This spring I started a garden. It is surrounded by woods and is located close to my house. I am in zone 7a.
I have laid out the material from silt fencing, that was left after the construction, to kill or suppress the weeds:
I planted a variety of different crops to see which one will fare better. But very quickly, competition from all the roots and seeds that were still alive and only waiting for an opportune moment, started:
By July, the weeds took completely over. Only large tobacco plants, that I planted into the cuts in the fabric, are flourishing:
Shall I till the soil before winter? I was trying not to disturb the soil in order to keep the soil microorganisms alive...
I can also bring a lot of old hay and cover the whole area with it. It will rot and become a nutrient for future crops. Would it be enough to suppress the growth of the weeds?
If I will not take care of the wild plants, they are going to come back next year... Your advice is appreciated.
Tilling could work against you since it could bring up more weed seed. Seeding a cover crop an then mowing could be a good option, something like rye is a nutrient scavenger and produces a lot of biomass. Mowing/ chopping would likely not kill all the hardier or perennial plants, however it would set them back. A smothering mulch is not a bad idea but involves bringing in a lot of material, and the mulch material should be free of weed seed. Unless you have cardboard and at least a few inches of mulch I think you are better off seeding a cover crop and then covering the seed by mowing and or bringing in material .
I am part of what I think of as a local soul-group: A network of gardeners that share a philosophy towards growing that is radically different from what we grew up with, and from the culture that surrounds us. Within our group, weeds are thought of as a blessing. They nurture the soil, they mine nutrients from underground, they convert sunlight into biomass, they feed the insects and the wildlife. They bring beauty to the garden. They retain moisture. Many are edible by humans and most by animals. In otherwords, weeds are desirable.
I have one field that I keep perfectly weeded. It is the lowest fertility field on my farm. Weeds generate a tremendous amount of soil fertility for me. Next spring, I am intending to introduce some of my favorite weeds into that field. I'm intending to let them go to seed.
As examples of some ways that we use weeds. Dandelions are a very desirable cover crop in a garlic bed. Amaranth and lambsquarters are very healthy greens. One of my weeds is the preferred food source for Colorado Potato Beetles, so if that weed is growing in a field, they won't touch the domestic solanums.
We love watching the weeds, and what they tell us about ourselves as farmers.
In my own garden, weeds are a valuable plant-breeding ally, as I select for families that thrive while growing right in amongst our local weed population.
I grew crops of corn and beans this year that were not weeded a single time. I am super content with them. Supposing that I didn't have to weed my garden ever again? Would it be worthwhile if productivity was only 50% of what a weeded garden would produce? In my own garden, that is a choice that I am super-willing to make. Half productivity with no labor works out to be a sweeter deal than full productivity with tremendous labor.
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
In my experience, "surrounded by woods" doesn't seem like a very good place for a garden. At my place, there are a couple of trees along the edges of a couple of my fields. I don't plant anything near the trees. Soil fertility is bad. The tree roots suck the moisture away.
@Joseph L: "Would it be worthwhile if productivity was only 50% of what I weeded garden would produce? In my own garden, that is a choice that I am super-willing to make. Half productivity with no labor works out to be a sweeter deal than full productivity with tremendous labor."
Kind of my philosophy as well. We weed a bit early in the year just to give the crop plants a leg-up, but then by mid-summer let everything go. If you look at the series of entries in the following link, where planting, establishment, and harvesting of our potatoes was done, you can see in the last entry of a few days ago just how weedy that potato patch gets. At this point, the vines have died back weeks ago and the patch is mostly lambsquarter and pigweed, with several volunteer tomatillos mixed in. Sure, I can imagine getting larger yields if it were weeded religiously, but with what we get anyway....why bother? An added perk as you alluded to is soil fertility and structure. In addition to the manuring in the spring, the weed roots really keep the soil very friable. For most of the digging, I could have just used my hands to pull away the weeds and lightly scrape away the soil to reveal the potatoes.
John Weiland wrote:We weed a bit early in the year just to give the crop plants a leg-up, but then by mid-summer let everything go.
In my ideal world, each crop would get weeded one time, approximately 2-3 weeks after the crop germinates. That much of a head start over the weeds is more than enough for most of the crops that I grow.
Well, the good news is that all those weed seeds have sprouted and added their contribution to your soil. That's actually very good. But if you let those same weeds go to seed again, you'll just have to deal with it all again next year. If you haven't mowed that space, do so before all the seeds blow around and sew their crop again for next year. Make sure you bag it. Then hot-compost the trimmings.
Whatever the question, mulch tends to be a good answer.
Can you cover the entire space with 6 inches of wood chip mulch for the winter? Then, come spring, just rake the mulch back in those spaces where you'll be planting.
Six inches of mulch should be more than sufficient to smother the vast majority of seeds on the ground. Those seeds that land on the mulch will have difficulty spouting and growing. Those that do come up will be easily pulled from the mulch.
This will help in multiple ways.
1. Mulch feeds the soil.
2. Mulch holds moisture. By July and August, your crops will thank you.
3. Mulch smothers weed seeds and seedlings.
4. Mulch attracts worms by the zillions, and creates an ideal breading ground for them.
5. Mulch keeps the soil an even temp: not too hot, not too cold.
6. Mulch, as it breaks down, feeds the soil food web, raising the carbon content of your soil.
7. Mulch makes the ground soft, so weeds pull right out.
But you've got to be attentive. You can't just plant and walk away. Once your tomatoes, okra, peppers, cucumbers and squash are a few inches tall, you can push the mulch back, close to the plants and keeping the weeds from reaching the sunlight.
Post Tenebras Lux
Until further notice, we will celebrate everything.
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
I feel very nervous about that fabric that's shown a photo in the original post. I've never yet observed fabric to keep weeds out of a garden: Leaves and debris just settle on top of it, and turn into soil. Then you can't work the soil, because it's got fabric embedded in it.