Weed control can be a difficult challenge for any gardener.
Gardening is supposed to be about making beautiful and edible plants grow. Unfortunately, gardeners tend to spend most of their time trying to stop unwanted things from growing. Weeds seem to self-replicate faster than evil alien robots and are at least as hard to get rid of. At the start of the gardening season, the freshly tilled dirt seems so manageable; but by the end, only very dedicated workers have managed to have fewer uninvited plants than invited ones.
Chemicals can be used, but if you’re growing your own food, you probably want it more natural and healthier than what you can buy. Frequently tilling often brings more seeds to the surface and causes erosion. Pulling weeds by hand is hard, and you might accidentally pull up something you planted. The “lasagna” method of weed control involves layering newspaper and dirt until you have a thick enough covering the weeds can’t get through. This may work for a small garden that you won’t likely be tilling soon, but isn’t practical for the larger ones. It would take too long and be a huge mess in the tiller next year. The commercial covers can also be a mess in the tiller, especially after nut grass grows through it and Bermuda grass over it.
There’s likely not any magic spell to easily get rid of weeds, but there are a few things easier than the lasagna and commercial cover method that work just as well and better. If you feed a lot of livestock, or know somebody who does, you can start saving feed sacks. They can be placed around your plants and under tomato vines to block the growth of weeds, though nut grass sometimes gets through. Paper feed sacks usually rot well enough by the following year that they can be tilled into the dirt. Remove the strings and discard, because those are stronger than they look and very hard to untangle from the tiller. Regrettably, most bags are canvas now, which don’t rot as fast, and you might need to rake and burn them. A sprinkling of dirt helps weigh these down, but don’t add too much or weeds will just grow on top.
Thick cardboard can sometimes stop nut grass and is usually very brittle and tillable by next season. It may be hard to get enough unless you want to dumpster dive, but if you have a friend or relative with a store, they might have plenty of boxes they would love for you to take. The cardboard can be put around established crops or laid down first, and holes poked for the plants. A little dirt on top will help keep it in place.
If you burn off cardboard and/or bags for the next tilling, make sure you have mowed and preferably tilled the perimeter of the area. Keep a water hose and water soaked towels handy. You don’t want an embarrassing visit from the fire department. A light surface burning can be good for the soil to sterilize it and kill weed seeds. However, a long burn will use up the organic matter in your soil so make it as quick as you can.
By Dori Herndon