As you know, I have come to accept a certain number of failed experiments in my quest for hobbiness. Gardening has presented its fair share of disappointments over the years–this year being no exception. I really hoped that starting seedlings indoors with my new lights, combined with plans to post pictures and monitor my progress weekly would motivate me to keep ahead of the weeds. Unfortunately, my “Before” and “After” pictures are not what I had anticipated. Take a look:
The underlying problem is that, in a dozen years, I have never really killed the grass and weeds since I decided to till up a portion of the lawn to establish my garden plot. I can’t fault the menacing grass; it’s just doing what it’s programmed to do. I freely admit that I’m only a “wannabe” gardener as well as a whimp in hot weather. When Spring gives way to the record-breaking temperatures we’ve had, I tend to ignore the tender little veggie plants I carefully placed in the garden in the Spring, water a couple of times a week, and hope they know what to do until I’m ready to pluck the harvest. I’ve always just figured that I may never really get the upper hand on weeds and that any harvest is better than none. . . (“just keep swimming, swimming, swimming“)
Then I found THIS idea! (You really must look at the article at this link!) Too late to really make a huge impact on my garden this year, the Lasagna Gardening method sounds like a dream come true–for next year. My tomatoes and cucumbers had been planted, also a few squash plants, potatoes, Swiss chard, and lettuce–when I read about keeping weeds down with thick layers of newspapers and organic materials like grass clippings, peat moss, leaves, and compost. The beauty is that the soil composts beneath the layers, without having to till or loosen whatever was already there. You don’t have to get rid of weeds or even a full lawn before you add the layers. You can make a garden lasagna right on top of any unprepared plot of ground you’ve decided on, and have enriched, loamy black soil beneath the layers when you’re ready to plant! All it takes is a little bit of gathering newspapers and organic materials to layer and some time to “cook.”
I didn’t have time to collect enough paper for the recommended 1/2 to 1 inch, but something is better than nothing, so I spread a few days’ newspapers and “bulk business mail” around the plants and soaked them with the hose. Then I bought a compressed bale of straw (boy, does that go a long way!) and spread it on top, about 2 inches thick. I set the soaker hose on it and drenched it all again. I had a partial roll of black weed-discouraging fabric on hand, so I used it up as far as it would go, securing it with rocks and stepping stones around the edges. Then I left town for a week with instructions for my house sitter to deep water it twice while I was gone.
When I returned and checked them, the tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, and chard were looking good, considering their late start. The cucumbers were being strangled by weeds, and only one of the squash plants was even still there. (??) The most notable thing was the grass growing about six inches up through the layers of straw and puffing up under the black fabric.
I learned a few things:
- First, unless it’s covered in mulch, black fabric weed prevent-er doesn’t actually prevent weeds from growing.
- Secondly, straw is probably more beneficial to maintain soil moisture and as compost for next year than a weed deterrent, but I did notice that broad leaf weeds didn’t grow up through the straw, just grass!
- Third, grass is much easier to pull from the straw and the soft moist soil beneath it than from the hard, caked soil you get when the sun beats down on it directly, and it’s a great addition to your layer of straw mulch.
- Overall, it’s probably a lot better than if I had left it without any mulch, but covering the whole garden with lots of newspaper first would definitely be preferable.
I took these pictures about two weeks after spreading the straw.
Although my garden is a long way from perfection, I enjoyed a batch of steamed chard for dinner last night–YUM! Those fresh veggies are definitely worth the effort. I am not giving up any time soon, so I have no choice but to look forward–to next week, next month, and next year–and to keep collecting newspapers, grass clippings, and leaves! I guess I don’t really even mind a few weeds, as long as there is something to show for the effort in the end.