Taming the Wild Garden

comments (3) October 19th, 2009

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OakhurstGardener OakhurstGardener, member
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This article was written for the 2009 fall issue of Georgia Organic's Dirt

When asked to write an article for this issue, I tried to beg off saying that I am no longer qualified. My garden is completely overgrown.  The only way to reach any of my vegetables is with a machete. And to be clear, I spent many hours weeding May and June before being out of town over a period of 4 weeks hoping that I had pulled every last morning glory seedling.  However with “cooler” summer temps and intermittant rain, the weeds took over.  I returned home to a jungle.

So what to do now?  Have a positive attitude, followed by a strong back and a will to overcome the obstacles.  It’s also time to reflect on methods that would’ve reduced the ultimate mess I currently find myself in.

I’m talking about covering and smothering, or what others might call lazy bed lasagna gardening or cardboard mulch gardening.  It is the use of biodegradeable materials such as newspaper, cardboard, or big leaf bags to suppress weeds while at the same time mulching and protecting your soil. 

Benefits of using paper mulches:
1. Reduces weeds and the time you spend weeding.
2. Protects the soil from the sun, erosion, and nutrient leaching.
3. Keeps moisture in your soil.
4. Creates a habitat host to beneficial soil organisims.
5. Increases organic matter in your soil

Your choices:
1. Newspaper: Can cover a large area or spaces between already established plants. Used for both seed and transplants. Recommended thickness: 10-12 pages
2. Leaf bags: When cut in half and spread out, covers a lot of ground with one fell swoop. Collect leaves and clippings paper bagged on the curb – compost the material and reuse the bags in the vegetable garden. Recommended thickness: 2 layers
3. Cardboard: Mainly for pathways. Cover with 3-5 inches of woodchips. Recommended thickness: 2 layers
4: Non-degradeable products: I don’t use these because they don’t break down into organic matter (and aren’t free).

To be successful, a few tips:
Tip #1: Use what is locally available so that the only cost is your time.

Tip#2: Hoard your choice of smothering materials, and top mulch (chipped leaves or straw) before starting the project. Don’t wait until the day you are ready to go to work to gather materials.

Tip #3: Mulch before your major summer and fall planting as a way to prep your beds.  What should you do if your garden looks like mine with knee high weeds?  If you aren’t using the bed over the fall/winter, either pull or mow the weeds then lay the paper over the debris and let sit until spring.  Your summer weeds will decompose and winter weeds will be suppressed.

Tip #4: When placing the paper on the ground, be sure the edges overlap so not to create gaps for weeds to sprout through. Place paper 2-5 inches away from the stem of existing plants.

Tip #5: Watering. Soaker hoses can be placed on the ground and covered by paper.  Drip irrigation on top of the paper with the ends at each opening.  Hand water directly at the open space.  Rain will wick through the soil.  During a wet season, my paper-mulched beds are fine. During a dry summer, the paper mulch protects the soil by keeping it cool and protecting the soil moisture from evaporation.

Tip #5: After putting the paper down, always cover with an additional material like chipped leaves or straw to prevent fly aways. 

Tip #6: Time the work with either impending rain or let rest over night. The moisture will make it easier to cut through the paper as well as mold it to the ground.

Tip #7: How to incorporate your vegetables?  Working with transplants is pretty straightforward. Cut a hole in the paper and tuck the plant into the space, i.e. lettuce transplants every 6 inches.  With seeds, you can either cut a hole the distance between seeds, one soybean every 5 inches, or reveal a stip of space when it come to vegetables with tiny seeds, i.e. carrots.

Tip #7: Perservere.  When it seems tedious laying down the paper and punching holes every 6 inches and the little demon in your head starts asking – Is this really going to work?  Aren’t you wasting your time?  What’s a few weeds here and there to pull?  Don’t give in!  Take an example from my current garden. I did not mulch my sweet potato bed. I mulched my corn bed with large paper leaf bags punching holes to place the seed. I felt vindicated two weeks later when I spent 45 minutes pulling little lamb’s quarters, morning glory, and other weeds while weeding the corn bed in 5 minutes.

What ultimately happens to the material?
Growing season conditions determines the level of mulch decomposition.  The wetter the season, the faster the material breaks down.  When cleaning up the summer garden, I tend to remove the degraded material and toss in the compost, replacing the old with new material.  Cardboard in the pathways does not need to be removed since it is quite effective in reducing weeds as well as holding up to the foot traffic.

posted in: lasagna, lazy bed, weed control

Comments (3)

VictoriaTucker10 writes: Its soo nice.
Posted: 1:04 am on October 18th
SensMass writes: Awesome Bio
Posted: 9:12 am on June 6th
baithwatt writes: like your post
Posted: 12:14 pm on March 28th
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