June 28, 2017
As everyone knows, weed control is extremely important if you want to provide your vegetable crops with access to the full range of nutrients and water in the soil surrounding them. Weeds compete with veggies for these goodies and, if they become too large, can even outgrow your crops and shade them out completely. So, for the biggest and happiest plants, we need to weed to maximise nutrient, light and water availability.
But nobody likes spending hours on their hands and knees pulling out weeds and then carrying them to the compost pile or the chook pen. And on a 4 acre farm such as ours, this just isn’t feasible. Thankfully, there are other ways to solve the problem.
We use a combination of solar starvation and weed cell destruction. Sounds vicious, but really these are just methods of laying tarps on top of weedy areas to starve them of light, and using an LPG-powered flame torch to “melt” the cell walls of tiny emerging weeds before they get big enough to be a problem. The combination of these two methods leaves what we call a “stale seed bed”, ready for growing crops without a lot of competition. Of course, new weed seed can still be dropped by birds or ants, or blow in on the wind, but it gives you a good start. We use stirrup hoes to control weeds once crops are established in a bed, and we do hand weed around delicate crops such as carrots, as we thin them at the same time.
So how does this relate to home-gardening? Using black plastic tarps, weedmat, cardboard or even old carpet at home can be a great option for very weedy areas that need to be completely overhauled. Mow any long weeds/grass and then lay one of these materials over the weedy area, securing the sides down with rocks or logs so they don’t blow around in the wind. Leave the light-blocking material on for a good few weeks or months, depending on the type of weed. It takes longer for couch grass, or other running grass. The process is also slower in winter when the ground is cold. Once everything underneath is dead, remove the material, turn the soil without going too deep (you don’t want to bring more weed seed to the surface) and plant into a weed free area. See the before and after results in the photos accompanying this article.
So remember, now is the time to plan your weeding strategy - before Spring comes and the weeds get the upper hand.
Yours in veg,