I may be among the few who actually enjoy weeding.
There’s a meditative quality to hoeing between rows of vegetables. It’s simple. The journey from one end of the bed to the other is straight. I can look up and see exactly how much progress I’ve made, and how much farther I have to go.
This is more than can be said for running a farm. Between the weather, crop maps, succession plantings, pests and diseases, and all the behind-the-scenes of running a business, there are countless variables we work with on a daily basis.
Which is why the simple act of hoeing can feel so good. It’s so straightforward: just movement and clearing.
Often the physical act of clearing out a space, be it a closet or a weedy garden bed, leads me to clearing out my mind. And when this happens, the path forward through all of the other variables becomes a bit clearer, too.
But. I don’t want to weed all day.
And even if you’re nodding along with me, I don’t think you want to weed all day, either.
There’s a time for clearing, and there’s a time for planting.
…and watering, and harvesting, and all the other -ings that come with farming, which includes simply being in the field.
With that in mind, here are some easy organic steps you can take early in the season to cut down, and dare-I-say eliminate the need to weed your garden this season.
Hoe now, even if you don’t see weeds
Weeds are so much easier to contend with when they’re tiny. They also have a way of shooting up overnight—that bed of onions that looked relatively clean a few days ago is now lost in lambsquarters, and now the weeds are so big you need to hand-pull. Neither the onions nor your back are happy about this. (I speak from experience).
By hoeing before weeds are a problem, you’ll keep them from ever becoming one.
Cover the soil with straw or landscape fabric
Once you’ve hoed and disrupted tiny weeds, cover the bed with straw or landscape fabric. Along with suppressing weeds, this covers the soil, which does a few important things: keeps the soil cool, and reduces erosion and evaporation. Keeping the soil cool and covered reduces the need to water, and it also keeps your soil in place during heavy rain storms.
I’m partial to laying down organic straw, because it’s a natural product that can eventually break down and add organic matter to your soil. The downside of organic straw is that it can be expensive, and depending on how much space you have to cover it may not be the most efficient use of time.
Landscape fabric can be applied quickly by simply rolling it out along the bed. While it is a plastic product, it’s much tougher than the single-use plastic mulch used on many organic farms.
Landscape fabric is made of woven-plastic, which allows water to seep through while blocking out sunlight so weeds can’t grow. It also has a much longer lifespan than the single-use plastic mulch, and can be re-used over many seasons.
Flip Your Beds Quickly
When one crop is harvested, plant another one that same day. We call this flipping a bed.
After you harvest, scuffle-hoe and rake out the bed to disturb any weeds. Hoeing and raking at this stage will be quick, and will prepare the bed for the next crop. When you flip beds quickly, the disturbance from harvesting, hoeing and raking will keep weed pressure down and increase your harvest yields.
Prepare space with silage tarps
Silage tarps are heavy plastic tarps that are laid down on soil to smother weeds and create stale seedbeds. For a long time, we avoided plastic, but the trade-offs with silage tarps are worth it.
Silage tarps warm up the soil, encouraging weed seeds to germinate. Once the weeds germinate they quickly die without light and air flow. If there are established weeds, they’ll die within 4 weeks of being covered. Meanwhile, the warm moist environment under the tarp encourages worm activity, which helps break down the established weeds.
Silage tarps are a great way to hold space in garden before you’re ready to plant. They keep the soil covered and do the job of weeding for you.
Best of all, because they’re heavy-duty, they last for years.
With these simple steps, you can spend more time planting, harvesting, and simply enjoying your garden this summer.
If you do find yourself needing to weed, here are my favorite tools to get the job done.
Tell me, are you one of those people who love to hoe, like me? Or are you rejoicing at the thought of a weed-free garden?
If you have tips of your own, let me know in the comments below! We can never have too many organic strategies for dealing with weeds.