One of the most common questions I get from visitors to my homestead is “How do you keep the weeds out of your gardens?” Indeed, my vegetable gardens are usually pretty much free of weeds, but it is no easy task.
Preventing weeds from taking over a small vegetable garden is one thing; keeping weeds from growing rampant all over the rest of my 130-acre property is a major commitment of time, effort, and expense. In this article, I’ll explain my different approaches to weed control, from small-scale to very large-scale.
I do not use chemical herbicides (weed killers) in my vegetable gardens. At the beginning of the growing season, I rototill the garden soil thoroughly. Then, throughout the season, I remove the larger weeds by hand and the smaller ones with a hoe. My favorite hoe is the “push-pull” kind, also called a stirrup hoe. It cuts weeds at the roots, just below the soil surface. It is inexpensive, easy to use, and available at local hardware stores.
You need to keep up with weeding a garden every week during the growing season. Weeding is the least enjoyable aspect of gardening for most people, but I find it therapeutic in the sense that I am creating an aesthetically pleasing space that allows my plants to thrive. I usually hoe barefoot, and let me tell you, there is nothing like the feeling of dirt beneath this country boy’s feet.
I often use a heavy mulch layer of hay for plants that have shallow, spreading roots (which would be damaged by the hoe). Potatoes, grapevines, garlic, melons, asparagus, blueberries, and many other vegetables and ornamental plants love a mulch layer several inches deep. Mulch not only keeps weeds from sprouting but also maintains moisture in the soil. I use “spent” hay waste from the goat barn, which comes with the added benefit of goat urine and feces (which acts as a fertilizer).
I have experimented with two other products to keep weeds from growing around my vegetable plants. The first is weed-block fabric, which you lay out on the ground. Water runs through the fabric, but weeds cannot grow through it. After the weed-block fabric is pinned down, small holes are cut, through which you plant your vegetable seedlings. Personally, I do not like that product because it is rather expensive, needs to be pinned down…