Note: This was originally published in the first year of the blog, 2009, and has been updated with larger photos. It is a cornerstone of our organic garden philosophy where we take care of the soil, disturbing it as little as possible and use a layering system to keep our garden beds nearly weed-free throughout the gardening season – honest!
Today I want to share with you the reason why I hardly have to weed our vegetable garden at all through the growing season, but before I show you how I manage this, here is a little glimpse of what one of our 4 larger vegetable beds looks like in March as I discussed designing a garden for easy care:
The traditional way of dealing with all these weeds that grow in the winter is to till and rake, but like I mentioned, I don’t till the ground for a variety of reasons. Instead, in February or March (somebody who’s on the ball could even do it in the fall after harvest…), I throw a piece of black plastic over the bed.
Then time, sun and heat do their magic, and by the time I am able to plant, I pull back the plastic and it looks like this:
This was the previous year’s corn patch and you can see I just threw the plastic over the dead corn stalks – I find them much easier to remove after a few months under the plastic. And no, it’s not the EXACT bed in the before picture above, which didn’t grow corn, but honestly the beds are all pretty much the same, and I needed to plant this bed first. You can see in the upper part of the picture, the exact same bed is still covered with plastic- but by the end of the post, it is planted, too.
Anyway, when you pull back the plastic, it does look like this- all dead and ready to be cleaned up. I haul away the old corn stalks, pull the soaker off to the side path, and start raking all the dead weed debris. There may be a few (very few) pernicious weeds (dandelion, thistle) that I also dig by hand.
I rake it all into a pile and haul it away. I haven’t timed it, but it doesn’t take very long, maybe 15-20 minutes on these beds which are about 9′ x 20.’
Then I add a fresh layer of compost to the bed and rake it smooth. It ends up being about 1/2″ layer, though in the first couple years I was establishing the beds I added more – about 1 full inch. I do this every year to build the soil and I just leave it on top. When I dig the furrows and holes, it gets mixed in some.
I want to emphasize that I have never tilled these beds- they were pasture with that awful pasture grass when we moved here. We set heavy cardboard on top of the pasture grass, edged it with 4′ x 4′ wood and added 4 inches of soil and compost. I planted beans, corn and potatoes (using the straw method and setting the tubers on top of the new soil) and by the time the roots needed more depth, the cardboard had softened and the roots grew as they needed – we had a great crop that first year! The plants since have always done well and I rotate the crops so that the corn usually follows the legumes (which fix nitrogen and enriches the soil).
Doesn’t that sound easier than tilling all the grass for a new garden?
After the bed is fully covered with compost, I plant. Since the bed pictured will be planted with beans (green and dry), cukes and squash, I set up my trellises first, then lay a soaker hose, and in this case I’ve put a piece of fencing over some of the beans to try and deter any birds that might want to find what I’ve just planted. Watering with the soaker hoses puts the water where I want it- not in the space between plants where weeds want to grow- so it’s a major player in keeping weeding to a minimum.
You can see the beds in the upper part of the picture have been prepared too, and will grow the corn for this year. The technique is the same. (You can read how to grow a weed-free corn patch here.)
This is the part I want to encourage you with: I have very few weeds the entire remainder of the season. Honest!
- I don’t need to cultivate
- I never have any problem finding the seedlings because of weeds
- And I can leave for a week and not come back to chaos
I pull the occasional weed when I’m out in the garden, and then I just water and harvest. Please join my no-till world- I promise you’ll love it!