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Expanding existing garden -- best/easiest way to prep

 
Posts: 70
Location: West Central Georgia
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I want to expand my garden to an area that is currently covered with Bermuda and Centipede grass.  I was hoping to try the raised row method, which doesn't requires breaking ground...just deep mulch and imported soil and compost right on top of the grass.  I've sourced free mulch, but as I've started moving it, I started wondering if 6" - 8" was really deep enough for a lot of vegetables.  Maybe the green leafies, but not peppers, tomatoes, etc.  

And reading the Bermuda thread, I'm wondering if deep mulch will even work to smother it.  It creeps into my existing garden, but I've noticed that the deeper the mulch, the less there is and the easier it is to pull out.

Is broadforking and removing the grass by hand unavoidable for this new plot, or is there still hope for the raised row method?
 
pollinator
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If you're willing to be vigilant and pull any shoots that make it to the surface, deep mulch is the way to go. Definitely do not skimp on the cardboard or depth of material...it's the first line of defense. The basic principle you're aiming to exploit is making those rhizomes in the original soil have to use up their reserves pushing new growth up far enough to see daylight. When you see them, you kill them with prejudice, and after a few rounds of that the rhizomes will die.
 
Emily Smith
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That's reassuring, thanks!!  Is cardboard absolutely necessary, or just a big labor-reducer?  Do you think my recycling center would let me pilfer their cardboard bin?
 
Phil Stevens
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It's a big help, because otherwise the grass will poke up through the mulch even if it's pretty deep. Having a barrier really helps with persistent grasses and weeds that spread by runners and rhizomes, like buttercup. Heavy paper is just as good, multiple layers is awesome, and it all breaks down eventually anyway. But by then the grass will have given up, we hope.
 
pollinator
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I would not skip the cardboard.  I'm not sure where you are located, but where I live, most of the grocery stores have a lot of empty boxes in the morning from stocking the shelves.  That's where I get a lot of my free cardboard.  
 
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I've had great success with chickens.  I set up temporary runs on the grass where I wanted my new beds and I let them do their thing.  After a week or so the ground was denuded, many grubs were eaten and there was a bit of fertilisation as well.  I can't recommend chickens enough for new gardens.  If time's critical, maybe you can get your hands on a pride of ostriches...

 
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Timothy Markus wrote:I've had great success with chickens.  I set up temporary runs on the grass where I wanted my new beds and I let them do their thing.  After a week or so the ground was denuded, many grubs were eaten and there was a bit of fertilisation as well.  I can't recommend chickens enough for new gardens.  If time's critical, maybe you can get your hands on a pride of ostriches...





Good to know. I'm in a similar situation, but with foxtail grass, and my "new garden" is almost 2 acres. I'd been thinking of dividing my flock into small, portable chicken tractors and having them clear one space at a time. I'm glad to see that someone else has tried it, and it works!
 
Phil Stevens
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Ellendra, you've got the best weapon against foxtail right there. Chickens will mow it into oblivion when it's young and tender, and it won't live long enough to set seed. Repeat each year to exhaust the seed bank and you may actually win.

It's impressive how much grass chickens can eat. Our flock of around 30 keeps a paddock of ~1500 square meters short until the spring growth really kicks in.
 
Timothy Markus
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Ellendra Nauriel wrote:
Good to know. I'm in a similar situation, but with foxtail grass, and my "new garden" is almost 2 acres. I'd been thinking of dividing my flock into small, portable chicken tractors and having them clear one space at a time. I'm glad to see that someone else has tried it, and it works!



After turning sod for a bed then using chickens for bed prep, I'd buy chickens just to prep the gardens.  I'll be using them this spring to get my garden started on my property.
 
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Emily,

I really think that you can triumph over the Bermuda grass.  Make sure that your weed barrier is thick (1-2 layers of cardboard should work) and that your mulch is tall—a good foot is great.  Also, consider running the barrier beyond the border of the garden.  If you extend the cardboard out a couple feet beyond the border and give is 4-6 inches of mulch, you can keep the grass at bay.  It may still grow towards the garden, but being rooted in mulch, it should be a piece of cake to pull out.

Good Luck!

Eric
 
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I'm starting new beds too.  I mulched them with grass clippings/scythed grass for months, now finally have three chickens of a useful size (16 more chicks eating madly!) and am running them in a 7'x3' tractor up and down the beds, one day in each spot.  I pull the mulch back to they are down at soil level, then recover it once they move to next spot, to try to avoid rain compaction and keep smothering weeds/grass. Seems to be working.  Takes a week for one 50' bed, then I move to next bed, then come back over each a second time.  Just wish I had about 8-10 adult chickens in that tractor!



Here's a before, though this isn't typical.  I had dumped  bit of cover crop seed in this section and have weeds + clover + daikon radishes:



And here's the results after a pass over a similar stretch that had diakons and the rest.  They left some radish roods, but anything down to about 1" down got et!




I'm trying tarps too, but not stisfied with those results.  The debris is pretty sersistent.  And the fire ants love them some tarps.
 
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Thanks for sharing, Dan! I have never seen chickens done in a tractor on such small a scale (generally I think that I don't have enough space for them)-- maybe I could get a tractor out in the garden!
 
Dan Scheltema
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My first tractor was over-engineered and way too heavy.  I could only tow it behind my SUV.  And doing that resulting in dead chickens .

This one is 3/4" PVC covered with hardware cloth. After gluing all the PVC together, I put the hardware cloth on with cable ties.  It's only a month or so old, so time will tell how well the ties hold up.  At least they are simple to replace. I could have used wire, but wire means even more (than those on the hardware cloth) sharp stickers.  It is standing up to all the dragging and pushing okay so far, but I know the PVC does take UV damage.

This one was 7'x3' specifically to move along my 30" x 50' beds.  It's very light, but no real place to grip it so it's either pushed, or I slip the teeth of a rake/cultivator under the front or back and tow it with that.  I could easily (and may get around to it) tie a tow rope at the bottom on each end.  Probably should.

 
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I have seen a lot of no till market gardeners use silage plastic to good effect.
The advantages over cardboard and mulch is the ease of application and the solarization.
Some remove it after it kills the weeds,  some plant right into it.
It seems to bring worms the way cardboard does.
The disadvantages include cost,  environment impact and that it's hard to source in a urban/suburban setting.

To suppress weeds in paths, I'm experimenting with pallet wood "stepping stones" over cardboard, to good effect.
 
Emily Smith
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Thanks, y'all!  I do have 5 hens.  Maybe I could experiment and tractor one part of this new plot and cardboard the other...
I'm trying to keep costs down, though.  Free cardboard and free mulch vs. materials for a tractor.  Though I do already have hardware cloth, which is the most expensive part.
I intend to use it to "fence" in the garden area--rebar stakes, and then 3' hardware cloth folded at a right angle inward so part of it's under the mulch.  I have dogs that need to stay out, and figured it would contain the mulch better.
 
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