19 March 2009 |

Controlling Weeds in Your Vegetable Garden

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Onions in heavy mulchWith springtime just around the corner we are in full preperation mode here at the Yardstead.  We have a few veggies in the garden already with plans for many more.  Kathleen has a stack a seed packets ready to go but I havent looked yet to see whats on the menu.  She does all the garden planning and I just provide the labor.  She helps with that too of course.  Anyway, since Im the head of the yardstead labor department I am always looking for ways to minimize tedious labor intensive tasks.  Number one on my list of tedious labor intesive tasks is pulling weeds.  I have always hated pulling weeds since the first time I can remember doing it.  When I was a kid my father always kept a garden going in our back yard.  I always wanted to help with whatever my dad was doing in the garden, especially if my big brother was helping too.  I remember seeing my brother on his hands and knees "playing" in the garden along a row of eggplants.  I asked if I could help and he gave a quick lesson on how to pull weeds without bothering the vegetables.  The weeds were easy to identify because the eggplants were well established so ther was no danger of me accidentally pulling up veggies and   I soon started working down my own row.  I don't think I made it past even three plants before I promoted myself to watering.  I was still just a little tyke so it was a few more years before I actually got assigned weeding as a chore.  I have been trying to get out of it ever since.
There are many ways to control weeds in the garden and I have tried several over the years and have yet to find a labor free technique.  Its not that im anti-labor, after all, gardening and yard work constitute my entire exercise routine.  I do hate weeding though, and there are many occasions when work or other resposibilities keep me out of the garden for days on end.  In our part of the country with the abundant sunshine and frequent rains, thats plenty of time for a small band of weeds to stage a coup, and  whole sections of the garden can be taken over.  So we've tried many ways to prevent weeds in the garden without having to constantly vigilant. 
The first weed blocking technique......

we tried here at the yardstead was covering the garden with plastic sheeting to form a physical barrier again the weeds.  I had several rolls of black plastic which I had procured from a work project.  The rolls of 4mil black plastic sheeting were discarded after being used once to temporarily cover some materials on a job site.  In accordance with the yardstead's reuse/recycle policy I repurposed the plastic sheeting for weed control.  We covered the entire garden with the plastic and cut holes to plant our veggies through.  This worked well at first and for about 3 weeks we were weed free.  ALthough we overlapped the sheets about 6 inches at the seems, little weeds started poking through anywhere the wind exposed the smallest parcel of dirt.  Weeds even started growing underneath the plastic in a few spots.  A little later in the season leaves from nearby trees bagn gathering in spots on top of the plastic in a few spots along with a little dirt from diggin up potatoes and the like and weeds began growing on top of the plastic.  Although this was annoying it wasn't really enough weeds to hurt our garden.  Our hope had been to reuse the plastic for several seasons but it soon became apperent this wasn not going to happen.  After e few months in the Florida sunshine the plastic became brittle and having been perforated by several weed stems and roots, it was obvious this was a single use sytem.  The worst part was trying to get up all the plastic after it was over.  It tore into thousands of pieces as I tried to pull it up and it probably would have been less work if I had just pulled weeds all season.
The next spring we invested in a few rolls of weed block fabric from our local garden store.  This worked well at first also but ended with similar results.  Many weeds grew underneath the fabric and you could see sections of the fabric sticking up due to  weeds underneath.  Some weeds even penetrated the fabric.  We had hoped to reuse the fabric for at least a few seasons but again this was not to be.  We had used the long metal staples they sell to hold the fabric in place, but I had to make some adjustment in the rown because of the different veggies we were planting later in the season and when I tried to remove the staples it proved impossible to do without tearing the fabic to bits.  Whent the staples were shiny and new the slid through the fabric like a wrm knife through butter, but after several months in the weather the staples were so rusty they would not budge from the fabric.  We ended up tossing it all in the trash, big nasty rolls of so-called weed block with weed stems and roots sticking out all over along with rusty staples.
Probably the best results we had controlling weeds with a barrier was last season.  A good friend and neighbor who has a few acres and also gardens a bit had obtained a huge pile of wood chips from the utility crew who cuts limbs around power lines in our area.  He asked and they happily agreed to dump several truck loads of the wood chips in a pile on his property as they cleared the lines in our area.  He planned on using them for mulch and had so much surplus he let me take as much as I wanted.  I filled up our 20ft trailer 3 feet deep about 6 times and this was enough to cover our entire garden plot about 6 inches deep in wood chips.   It really worked well and if I had a little bit of maintenance we would probably be using the wood chips again this year.  Late in the summer a small patch of bermuda grass began growing along one edge in the wood chips.  It grows wild in our lawn and It invaded from the side with runners as bermuda grass always does and because we had nothing growing at the time I ignored it.  It wasn't long before almost half the garden was covered with bermuda grass.  I tried to pull it up over the winter but the runners had penetrated too deep.  I ended up tilling up the entire garden a couple of weeks ago which just mixed the wood chips in with the garden soil. 
Well this article got away from me a little bit and now im out of time.  I should probaly have titled this one "How Not to Control Weeds in the garden" since there is not much good info in here about actually controlling the weeds.  This year Kathleen and I and maybe our 5 year old will be manning our trusty garden hoes for weed control.  I will keep you informed on how it goes and as always if you would like more information on controlling weeds or how not to cotrol weeds or if you have some good advice for us, please take moment  and post a quick note in the forum.

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