I wouldn’t call myself a master gardener, but I have had a successful garden the last 6 or 7 years on My Lil Farm. As I have talked about in a previous blog, I had grown up with Mom and Dad putting out a garden every year and some of my best summer memories were centered around the garden. Snapping beans in the evening out in the front yard after supper, listening to the crickets calling and watching the lightning bugs as dusk was coming. Running down to the garden before supper to grab some fresh green onions and lettuce to go with our meal. We ate green onions a little differently than most people I know, it was always the last thing I ate, and I would put a little (or a lot) of salt on the plate, wet the onion in my mouth just enough the salt would stick and dip it in and eat it straight. We also would always have a bowl of what we called table pickles out. Basically it was vinegar, water, onions, fresh cucumbers and salt. I’d wait all day for the cucumbers to take on the flavor just so I could eat them by the plate full.
It wasn’t until I had reached my mid-thirties that I had decided to put out a garden of my own. The first year, I essentially put out a garden to make salads which was lettuce, onions, peppers and a 6 tomato plants. It didn’t take long before I was doubling the size of my garden every year adding more and more. I would start planning my garden in January, drawing it out dimensionally on paper and planning every plant and what purpose it had. Some plants I wanted to have fresh produce through the summer, some were to pressure can as individual ingredients and some were to be ingredients in full meals that we would make up, like beef stew or vegetable soup, and pressure can to open in the winter.
The bigger my garden got, the more maintenance it became. I will be the first to admit, there have been more than a couple of summers where I couldn’t get out to the garden to get the weeds pulled and in a matter of 3 weeks, it was out of control to the point I was worried that I would lose my garden to the weeds. There had to be a better way. I spent a fair amount of time researching mulch gardens. I got a small tiller one year thinking I would till every weekend to keep the weeds down, which was ok, but I did manage to take out a few of my plants while trying to get close. Another year I trialed raising plants in straw bales and putting straw down in my rows. These all looked pretty and nice on the blogs that promoted them, but I just couldn’t get them to work for me with the time I had to invest and still produce plants that thrived and did well. That’s when I decided that I was just going to use weed barrier, no mulch or newspapers or anything else to put on top, just weed barrier.
I have to admit that first year, it wasn’t the prettiest thing I had ever put out, but boy did it work! Every time I use the weed barrier method, I never spend more than an hour pulling weeds for the ENTIRE SUMMER, and that is just the few blades of grass that might come up near a plant or where I didn’t get the ground covered. So from here, I am going to share some of my trials with the weed barrier, what has worked, what hasn’t and what was just extra work.
The kind of weed barrier I got wasn’t the plastic kind, it was the kind that was cloth like. I got the rolls that were 3 feet wide. It was on sale at my local farm store and I was able to cover my whole garden for about $16. I put it down, I had some long 12 inch wide boards from some of our own lumber we milled and laid that over the seams. That gave me a nice place to walk while I was in my garden while keeping the wind from carrying it away. I cut out little plus signs in the middle of the barrier and that is where I put in each plant. That worked really well and I was able to use the same weed barrier for 3 years. In the fall when my garden was done, I would roll it up and we were able to work the dirt and get it ready for the next year. After 3 years and I wasn’t able to use it again, that is when I started experimenting with some of the other methods I mentioned above. Even though the weed barrier worked so well, I still longed for the beautiful magazine worthy gardens. Let me tell you, my gardens always started out like that, but my mid-July, I would always have something keep me from getting out to the garden and it would once again, get away from me.
This year, I am back to the weed barrier. I did a couple of things differently. One is good the other, not so much. First the good. I got weed barrier that was a little wider, 6 feet and over lapped the seams a little more. I used the yard staples to secure the barrier to the ground, instead of using wood planks, and put my plants in the seams. I realized I didn’t need planks or stones to walk on, the weed barrier is good enough and my feet never get muddy. The seams helped me keep my rows straight and I didn’t have to be out there cutting holes where I wanted my plants. This will give me a lot more flexibility from year to year so I can rotate where I put my plants. The bad, I grabbed the wrong weed barrier. I used the kind that was a little more like plastic. It still works the same but rips easily. I won’t be able to use it more than one season. Knowing that I am going to use this method next year, I will be on the look out later this summer for sales and grab up what I need at the lowest cost for next year.
Some other things to consider when using the weed barrier method are to make sure you buy the weed barrier that is permeable. You want water and fertilizer to be able to flow into the ground around your plants. If you garden is not square, you will also figure that out when putting down the barrier. I ended up planting some grass in the left over triangular space that was tilled after I got it all put down. Really that is it. I may one day go back to the original way I put out my garden, but right now, while time is such a huge commodity in my life, the weed barrier method is the way to go. There really is no maintenance after getting my garden put in and my plants look fantastic. After all, a weed free garden is the most beautiful garden.