I am growing in a field of tilled quackgrass and getting pretty sick of weeding it. I have stopped planting half way and now I am considering my options.
I have heard from a trusted farmer friend to just keep tilling over and over again every two weeks and run through with a harrow right after; he also suggested I just give up for the year and just keep tilling. But of course that will destroy the tilth and I just don't really want to do that unless I have to.
I've considered guinea hogs. But this sounds really sketchy: putting a bunch of smart and wily escape artists near what I do have planted sounds like a nightmare. Cover cropping sounds OK, but I don't think it will actually suppress the grass.
I've had lots of troubles with quack grass on my farm. In the end, the best things was to keep tilling. But you dont have to till deeply. Ideally, you'd pull up the rhizomes where the quack grass stores its energy; however, you can also just shallow till. If the grass blades get above about 4", they start sending energy back to the rhizome. So, if you can graze, mow or till those blades under while they're small, they'll eventually use up all the carbohydrates they've stored away. I used to have pigs. They did a decent job turning up the rhizomes, but as soon as I moved them out, the grass would regrow. So tilling regularly for a year is the best option. Also, it seems to me that quack grass seems to do well in the cooler weather. So regular tillage in spring and fall.
As far as soil structure, I feel mixed about it. If you till just deep enough to knock the grass down, you'll only disturb the top couple of inches. Trust me, it will be worth it. You'll be cursing quack grass for years otherwise. I've pulled rhizomes that are 8 - 10 feet long.
If you are looking to plant a fairly small area you could experiment with Back To Eden style gardening. We have used it with good results to eliminate creeping buttercups from a fairly large herb bed. The runners will end up in the top few inches of woodchip and be very loosely secured to the soil. Hand weeding lets you pull up long runs, roots and all. Previously hand weeding of our buttercups was a fruitless task as the roots snapped and resprouted.
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I have the same issue. Someone planted that a long time ago it has bad runners. Everytime I want to start a new garden it takes two weeks with a tiller and pitch fork just to get the runner roots out. Most tillers wont till it because it binds up their tills, and I really don't want to lose 10 inches of topsoil. Im thinking cardboard and 3 feet of wood chips would get it in around 3-5 years. Anyone have this experience? I would like to return it to the orchard it was with surrounding gardens. Its just impossible stuff
PS I refuse to put pesticides or any damaging poisons on that land.
I've been doing a Back to Eden style wood chip garden for the last six years, and I had a rough start for the first five years. I laid a layer of cardboard covered with 6-8" of wood chips on top. The cardboard and chips slowed the quack grass, but I ended up spending many hours on my knees rooting out quack runners while listening to podcasts. The quack roots had enough energy to push through the soggy card board and and the chips. It WAS easier to root it out.
A year ago I finally found an approach that has stopped the quack grass for me. I started by staking large sheets of lumber wrap that I pick up from our local lumber yard to a grassy area as soon as the snow melted. After giving the quack grass a good solar toasting for three months, I then covered the roasted grass with cardboard, leaves, and 3-4" of wood chips. I haven't seen a blade of grass in that area since then. I did learn that the lumber wrap MUST have the black face up facing the sun. Not all lumber wrap has a black surface, so I only selected black ones at my lumber yard.
I take a different approach. I encourage grasses to grow between my rows of veggies, but I keep them mowed. In the veggie row itself I use a paper or cardboard barrier and hay or wood chips mulch. The grass will eventually bust through, but I am moving my row over next year anyway. I actually want the grass to take over my old bed. This way I have living cover on my fields at all times. 100% cover between the rows means I have a habitat and storehouse for beneficial insects, microorganisms, companion plants, and mycorrhizal networks etc.... you can mow with a mower or use a chicken tractor, rabbit tractor or some other carefully controlled animal grazing. If the grass breaks through the weed barrier too soon, just poke it out with a long handled dandelion tool. It won't kill it, but it will slow it down enough to let your veggies become dominant.
"Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labour; & of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system."-Bill Mollison
Much like Curt, I have solved the quack grass dilemma, or at least found a way that works for me. I started preparing my new garden areas by placing large sheets of black rubber roofing material over the entire area where the new garden will be. I also lay another piece of black rubber all the way around the future garden area. This piece should be 4 feet or so wide. The time of year, amount of sun, temperature, etc., will determine how long the rubber needs to stay in place. It's very easy to tell if it has been long enough. Every bit of vegetation, including the quack grass, will be dead, and the earth will be bare. In my area, it generally takes 3 or 4 months in the summer. During the time it is covered, the mice, voles, moles, ants, and other friendly workers are burrowing everywhere under the rubber. When I remove it, I can easily dig down 6 inches or so with my hand, as opposed to the surrounding area that you can't get a shovel in by jumping on it with both feet.
Remove the rubber from the garden area, but leave the 4 foot wide pieces that surround the garden area in place. That 4 feet is the barrier that keeps the quack grass from moving back into the garden from the surrounding area.
Immediately after removing the rubber from the garden, I cover the entire area with mulch. I use wood chips, you should be able to use whatever you like. Lay your mulch, water the area, and plant in holes/rows in the mulch. The rubber perimeter will keep a dead zone around your garden until, or if, you decide to expand. The quack grass won't come back because it can't pass thru the rubber barrier without dying from lack of light and water, and the heat cooks it if it tries.
"People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do."
Common Weeds And Wild Edibles Of The World (HD video)