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Grasses invading my mulch  RSS feed

 
David Chapman
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Greetings Everyone,

I'm in Zone 9a (South Florida) and have had this 2.5 ac plot for about 9 months now. I'm very new to permaculture and am slowly working towards a food forest.

One issue taking up a lot of my time is the invasion of grasses into my mulch ring. The grasses grow over or sometimes literally tunnel under/through my mulch and pop up anywhere they want. Pulling them often results in either a small piece of broken grass in my hand (well evolved, they are) or if I'm lucky, a three inch piece of grass followed by two feet of tunneling root or whatever it is. Pictures are below to detail this better, but does anyone have any suggestions? As mentioned, I'm new to this so I welcome all wisdom and knowledge.

With 60 trees in the ground, keeping these grasses back is taking a lot of my time.

Thank you!



 
William James
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Short term: mulch it more.
Long term: find friends for that tree and plant them around it, thickly and diversely.

Shade wins over grass in the end.

W
 
Nicole Castle
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Location: Madison, AL
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What you have there is bermuda grass. It's one of our southern aggressive runner grasses that most of the world is fortunate enough not to deal with, and IMO, the worst of the bunch. It's evil. If you find an easy solution that doesn't involve chemicals or lots of hand weeding, there are a few thousand southern gardeners that will offer profuse thanks. Bayer now has a chemical just for removing bermuda grasses, which should give you an idea how tough a problem this is.

You can't mulch that stuff away -- the individual plants are too extensive. The "parent" plant is likely well away from your mulch. You can't drought or starve it out -- the roots go 6' deep -- which also means solarization sets it back a for a while but it will return. It even pokes through weed cloth with ease and then you *really* have a mess. If you break it up by tilling or cultivating, all the pieces turn into new plants. And bermuda likes to be mowed really close, so it doesn't help to scalp it like you can other grasses. Shading it out won't remove any established bermuda, but it won't get started in a shady spot, so once you get some good canopy shade going it will limit itself.

Here's what I've found that slows it down -- get some patio pavers, dig a trench and set them in the trench halfway in and halfway above ground. You now have a mowing strip that you can put one mower tire on and get your edge when you mow. Bermuda will creep under the pavers and over the pavers (and between the cracks), but it gives you a fighting change to hand weed or edge against. You could also use some of the 6" metal edging and bury it in the ground to help slow the underground rhizomes, but that would get expensive very quickly if you have lots of edging to do, and you'll have to go pretty far out from any fruit trees not to damage them in the process.

When you weed, get as much of the plant as you can and lift it out in a few pieces as possible. If you dig up a new area, especially, get as much of the plant and roots as you can and absolutely don't till under. The more you get, the longer it takes to comes back. If it's a large area, borrow a sod cutter and strip off the top 3-4", cover with dense cardboard and lasagne up on top of it. That'll set the stuff back at least a year or two. (And maybe find someone to buy your sod. It's a fine lawn grass even if the rest of us hate it.)

Unfortunately, bermuda is also allelopathic, so you can't ignore it. And do not attempt to compost it. It will take over your compost pile, too.

 
William James
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You know, I was thinking that it might be Bermuda grass. It looked like it was creeping.
Yeah, that changes everything, doesn't it...
W
 
David Chapman
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Well Bermuda should no longer expect my support at the olympics.

In seriousness, thank you SO MUCH for the information Nicole, I really appreciate it!

I've observed that if I remove the bermuda grass from an area then plant sweet potatoes, they tend to stymie the bermuda grass from reestablishing itself in that area. Since it's allelopathic, I need to focus on it. So I'm going to clear small areas, plant sweet potato, then as it spreads, clear larger areas to make room for the potato.

The battle has begun.
 
Brenda Groth
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this is a big job but...pull off the mulch, pull out the grass, put in an edging that goes at least 6" deep, replace the mulch and make sure it does NOT hang over the edging..and watch for any sprouts of the grasses and keep them quickly pulled out..

plant in some polyculture in the mulch, esp those that will chop and drop or shade ..suggestions would be those with very big leaves like comfrey, rhubarb, horseradish, swiss chard, etc..put in some nitrogen fixers to feed the trees, legumes or other, and plant in some insectory plants (like wildflowers)..don't leave room for the grass and if you see little grass sprouts, pull them right away
 
William James
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This might not be what you're looking for, David, but...
Wouldn't that area be a good candidate for a chicken fence and a few chickens inside.
I imagine that Bermuda grass sounds tasty to them, and in a few months, no more bermuda grass...well, no more anything.

Plus you could feed them all those things with seeds that would go bonkers after you moved them out. There's your long-term shade.

Plus that means you don't have to mulch, which gives you one less thing to do.

Bermuda grass 0, chickens 1.

??

William
 
Nicole Castle
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Location: Madison, AL
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Sweet potatoes don't reproduce themselves from year to year in this zone, but you are a bit warmer. Is it perennial for you? It sounds like a very neat idea if it works for you. I'd have to replant a bunch of slips every year, though. It might be worth it for the trees in my field; I don't have bermuda over there fortunately but I do have other grasses that invade my mulch. The wild rabbits might kill the slips, though.

The chickens sound interesting, too. I don't know if chickens actually eat bermuda but they'd probably pick at it enough to keep it back.

Bermuda makes good hay so it isn't really a useless plant. Just don't mulch with bermuda hay or straw ever!
 
David Chapman
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Nicole, I'm not sure if it's perennial here or not as I'm pretty new to this area. But I planted some slips in large pots and they made it through the winter and this is their second summer, so I'm hopeful.

My chickens could care less about the Bermuda grass unfortunately
 
Craig Dobbson
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When I get grass in places I don't want it, I spray it with a light coating of used cooking oil. The oil smothers the plant and if the sun beats on it, it will also burn it (fry). Don't soak it! a light coating is enough to do the job. Soaking mulch in a sunny area with oil can cause a fire just like an oily rag will. I usually do this after the mulch is moist from rain or dew. The oil is biodegradable and will not harm your soil life. Best wishes
 
David Chapman
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Interesting idea Craig! I'll try that, thanks
 
Judith Browning
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Reading this thread reminded me I better do something about the bermuda creeping into one edge of my kitchen garden. I'm going to try plastic, the ground is wet from a little rain and it's on the south side of the house so I think solarization will knock it back good enough...I just got lazy in the heat and did not keep up with weeding it or mowing it and it got a little water whenever I watered plants so it is really lush....whoops. and then maybe try the oil on any that's left. I like the idea...maybe oil first then plastic?
 
Judith Browning
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Craig Dobbelyu wrote:When I get grass in places I don't want it, I spray it with a light coating of used cooking oil. The oil smothers the plant and if the sun beats on it, it will also burn it (fry). Don't soak it! a light coating is enough to do the job. Soaking mulch in a sunny area with oil can cause a fire just like an oily rag will. I usually do this after the mulch is moist from rain or dew. The oil is biodegradable and will not harm your soil life. Best wishes


Craig, I want to try your idea but I wondered what type of sprayer you used, I don't want to clog up my good one. I don't fry but thought new oil should work too. thanks.
 
Craig Dobbson
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Judith Browning wrote:
Craig Dobbelyu wrote:When I get grass in places I don't want it, I spray it with a light coating of used cooking oil. The oil smothers the plant and if the sun beats on it, it will also burn it (fry). Don't soak it! a light coating is enough to do the job. Soaking mulch in a sunny area with oil can cause a fire just like an oily rag will. I usually do this after the mulch is moist from rain or dew. The oil is biodegradable and will not harm your soil life. Best wishes


Craig, I want to try your idea but I wondered what type of sprayer you used, I don't want to clog up my good one. I don't fry but thought new oil should work too. thanks.


Fresh oil works just as well. I just use the used stuff as a way to recycle it. I filter mine through a fine filter so it doesn't clog my spray bottle. I've not had any problems with any of the sprayers I've used. Seems that any decent one will work.
 
Aljaz Plankl
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What works for me is to plant companions for trees, as other mentioned. After i plant a tree i mulch like you do and then i want something to grow there or else i get back existing vegetation, including bermuda grass. Mint does a great job! It's also a wonderful chop and drop plant. Then comfrey, lemon balm, strawberries-wild and common ones, ...
 
Richard Nurac
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Bermuda grass is a real pest for me in north Georgia. It invades my orchard and tomato and blueberry plantings, which are bordered by grasses. I have cleared it from my main vegetable gardens though it makes occasional forays.

I wait for soaking rains and then with my hand weeder, which is a handle and 8" spike, I attack it. Essentially I spike up the perimeter surrounding the plant to a depth of 8". When I encounter resistance I know it is probably Bermuda (though it could be the root of a fruit tree). Then, with the assistance of the spike I gently extricate the horizontal runner, which could easily be more than a foot long. Every so often the runner establishes itself by sending down an anchor. Here the spike is invaluable for loosening up the anchoring soil so I can pull out the anchor. I try to remove every remnant.

Really important that the soil is wet otherwise pieces will break off. I mulch extensively first with newspaper and then chips. Where the Bermuda travels through the mulch it is much easier to remove since the mulch it claws onto is easily lifted. So its presence motivates me to do much more mulching and in place soil stirring, which is beneficial to the plantings. As my blueberries and fruit trees grow bigger the problem will diminish.
 
Jason Long
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Hey David,

It seems the others have mentioned some really good ideas. I'm in homestead, and fortunately only a small space of the food forest has strong bermuda grass. It's right on the edge, exactly where I planted a living fence.

I am currently starting to try to remove the bermuda grass and planting lemongrass barriers to prevent the grass from creeping in.

It's amazing how powerful the root system is of bermuda. Everyone who isn't trying to grow something like lawn or animals can not stand it.

I'm shocked that your chickens won't go near as ours seem to enjoy it in the other areas of the farm. Look at what IFAS says about bermuda grass as poultry feed: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/an237

Come join our south florida plant swap that we just started up. Hope to see you around! South Florida Plant Swap

Jason

PS. Sweet potatoes and other edible ipomea's are perennial here in South Florida. Welcome to the lovely subtropics
 
David Chapman
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Thanks for the info and link Jason!

Lemongrass is a good idea too! I have some potted, I'll try that as well.

As for the chickens, they have so much tastier stuff to eat (they especially love my banana keiki *grumble*) that I don't think they care about the bermuda grass, at least not that I've seen. Maybe it's time for paddocks though to see if I can change their mind
 
Jason Long
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They are eating your banana kei
kis? They're helping you keep you bananas from growing to dense. However, it seems that you are not ready for that phase.

Are you from Hawaii or how long did you spend there and what parts?
 
David Chapman
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Hmm, I hadn't thought of what benefit they were providing! Interesting thought Jason I grumble because I want to transplant the keikis to other areas of the food forest. As you say, I'm not quite ready for their thinning

I spent a little over a year in the jungles on the Big Island ending two years ago. Hilo side, at about 2100 foot elevation up the mountain towards Volcano Village.
 
Jason Long
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I lived in Pahoa for 3 months on Opihikao Rd.
Plant something around the bananas that will either deter the chickens away or provide the chickens with a distraction that is more rewarding towards them.

If you heavily tractor the area I am certain the birds will remove most of the bermuda, but it will probably grow back. You can always throw seed in the area of the bermuda grass so the chickens will be scratching to get to it. This will disturb the bermuda grass and you may be able to find something to replace it. I haven't started my battle yet so I am not sure the best way.

Good luck
 
David Chapman
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Thanks for the suggestions!

I love the Opihikao Rd area. So beautiful but nothing remotely affordable was there when I purchased (I sold my land after a year). Thereafter, I was one day from closing on 22 acres on Noni Farm Rd when the island decided I wasn't supposed to be there

I miss how easy it is to grow stuff there. Few pests and no bermuda grass
 
Jason Long
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I was renting for $350/ month 5 acres of land. Small world eh?

No bermuda grass, but a whole lot of elephant grass. I remember clearing through 16 feet tall clumps of cane grass to start planting food forests. I sure miss it.
 
David Chapman
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Mmmm, I never had to deal with elephant grass but my land was completely infested with strawberry guava. There's always something I guess

I sure got good at making biochar with that stuff though Now I wish I had a bunch of it as I don't have any good biochar material. Heh. I couldn't chop and drop that stuff as what I would drop would turn into five more trees. It was crazy.

Did you ever befriend Scott of Evening Rain Farm on Railroad or Marvin at Maku'u market? They were my buds.
 
J W Richardson
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Hi David,

Bermuda sounds more persistent and runs deeper than quack/couch grass, which is what I have up here, but the replies advising a 6" barrier has prompted me to post what I am doing. (My first post! I've been lurking since spring and Love this site!)
This is following the concept of air pruning roots. Using a barrier, the rhizomes come up against it and then try to grow their way around it, which they usually succeed in doing to a certain degree. Try digging an edging, a little 6" ditch, instead. The roots come to it and air prune themselves, rather than continuing to grow. It takes some maintenance to keep cleared, but it sure helps me here with the quack. Another thing I am trying that I found here is interplanting the quack with white clover which is definitely heavily competing with it. I frost seeded the clover this spring and it has made a huge difference.
 
David Chapman
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Thanks for the ditch idea, I like that too!

What is "frost seeding"? I have a big bag of white clover but haven't figured out when to plant it in South Florida yet.
 
J W Richardson
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Good luck in Florida!

http://www.uwex.edu/ces/crops/frostsd.htm


Here's something from a random search for frost seeding in warm climates -

http://www.idohunting.com/forum/showflat.php/Number/704642/fpart/1/modified-frost-seeding-for-a-warm-spring

It sounds like if you make sure that you have a close mow and soil contact you can get it established. f you are already dealing with a tight bermuda turf you could have trouble - doesn't hurt to try a small area first, perhaps.
 
David Chapman
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Wow, that's amazing!

I get frost seeding now. We DO get a frost here, maybe 1-10 days per year. The problem is, it's always during our dry season. So if I spread all that clover and such, I'd have to water it to keep it moist. And I'm on sand. Literally. Any ideas?

Here's an update on my current method which I'm happy to improve with further suggestions.

I'm clearing an area of bermuda grass, planting sweet potato, mulching all around it, and then digging a trench around the mulch. I'll move the mulch out of the sweet potato way as it starts to vine out and expand my mulch line slowly but surely. Now to find time to make a chicken tractor so I can see if the chickens will do the hard work for me

 
Nicole Castle
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J W Richardson wrote:Try digging an edging, a little 6" ditch, instead. The roots come to it and air prune themselves, rather than continuing to grow. It takes some maintenance to keep cleared, but it sure helps me here with the quack.


It doesn't really work -- the bermuda will happily go over as well and under more than 6". It does help somewhat, but the effort in maintaining the ditch and weeding is extensive. It's kind of how I got to the barrier/mowing strip method. I still have to weed the edge, but at least I don't have to maintain the barrier, so it was a one time expense and effort to put in.

Of course, if one has more time and labor than money to buy edging -- which does get quite expensive -- then the ditch would be the way to go.

Regarding clover, I love my clover, but it is active and blooming at a completely different time of year, so they coexist happily in the same spot. Right now bermuda is going gangbusters and you don't even see the clover hiding underneath, but come spring the clover will be lush while the bermuda is still sleeping. That said, I think our Alabama summers are more intense than most of Florida, so clover may not die back as badly there. David, I would check with the local extension office on when to plant clover and also when it's active. Some people go to great lengths to get clover out of their lawn (!?), so any nursery or farm coop will probably be able to tell you all you need about how it behaves locally.
 
Ken Peavey
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I'm in north Florida, have Bermuda grass everywhere. I have prepared beds with a 6" deep layer of leaves, left the site alone for a couple of weeks, then had to recover the site with another 6 inches, and the grass still pops up everywhere. I have deeply mulched the paths between beds-the stuff creeps right in. I have plucked the grass and roots, and buried the area with a foot of leaves-the grass is back in a couple of weeks. I have rototilled vast areas and left them exposed to the sun to no avail. I've pulled out more hair than grass. Without poisons, this is a tough one.

I've had good success with ceramic tile used for bed sides. I vertically sink the tile deep into the ground, leaving 3-4 inches above ground. The grass still gets through the gaps, but not nearly as much as without this barrier. The material is not water permeable so it helps retain moisture in the beds. The tiles can be removed/relocated easily. I use a rubber mallet to pound them into the sand. Still, if neglected for more than a few weeks, the growth is such that I am starting over.

My best results have been digging the bed, removing all the roots I find, sinking a tile barrier, and mulching heavily.

I propose two methods of attack
1] A larger barrier: deeper into the ground and no gaps.
2] Deeply mulch (a couple of feet deep) the entire garden area and extend the mulch for several yards beyond.

Accepting that there is more grass than I can keep up with, I have used it to advantage with the green beans. I stake the beans, then run twine back and forth for the beans to climb. when the grass sends up a seed shoot, I bend them into the lower line of twine. The beans grab onto the grass and follow it to the twine where they continue to climb. I can plant beans in an area a couple feet wide and get by using just the one twine/stake ladder.
 
Dan Wallace
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I'm zone 9 as well in the SF Bay area and am unfortunate enough to have both bermuda grass and kikuyu grass.

The only thing that has worked is laying down thick cardboard, tarp, carpet, etc to smother and kill it. If the covering is not thick enough, the grass will just dramatically bust right through. Once eliminated though its smooth sailing. They spread mainly through rhizomes.
 
Ben Stallings
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I spend a lot of time fighting bermuda grass here in eastern Kansas, and I echo what others have said about deep mulch, but here are some specifics that I've found:

* Recycled plastic edging is effective at preventing runners from going under, but the mower can't get close enough to keep the grass from going over! Try burying bricks instead, or see the next tip.

* Mulch without some above-ground barrier to hold it in place tends to blow and get thin on the edges. I like to put a ring of irises around a mulched bed to hold the mulch in place. Very few runners will get past the wall of mulch and irises.

* Consider getting rid of the bermuda grass in the lawn around your beds so that it can't encroach. I find lamb's ear to be a very effective groundcover, tolerant of drought, mowing, and foot traffic, and it will crowd out bermuda grass and attract bumblebees... plus it feels great on bare feet! Give it a try. You will need to let some go to seed off the beaten path so you will have seeds for further spreading; the part that is mowed will not get tall enough to go to seed and so will spread very slowly.

Good luck!
 
David Chapman
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Thank you all for your continued input, I really appreciate it!

Unfortunately, I don't think the Lamb's Ear would do well here in South Florida's summer The other ideas are great though
 
Nicole Castle
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The iris' sound like a good idea. They are certainly thugs, too, but ones that are relatively easily controlled.

 
Calvin Mars
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I'm working on a lot of different strategies for controlling bermuda, one theme that reverberates through all of these methods is soil quality. If you encourage soil fertility in the form of inputs, worms, mulch, gypsum, etc. the Bermuda is a lot easier to pull out intact. Try planting something like potato or jerusalem artichoke in that spot. You're going to dig it out later anyway.... I ran across a paper that detailed good results that an organic farm has with shading out Bermuda with sorghum. The article did mention a multiple year run for the sorghum. I'm building up my seed stock to try free sowing in Bermuda patches.

I had an idea. Let a patch of Jerusalem artichokes spread out into a circular clump, a big one that creates shade. Then hollow out the center of this circle by digging out the tubers and then heavily cardboard mulch the center ring. Dump some growing material on the sheet mulch and then grow shallow root plants in there. Lettuce? I know the sun choke chemically suppresses other plants, but I've noticed that some things will grow there. Cardboard would probably block that out.

Of course, you're going to have a Jerusalem artichoke infestation, but I assure you it's a lot easier to control than Bermuda. I'm willing to make this trade. Jerusalem artichoke is such a great biomass plant.
 
David Good
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Bermuda grass is really evil. It was my bane in TN. Here in FL I'm dealing more with nutsedge and the horribly invasive cogongrass. In order to get my nursery liscense, I've been ordered to remove all the latter from my property. I'm in for a LOT of digging...

As for your problem, I managed to beat back the bermuda previously by putting down double layers of cardboard and piling a foot of rough chipped wood mulch on top. If I had it to do again, I'd probably use three layers of cardboard.

I hate that stuff and I feel your pain. Sweet potatoes are probably a good idea. You might also try velvet beans if you have a large area.
 
Chris Watson
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Nicole Castle wrote:You can't mulch that stuff away -- the individual plants are too extensive. The "parent" plant is likely well away from your mulch. You can't drought or starve it out -- the roots go 6' deep -- which also means solarization sets it back a for a while but it will return. It even pokes through weed cloth with ease and then you *really* have a mess. If you break it up by tilling or cultivating, all the pieces turn into new plants. And bermuda likes to be mowed really close, so it doesn't help to scalp it like you can other grasses. Shading it out won't remove any established bermuda, but it won't get started in a shady spot, so once you get some good canopy shade going it will limit itself.



Unfortunately, bermuda is also allelopathic, so you can't ignore it. And do not attempt to compost it. It will take over your compost pile, too.


Perhaps kryptonite…?
 
winston wilcox
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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNhvzV4NyfY&feature=youtube_gdata_player



here is a take on removing it with plastic and Sun combined with tilling
 
David Chapman
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I thought I'd update this thread with some new information. Here is the before:



Here is the after (2 months later to the day):



Sweet potato is DEFINITELY the way to go at my location.
 
James Colbert
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Awesome it looks like that sweet potato is kicking the Bermuda grass' ass. I was going to recommend horticulture grade vinegar but it seems like the sweet potato method is doing a fine job.
 
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https://permies.com/t/70674/digital-market/digital-market/Complete-Wild-Edibles-Package-Sergei
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