June, 2012

How I cut my garden weeding to less than 15 minutes per week

Many beginner gardeners start off with a bang and are excited and encouraged when their seeds germinate and their started plants take off and grow. But then the weeds begin to show more vigor than the desired veggies.

Weedy garden

Weeds are about to take this garden.

Even experienced gardeners, who know that you cannot let the weeds even get a couple day’s advantage, sometimes lose the garden to weeds, when there’s several days of rain and it becomes too muddy to get into the garden.

Another weedy garden

You would think a tractor would help - but each pass turns up more weed seeds.

It’s pretty dismaying when you have trouble finding your plants among all the weeds. You can wind up spending many hours of catch-up work, and still find that your plants were severely set back, both by the competition with weeds, and the damage you did to their roots when you pulled up the weeds.

It’s been several years now, since I basically solved the weed problem. Sure, there’s weeds in my garden, but they are few and far between, compared with what they used to be. I find that just a few minutes a week is sufficient to pull up the weeds, and keep my own veggies growing without competition.

There are three basic reasons why the weed problem mostly disappeared:

1. I no longer till my garden. Every time you turn over the earth, you expose new weed seeds to sunlight and air. Weed seeds can lie dormant in the soil for many years, then suddenly germinate when you’ve given them ideal conditions to grow.

I’ve been able to pretty much eliminate tilling because all my gardening now is in raised beds. I was forced to go to raised beds, because our land is as flat as it can be, and we are subject here in coastal South Carolina to occasional heavy rains. These rains would flood my garden and pretty much spoil it. Few of our garden veggies can stand in water without dying or getting riddled with disease.

The raised beds took a lot of work to set up, but once they are up and running, the work forever afterwards is minimal. I started with a mix of about 40% sandy loam topsoil, 40% well rotted compost, 10% crushed coquina (for lime and minerals), and 10% crushed charcoal (to help prevent leaching when those heavy rains come).

Raised bed garden

Raised beds keep the plants from flooding rains, save my back, and help control weeds. Note how near weed-free the tomatoes in the front are. The middle section has not been planted, while the back is onions from winter.

These raised beds are in production year around. As soon as one crop is finished, I start with another. About the only disturbance to the soil is when I pull a deep rooted plant like tomatoes, or a root veggie like carrots or turnips. With smaller plants like beans or peas, I just snip them at the soil surface and leave the roots in the ground.

Ready to topdress

Asclepias (left) and Borage (right) are ready to topdress with fresh compost. Dwarf French Marigolds are in the cells of the blocks. These flowers among my veggies help to build up pollinator populations as well as other beneficial insects.

Load of compost

Compost is free from the town. It is screened to remove larger chunks that haven't rotted fully, and to separate any trash, which is put into the tin can on the trailer fender.

2. When planting or setting out a new crop, I topdress it with about an inch of fresh compost. This compost has very few weed seeds, as it reaches a high temperature during its formation.

Squash seedlings topdressed

As soon as the seedlings are big enough, I put an inch of compost around them. The compost pile heated up during formation and killed most weed seeds.

My soil remains soft; I can easily plunge my hand up to the wrist into the soil, just by wriggling my fingers and pushing. The soil smells sweet and it’s full of worms and insects, unlike most agricultural soils in the area, which are quite barren of life. I always figure that the worms are tilling the soil for me, as much as it needs and in a very natural way.

Growing squash is nearly weed free.

Growing squash is nearly weed free. The sparse weeds are well behind the squash, because they germinated in the soil and had to break through the compost/mulch.

Topdressed watermelon

Weed suppression is nearly complete around this young watermelon plant. All that's needed is an occasional pulling of a weed or two.

3. I don’t let the weeds go to seed. By having raised beds, I never walk directly on my garden. I have more-or-less permanent walkways between the beds. This means that I can always pull weeds, even if it’s very muddy. The weeds never get a chance to get ahead of me.

I can’t take very much credit for this system of weed supression. Actually it came as a pleasant surprise. And I had to study it a bit to come to an understanding of why there are so few weeds.

You are currently browsing the GardenSouth blog archives for June, 2012.