Garden Bed Weed Management, by Southern Trapper

Working a 9-to-5 job, I don’t have time to pull weeds every day so I sure won’t be able to do so during TEOTWAWKI when time and operational security are scarce. So, I have spent a lot of time experimenting with techniques to reduce weed growth and improve soil conditions that require minimal inputs and labor. Here I present three methods of preparing new garden beds and maintaining existing beds that require only hand tools. These techniques are particularly suitable for individuals who want to turn existing sod into high-intensity gardening as happened in March of 2020 when many suburban and urban homeowners frantically tried to turn lawns into beds when they realized the fragility of the food chain.

In addition, these techniques eliminate the use of small engine noises. During situations like the breakdown of civil order or hyperinflation, it may be very important for operational security to minimize small engine noises so as to not signal the presence of abundant food at a particular home. And for the elderly or ill, these techniques do not require much physical labor besides bending over.

1. Sheet Composting

The most popular of these no-till methods enrich the soil while providing weed suppression by blocking sunlight. I originally used this method of sheet composting to convert portions of my lawn into rich garden beds without a tiller or tractor. Also called lasagna gardening, the sheet composting technique uses layers of carbon and nitrogen biomass. Begin with a heavy layer of cardboard or if not available newsprint. Layer more carbon materials onto this layer. Leaves, [some types of] sawdust, [some types of]  wood chips, or [some types of] rotten logs are ideal. Then cover with nitrogen-rich material such as kitchen scraps, lawn clippings in small amounts, or animal droppings. Keep layering nitrogen and carbon until you have at least 2’ of material. I have found that you want at least around an 8:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen. And also, be careful not to put “hot” nitrogen materials like chicken litter immediately on top of your base cardboard layer as it will quickly reduce the ability of the base to block sunlight. In arid climates, water occasionally.

How long it will take for the compost to cook will depend on your area, but we have been able to plant in 4-6 months after laying down all the material. Sheeting composting in fall or winter when you have access to leaves is a perfect time to prepare for spring planting. When it is time to plant, simply take a spade and dig right where you want to put the transplant or direct seed. Leave the rest of the bed undisturbed. When beginning sheet composting, it is easiest to plant transplants or tubers. However, it is certainly possible to direct seed. You can work the seeds into the layer of compost without disturbing the soil, though in our experience this may result in uneven germination. Or, simply dig a 1” deep by 3-4” wide trench with your hoe. Plant seeds in a trench and then, after thinning, throw compost heavily around the small plants as you have disturbed the weed bed in the trench. For plants like watermelons that grow best in a mound, I’m not shy about pushing the dirt around, but I then place sheets of newspaper to cover the mound except where the seed was placed.

Using sheet composting substantially improved my soil and yields, and it provided a very low tech way to convert sod into productive land. I would recommend using this method now while many of the inputs are easily available. Cardboard is very easy to source from appliance or grocery stores. When I go into town in the fall, I pick up more than enough bags of leaves on the curb. And while I would never buy a cup of coffee at a certain coffee chain due to its support of evil, I will take their coffee grinds for free which they give you if you ask.

However, I would not recommend using sheet composting solely as your method of bed preparation in a crisis situation. It is very hard to acquire enough inputs (compostable materials) to scale up production even at a time when you can simply pick them up off the curb. In TEOTWAWKI, it would be extremely difficult for most people to gather enough inputs. In addition, there is a risk that during subsequent years of sheet composting you will develop intractable perennial weeds. For this technique, the primary mechanism of weed control is blocking sunlight from weeds while minimizing exposure of the layer of soil that contains weed seeds (the weed bed). However, unless one is consistently putting down very thick and large amounts of opaque material, you are not killing the weeds but simply retarding their growth. We have found that after 3-4 years of sheet composting that we develop significant problems with Bermuda grass infiltrating the bed. This plant grows via rhizomes so it spreads its roots underneath the composting layer, and it grows up immediately when the bed is disturbed or the material cooks down.

 2. Solarization

If you have ever laid a windowpane on the ground during a project, you will know that when you come back a week later you will have bare dirt. Solarization traps sunlight to increase the temperature of the soil and vegetation. In addition to substantially killing existing weeds and weeds in the weed bed, this method has benefits for controlling fungi, nematodes, and other pests. Studies have found a 94% reduction in weed seeds in solarized beds compared to non-solarized beds (Masabni and Franco, 2017). To solarize, you can either till or simply scrape the soil with a hoe to remove as many plants as you can.  Lay down clear plastic. Painter’s plastic is standard, and I would recommend at least a 3 ml thickness. Non-standard sources for foraging in a crisis include shower curtain liners or clear vapor barriers on insulation. Leave the plastic in place for at least four weeks. For spring planting, we laid our plastic down in the last week of January. Since it is darker and colder now, I am going to keep it down until I am ready to plant in 3 months.

Once I am ready to plant, I will take the plastic off and move it to another plot to prepare the bed for summer planting. I cover the active bed with a layer of rotted compost (leaves from the fall, chicken litter, rabbit droppings, and kitchen scraps) to provide a layer of mulch. I run drip irrigation on top of this and then a light (2”) layer of new leaves but hand watering is of course a fine option. After you harvest, it best to cover up the soil. An easy way to do this is to plant a cover crop like rye or clover. Direct seed the cover crop by lightly working the seeds into the layer of mulch and then water well.  Mow it down and compost or feed to the animals when you are ready to solarize again.

 3. Occultation

The final method of no-till garden management is similar to solarization but has a different role in the survival garden. Like solarization, occultation raises the temperature of the soil through the greenhouse effect. The opaque plastic of occultation also prevents sunlight from reaching the plants and seeds in the bed, unlike the clear plastic of solarization. Because sunlight is deflected, there is a relatively lower increase in soil temperature compared to solarization. To use occultation, clear debris and plant material using a hoe then tightly fit a tarp or black plastic over the bed. Leave in place in at least 6 weeks and spread compost and plant without tilling.

Compared to solarization, one advantage of occultation is that a tarp is more likely to be found in the prepared household. Tarps can also be reused more times than painter’s plastic. In addition, occultation may harm pose less harm to the beneficial microrganisms of the soil compared to solarization which has more of a sterilization effect (Smith et al., 2017).  One disadvantage of occultation is that it takes longer to provide adequate weed suppression. Smith and colleagues (2017) found a complete removal of weed seeds from the weed bed at four weeks using solarization but only a significant reduction of weed seed count at six weeks using occultation.

Putting the no-till garden together

All three techniques are suitable for gardening in an austere environment, and particular application will depend on your available resources and context. For improving existing beds, sheet composting in the offseason or solarization followed by mulching with compost are very effective techniques. If sheet composting, I would still recommend periodic solarization after the organic matter has completely broken down to reduce the weed bed. If converting sod into productive land, I would suggest mowing the grass as short as you can and then using occultation to kill at least the visible grass. Next, use sheet composting for at least the first season to improve and aerate the soil. After a bed has been established, plant cover crops followed by seasonal solarization and mulching with compost.

References



41 Comments

  1. Tried lots of methods over many years (cloth/plastic/newspaper/straw/mulch/tilling/corn extract/propane blowtorch/small electric/battery tillers), nothing worked for me (a lazy old man). This year I am trying my no tiller/lawnmower plan:

    -Mow garden in spring close to ground.
    -Use middle buster to make open rows of soil to plant in.
    -Mow weeds with push mower between rows as summer goes on.
    -Probably manual weeding of rows, but least amount possible

    1. Burning weeds with a propane blowtorch, always looked like it was fun and easy, on the television ads. … Never tried it.
      ……… The old time getting down on the knees, and hand pulling the weeds is the tried and true method for the small garden. (Not so easy)
      A hoe will work for quick weeding away from the plants.
      (The old timers had a large number of children around to help with the garden and chores. A Blessing from God.)

      The information about using the heat from the Sun for killing the scourge of Nematodes is worth saving (at least in the memory bank). … For the small city gardens, there’s not much room for crop rotation. … With an infestation of nematodes, much of the garden can be lost for a season or two. The use of growing sacks or containers is about the only alternative to planting in the ground (in the infested spot).

      Nematode resistance plants are a myth like the preverbal ‘Free Lunch’ from the government.
      There seems to be a BAD Nematode for every good ~wanted plant . … (Gardeners Always desire a shed to store the needed items for future use; including sheets of old plastic to heat the soil, and beat-up empty pots.)

      As a note: SurvivalBlog does have a few articles about using Garden Grow Bags for plants. There are articles on the Internet for making your own bags out of the appropriate fabric. It’s also possible to poke a ~bunch of holes in plastic trash bags. …. Plants can be grown in bags. (I grew potatoes in homemade bags along the driveway fence. It was a successful experiment of possibilities.)

      1. “Burning weeds with a propane blowtorch, always looked like it was fun and easy, on the television ads. … Never tried it.”

        Hey GGHD, they definitely kill the leaves and stems but many of them will grow back from the roots because the heat doesn’t penetrate the soil much. I’ve thought about trying it to kill weed seeds on the surface in an area and see how that compares to other areas without treatment. If anyone’s tried it I’d love to hear their results.

        1. I’ve torched the thistles just as the seeds are opening up. Good flash fire as the down burns off. Kinda fun on a summer night! But, you have to burn the seeds in order to be effective.

          Not to be used where or when fire danger exists!

      2. I use a digging fork to get the roots of Bermuda grass and put them in the fire pit, never in the compost bin. Gotta keep at it. I have come to consider it a sport, see if I can catch the rhizmes before they go too far.

        “With an infestation of nematodes, much of the garden can be lost for a season or two.”

        There are parasitic wasps that address this: https://organiccontrol.com/beneficial-wasps/

        https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/parasitoid-wasps-hymenoptera

        Then there is this: https://humagro.com/promax2020/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI08_auqPj7gIVCaGGCh3rRwjAEAMYAiAAEgJ1kvD_BwE

        Carry on

        1. Parasitoid Wasps (Hymenoptera)
          Wasps belong to the order Hymenoptera, which includes more parasitoids than any other order of insects, with thousands of parasitic species in over 40 families.
          Parasitoid wasps are very diverse in appearance, ranging in size from as small as a fleck of pepper up to nearly 3” long, and from uniformly dark in color to brightly colored and patterned. These tiny agents of death may be ectoparasitoids or endoparasitoids, but the good news is, they do not sting people.<<~~~
          *******
          *******
          Nematodes especially the Nematodes, you don't want around, seem to require 'heating the earth' (the depth of the Nematodes is a problem), and ~starvation of the Nematodes.
          [The fallow earth without watering will work. It takes a while.]

          Large portions of the Far West, because of the lack of rain, would be known as 'Bad Lands' ~ without artificial irrigation.

          As a religious comment: Something in people enjoy a 'Garden of Eden' type of greenery. Even in desert areas, people enjoy real flowering plants, shrubs and trees, that require lots of water. An oasis of plants for the Soul, with a pool of circulating water.

          Of course the Crème de la Crème, for modern day desert dwellers in America, is an emerald green Golf Course, with well-watered grass. [No plastic outdoor rugs; no Astro-Turf.]

    2. Michael Rutkaus, Boy, did you give me a laugh. Like you, I have tried many different ways. Ever since I was a child, I have loved to weed. Weird, I know. I got a propane blow torch when my knees and back couldn’t keep up several years ago. It was fun to use, yet, obviously just a temporary fix. Thanks for the laugh, Krissy

  2. Great article with solid suggestions, Southern Trapper!

    In addition to the prevention of weeds initially, one of our biggest garden challenges is weeding throughout the growing season. Seems this is unavoidable as we live in an area where everything grows — and grows and spreads, and grows and spreads! On the surface, one might imagine that this is a good problem to have — and in many ways it is. However! It also increases the workload overall.

    Solutions? We started off with typical raised beds which are not too far up off the ground, but we’re moving into “taller” raised beds and this does make a difference. It’s another idea to add to the mix!

    1. Well said, TofA. I have been using 5 gallon buckets in a paved area of my property. Weeds are minimal, no root propagation. And they are higher, easier to reach. COntainer gardening.

      Carry on

  3. From my experience with SFG raised beds:

    1). Mow with a bagger, do not throw the clippings into the beds. Commercial zero turns are the worst, keep them away from your garden…

    2) Use a watering wand, do not use an area sprinkler.

    4) Do not use an area sprayer or spreader for fertilizers. Folks get too caught up in those ‘Miracle Grow’ commercials… Adding compost is recommended.

  4. The Mittleider method worked very well for me last year which is very efficient at weed control, fertilizer and water usage. Aisles and rows are used to concentrate watering and fertilizing and minimize weeding. The use of a loop or scuffle hoe greatly reduces the effort in weeding. Check out growfood.com for more info

  5. Gardening and working a 9 to 5 job is a great conflict. My garden was 30 rows in a 40X50 plot. Southeast Alaska weeds grew at a tremendous rate because of the constant rain.

    It takes dedication to begin weeding at 3:30am until 6:00am. Showering, kids off to school, get breakfast, pack lunches etc then driving to work for the 8:00am start time. Speed home after work at 5:00pm and dive back into garden. Weed until 6:30pm supper. Back to garden to weed until midnight. That was one row of weeding done.

    It takes youth, fanaticism, a great wife that appreciates fresh food and takes care of the household details, long Alaskan summer days and a lot of experimentation to be acknowledged the best gardener in your area. It also helps if you give up TV and other distractions.

    1. You are exactly right about the time constraints. I have young kids so by the time August comes around I don’t have the energy to plant a fall garden because I’m so burned out. That’s a really intensive garden plot, good work.

    2. Tom, you are my kind of fella. Um, except for the 3:30am part. Whoa.

      And this is absolutely necessary: It also helps if you give up TV and other distractions.

      Carry on

  6. Hmm, an interesting article. My son took a master gardener course and one of the things he was told and passed it on to me was to use black plastic layer ( the heaver the better ) put down in the spring or in the fall and leave it until the following year. I’l find out this spring how this is working out. I covered half of the garden, if it works out I’ll do the other half. Although I’ve been thinking more or less along the lines of a raised bed ( easier on an old man’s back and his ” new ” knees )

  7. Just one more comment here. the location of our garden is in full view of the road and in years past we’ve had people stop and ask about the garden and what we did with all the garden produce, when we would tel them what we did with it , more than one would accuse us of hoarding, that we should give it to people who need it. We did share it, with the family, and with the convent in town and would also take to church to give to who ever wanted it. Nothing went to waste.

    1. I always find people who complain/accuse the most, do the least! I too shared what I grew with neighbors and friends. There are people out there who make it a point to pay attention to what you are doing. I think it will only get worse.

    2. Thank you for the article!!
      What a strange society we live in, where people have the audacity to comment on what you do with your own garden produce!! But, that’s the effect of a Marxist education and social world view that believes you don’t own what you produce. It’s a good idea, in these times to create a somewhat concealed garden area if possible. Another good reason to live in a more remote area.

      On the black plastic method, I used to watch someone on youtube who lives in an area of Canada where the growing season is very short. He rolls out thick black plastic tarp in the fall, after removing as much of the weeds as possible, and lets it sit all winter like that. The method is most effective at killing off the rhizomes. In the spring, when it’s time to till it into raised bed rows, he’s diligent about getting at those weeds if any remain. It’s takes a long time to kill off the areas where those long roots grow. He grows organically, so no chemicals are used. In the more northern areas, gardening is more of an art with colder and shorter days.

    3. I wonder if they never heard the story of The Little Red Hen?

      Maybe I’ll just paint a sign calling our garden The Little Red Hen Garden…

      Seriously, we don’t mind sharing, but we reserve the right to decide with whom we do share with.

      1. Red Rover, That is exactly what I was thinking! I had my own copy of,
        “The Little Red Hen,” as a child, and loved to read it over and over.

        Love your idea for naming your garden that.

        Like many commenters here, my parents give away tons of produce to friends and family, and the rest they give to the local food bank.

        The audacity of Alfreds’ accusing commenters is just beginning. After listening to David Dubyne on Adapt 2030, Iceagefarmer and others, it is imperative we all start keeping every kind of food production as secret as possible. If you grow it or raise it, they will come to take it. My 2cents.

        “Keep it secret. Keep it safe.” (Lord of the Rings)

    4. My largest beds are also in view of the road, and I wish I had had your insight before making that choice. There is a young father who chronicled his survival through hyperinflation in Venezuela. He lived in a subdivision and continued living there after many neighbors moved away which decreased his op-sec. One of the most important things they did was to move all food production inside the house (sprouts, hydroponics, etc). For the lawn, they didn’t cut the grass, left trash lie there, etc. And he was able to avoid being singled out as a house with food by the paramilitary gangs (composed of criminals, armed with the guns of the people who had been disarmed).

      I have been reading SurvivalBlog since 2008 and am greatly indebted to Mr. Rawles and this community so please remove the following external link if you see fit:
      https://www.survivalistboards.com/threads/venezuela-coming-apart.504289/page-23

  8. My friend used the lasagna method with great success except her beds were at least 6 inches thick and she had a layer of dirt about 1 in. thick on top in which to start seeds. I tried it on my yard to attempt to have a sort of lawn and not a yard of weeds. Unfortunately because of circumstances I couldn’t control I was only able to put down about 2 inches of materials on top of my cardboard. I decided to spread grass seeds anyway. I had moderate success but I’m sure more materials would have worked better. I did discover that dandelions easily seed from the top down and their roots go right down through the cardboard. So they and another type of wild weed needed to be hand pulled. As to black plastic or tarps, where I live, N.W. Montana, they work really well at killing the weeds. It does take a while but seems to kill the roots too. My experience with windows or clear plastic is that they create a little greenhouse and the weeds thrive under them. It might be because we don’t usually have high temperatures for a long time in the summer up here. Also, to reduce weeds around your garden plants a deep mulch will really help as well as reducing the amount of watering needed. The Back to Eden u tube has lots of ideas for mulch. I like seeing little plants grow into tasty plants and I do believe it will be very beneficial to have a garden this coming year.

    1. I also believe that it will be very important to have a garden in 2021 for practical security and spiritual growth. I have gained much in humility working in my little garden and I appreciate how many parables are based in farming.

      “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”

      We have good friends who are trying the Back to Eden method of heavy wood chip mulching. You basically lay down a lot (6-8″+) of wood mulch which tree companies will drop off for free in our area, give it time to decompose, and then plant right into the wood mulch. I still can’t believe that works but our friends and Back to Eden are much better farmers than I am.

      1. One common failing for people on Back to Eden is that they never listen to one of the most important things he says: he puts lots of garden and kitchen scraps into his soil. That is the secret of making it fertile.

        Everyone who talks to me about BTE goes to great length talking about the chips. The chips are not what makes the soil fertile, they help it’s water holding capacity and keep down weeds, but the organic matter they slowly degrade into needs substantial nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium added to it.

        Watch the first part of the videos again and listen carefully to the early part where he describes the things he adds to the soil.

        God Bless

  9. The first method is Lasagna gardening and there is a book in print by that title that does an excellent job of describing the technique. The Ruth Stout No Work Garden book is another and the one that got me started, but there is quite a bit of work.

    I have used this method for a number of years, but I continuously mulch. Yes, there are some weeds, but they are few and handled relatively easy. I use 4′ by 16′ beds along with plastic barrels, which you can get from farmers who use cattle lick. By continuously mulching the weeds do not seem to get much of a start.

    I still keep a compost pile, use all my own leaves and like the author collect leaves from the curbs as people throw them away. I also use grass clippings, straw, newspaper and a variety of other bio-degradable materials. I do not use any other fertilizer than the compost that I make in my beds and the mulching which is must be constantly replaced as it becomes fertilizer. My beds have remained 6.5-7ph throughout the years.

    I have used this method for years and my basically clay soils have become more and more friable through the years. As to yields they are typically pretty good, but we have up and down years like we did when we used other methods. There are no guarantees in farming, and gardening is farming on a smaller scale.

    I recommend all these as good methods. Good luck however you decide to do it, but having a garden will give you food that may not look as smooth as that from the store, but it will have a much greater flavor, especially tomatoes and cucumbers.

  10. Hey Trapper, excellent article. It has given me some ideas to try and some to try another way than what I’ve been doing.

    I have a relative who has a small yard and garden and does lasagna gardening and raves about it. One of my gardening soapbox themes is the use of urine in composting. I’ve found 1-gallon cooking oil jugs the best collection devices. Urine averages 2.5% urea and will work well during those 6 months you mentioned when building the lasagna layers.

    I also used your method of making a narrow trench in the mulch for seed planting and it works like a charm. My large dry bean patch in 2020 had 6″ of oak leaves on top, I made a trench and planted and all summer I had less than 10 weeds come through. They also break down where they contact the soil to make great humus over time. Last fall I spread the majority of my garden with leaves. The dark sawdust (looks like coffee grounds) I use is a good mulch for the first year but those darn weed seeds land on top and germinate the second year. I’m convinced those chem trails people talk about are really weed-seed trails.

    I’ve tried solarization with 6 mil plastic and didn’t have any luck. But your article talking about both solarization and occultation got me to thinking… My solar dryer gets up to 170°F because it’s painted black. So this year I’ll try solarization with a piece of roof tin painted black right in the center under the plastic. That small portion of tin under a large area will get the temperature much higher under the plastic and under the tin I’ll get heat + occultation. If you hadn’t mentioned both it would not have occurred to me. I have one particularly nasty weed (Poor Joe aka buttonweed) it should work on.

    I’ve also used tarps with mulch on top for occultation, one group in place for 3 years to kill lespedeza, the worst weed ever, and it worked. The wild onions poked through in the second year but everything else died.

    You mentioned sawdust, one of the best places to get it is cabinet shops. They mostly use hardwoods which compost more quickly than pine, spruce, cedar, etc. due to the resins in those woods. Two of my local cabinet shops burn their sawdust so if you ask for it, be prepared for them hugging you with tears in their eyes.

    If anyone figures out how to get rid of Bermuda grass, crabgrass, or goosegrass, please let us know so we can forward your name to e Nobel Prize committee.

    Thanks again for this thought-provoking article.

    1. We’re going to need a Manhattan project for bermuda and crabgrass but here is what I am going to try this year. Solarize 4 weeks before planting, heavily mulch with compost, aggressively hand pull while the food is growing, and then plant clover on top. And don’t hiss at me organic gardeners, but we are going to try spraying round-up at the fence line in a 2-3 ft band. I don’t use herbicides in the garden but my neighbor does this for his grape field and it creates a moat where the rhizomes have a hard time crossing.

  11. When I built our raised beds last year, I screened all the soil to 1/4″. That removed the majority of the thistle roots and other junk in the soil. (the lake lot’s we have are an old dump) That cut down the amount of weeding, but all the seed that was on/in the soil still sprouted. Lamb’s Quarter was our main weed next to thistle. After about 3 extensive weedings of each bed, things became much more manageable. We’ll still have a few weeds, but nowhere near the overgrown jungle we used to have.

  12. In a down and out survival situation, I would want to be intensively gardening in tall raised beds for everything, with the possible exception of grains. At 66 years of age, and with progressive osteoarthritis, nothing else makes sense. Sheet composting in 2 foot deep beds will give you an incredible depth of soil nutrients to feed one’s plants with. Back in the early ’80’s I was able to more than feed 10 people for 6 months with fresh vegetables from less than 400 square feet using a modified version of the Square Foot Gardening System. Main bed was 9’3″ wide × 27′ long × 23″ deep. It was partitioned into seven 9′ wide “beds” by 2″ × 12″ × 9′ boards that were lag bolted to the long sides to prevent outwards bowing by the weight of the soil. The 2×12’s were bolted to the top 2 tiers of the bed. Three 2×4’s screwed down the center of the long side across the ends of the bed, and the cross braces; provided a 1′ wide walkway to access the center of the bed.

    It WAS NOT AN IDEAL SETUP, but it allowed me to maximize the space in a 19′ wide backyard, in a rowhouse in Baltimore City. The bed butted up directly against the 2′ wide sidewalk leading from the alley to the rear door in the basement. There was 2′ between the walls of the bed, and the chainlink fence separating our house fron the next door neighbors. I was constantly snagging my clothes on the fence because of the close quarters.

    I worked for a nursery for 3 months that year, and the owner let me use the farm pick-up truck to transport three FULL bed loads (springs bottomed out) of broken bags of peat moss, fertilizer, potting soil, etc that had accumulated over the course of a year that were just laying around. More news papers than I can remember, brown cardboard stripped of tape & labels, 20 bales of peat moss that I purchased, 40 three cu. ft. bags of perlite & vermiculite, grass clippings,and over 130 fifty-gallon trash bags of hardwood leaves. Plus the dense clay soil that I had stirred up by trying to double dig the garden to start with.

    When I mixed everything together the following spring (didn’t know any better) with a spading fork, and planted the Square Foot way I was able to identify the weeds because I had put clean sand on top of the spots where I planted seeds, after they were covered with soil. I had templates made up from Masonite with the Square Foot spacings-per-square-foot. The holes were large enough for my index finger to fit through. My aunt had given me a set of 12″ stainless steel tweezers, and that’s what I used to weed all of the beds. The main big/deep one, and several other smaller/shallower ones. Mulch came in the form of clean grass clippings from our yard, and a neighbors that did not use chemicals on his grass. As well as the living mulch that the plants leaves created as they overlapped one another.

    I cannot recommend this method of growing enough, ESPECIALLY FOR THE ELDERLY, or anyone with back, hip, leg issues.

    I won’t kid anyone, it is TIME INTENSIVE, LABOR INTENSIVE, and can be EXPENSIVE (relative to one’s choice of bed materials). But, raised beds like I have described are EXACTLY LIKE A GREENHOUSE. They are a long term investment that pays dividends for DECADES to come if properly constructed from the beginning, and if maintained regularly.

    Not having to bend over at age 29 was a convience. When I establish my new garden later this year, not bending over will be a BLESSING!!!

  13. I discovered some of the advantages of a no-till approach, by tilling an observing the soil biology in the dirt I was disturbing and destroying. In my potato towers, worm towers fed the worms I seeded. At the end of the season, I found huge colonies of worms, and worm tunnels created by the very large worms that were road ways for worms of all sizes, and likely full of worn castings and a healthy biosphere of bacteria. I believe your approach is well worth pursing. I’ve loads of chicken and rabbit litter. I could not recommend using saw dust into a garden, but for weed control as the carbon content is at the extreme high end, and might try old straw as the carbon content would only one third that and is a naturally occurring material that man made saw dust is not. I was once using saw dust in the chicken coup, but now avoid saw dust. Even with straw, I will compost the pile created over winter during the first part of summer, and use the rabbit manure mixed with straw as a topping. I prefer work smarter, and not harder, and working with nature, and therefore greatly appreciate your experience.

  14. All these ideas sound good but very labor intensive. Has anyone heard or Earth boxes. These are plastic boxes about 16″ wide by 36″ long and about 18″ deep. You can buy them on line or make your own. They have a hole about 3″ from the bottom above the hole is a grid work of small holes to place your soil on that is supported from touching the bottom. A pocket is created below the soil the space above the grate is filled with organic soil. There is a tube that goes from the open pocket in the bottom up through the soil and ends about 8 to 10″ above the top of the bucket. The bucket is covered with a black plastic. Cut slips in the plastic just big enough to plant your vegetables. The plastic keeps out the weeds. Virtually weed free. When everything is planted you fill the bottom pocket with water through the tube stickiing out of the top. It can never be too full of water because it will drain out the hole in the side of the bucket when the water level reaches it. Always the perfect amount of water. You can make these out if any bucket you have or buy them on line. You can also rig up an automatic watering system and never have to weed them or water them manually. I have used this system for many years and have had incredible results. This method produces enormous plants. Heirloom only of coarse. I used buckets I got for free, good organic soil and discarded garden hose. The only thing that I bought was a garden hose timer to keep the buckets full. You won’t believe the results.

    1. Reel F’man,
      I recently ordered and received a set of 3 “Grow Boxes” that sound very similar to your “Earth Boxes.” They do not have the tube or pipe for filling so you water through the drain hole which has a bit of a lip at the bottom. And they use a special cover of burlap with water-disolvable bags of fertilizer along the center, lengthwise. The tops are printed with markings every few inches and the instructions tell you how many plants of each type you can plant per box and then tells you what your spacing should be. I ordered extra covers (the burlap is also your mulch) and I ordered a few that are organic. I want to see which ones do better. They are not cheap, about $30 each, but they are supposed to be reusable and last for years and you can buy refills of the burlap covers fairly cheaply.
      I have not assembled them yet but I started several trays of seeds this past week. Our last frost date is 1April, so I am getting things started now.

      Southern Trapper,
      I am in Texas, so we deal with drought, wind, heat and hungry critters. The past 2 years have been marked by hordes of grasshoppers. Last summer, they stripped the mesquite trees of leaves and were going after the bark. I am hopeful this year will be safer for the garden but I have multiple plans to protect my plants.

      I tried a keyhole garden two years ago, but was unsuccessful due to the grasshoppers. That fall, I disassembled the keyhole garden and we started in-ground garden spaces using the Ruth Stout method. I normally take my kitchen scraps suitable for composting down to the garden, pick a random spot, lift the hay mulch, drop the scraps, then replace the hay. The soil throughout the garden is looking quite nice these days. To get the garden started, we scraped the surface grasses and weeds off and leveled the area using the loader and the tractor, then laid down the composted paper and the soil from the keyhole garden, layered cardboard on top of that, then covered it all with old hay a good foot deep. The hay is still there, not nearly as deep now, but will get replenished in the spring. It has helped keep the weeds down somewhat, not completely. But it definitely keeps the soil moist. I am planning on container gardening this year, except for corn and a few other things. I will use the deep mulch in the containers, too. We also put up cattle panels and t-posta for fencing all around the garden areas at the beginning, then added chicken wire along the bottom to keep out rabbits as much as possible. Of course, if they pay attention, I am sure they will notice the gates and walk right under them. Unfortunately, grasshoppers aren’t hindered by fences, chicken wire or gates. We are also looking for “NoLo” to spread around the gardens, but so far I haven’t found any in stock online. If anyone knows of a source, I would appreciate a heads up.

  15. Sable,

    Was wondering if you could share with us the information for ordering the “Earth Boxes” you recently ordered. They sound like a good option for a person with limited space.

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