Over the years we have tried many many strategies for organic weed control. If you’re looking for new organic methods to attack the weeds on your property…try some of these.
These last several years we are going organic to protect ourselves and our pollinators from the deadly effects of herbicides and pesticides. Our local wild bunch of weeds and pests are very grateful! We used to use round up and cross bow to hold back the wild. We personally experienced a huge decline of our pollinator population on our own property. They are still way down in numbers but it’s not worse this year than last, at least, so we are encouraged. (and won’t ever go back to the chemicals)!
Let me tell you it’s TOUGH to keep our seven plus acre place from totally over growing in grass, weeds and blackberries. In this post on organic gardening, I discuss WHY we go to the trouble to organically garden and hold back the masses of encroaching blackberries, horsetails, dandelions and nettles, not to mention our fields of grasses that give way quickly to tree seedlings if not mowed annually. On our I have more information on the pollinator issue if your interested.
Ironically, some of the healthiest; and healthy for you, plants on our place grow wild, willy nilly all over everywhere here. Wild salmon berries, blackberries, nettles, horsetails, plantain and dandelions are amazingly good for you in juices and recipes of all sorts. We call them weeds because they grow knees deep in our driveway and they obscure; or even close off, pathways to entire fields if we let them grow as they wish. (I discuss our field management in the post Tractor work.) Never-mind trying to keep them out of our flower beds and garden. So we persist in this crazy battle.
Here are our choices for tools, ammo and machines in our never ending weed war.
Our first strategy is timing. If we can get an early start in the season, so much the better. In our temperate climate, weeds basically grow all year round. Getting them while they are young is the smartest way to go; but it requires a year round weeding pattern. That is VERY difficult to do. I swear our weeds manage to continue growth even through the coldest part of winter. Slogging around in cold wet muck and trying to get weeds out of our suctioning wet clay…not so good. By the time our soil is sufficiently dried out to get a start on weeding…they have won the first round! We are always attacking from behind by the time we get a good start.
PULLING WEEDS BY HAND AND HOE:
My LEAST personal favorite and the one I need to do the most! My flower beds and the garden require hand weeding even with all the other time and back saving methods we employ to do the weeding. Dave’s garden corn rows and my flower beds can’t be weeded correctly without getting into the dirt with our hands and hand tools, or a good hoe, and taking those blasted weeds out BY THE ROOTS! They will still regrow in less than two weeks and we have to go at it again. There is no stopping blow in weeds from our many surrounding wild areas. Birds drop blackberry and other wild seeds everywhere here, and latent weed seeds in the soil…we’ll always have weeding work here.
WEED WACKER: For decades, the weed wacker has been our first choice for managing tall grass and fence lines. It works, but the line is often destroyed quickly by the fencing it’s supposed to protect. And the weeds do not die, they just get a haircut periodically, so it is a constant battle to keep the weeds managed through the growing season. Also weed wackers are great for field perimeters, fence lines, grass edges and other semi wild areas. They are not for the flower beds. Maybe just the outside borders.
SCYTHING: Dave has used a scythe to cut the tall nettles and grasses away from areas the weed whacker can’t go for 30 years at our place. This tool was invented way back in the annals of agricultural history. A great tool for downing tall grasses and weeds! But exhausting if your not a big strong person, or in very good shape!
LIVESTOCK: Our horse and sheep are great field managers. We are VERY lucky to have a horse that stays in a single wire portable fence that is most times, not even hot. That horse is as steady as a rock. She will not run through a fence or jump it. Even during the month of fireworks in July or the worst thunder and lightening storm. Not every field animal is so accommodating as our Taffy.
Keeping animals as field managers is expensive and a lot of work, when compared to the ease of a tractor. Wintering and feeding animals successfully requires a deep commitment to them and usually comes with a product you value, like homeschool projects, or animal product. In the past, for us, we have managed animals for recreation (like Taffy) wool and meat and milk. And we have sold and shown animals as well, like pigs and rabbits.
All of these animals make excellent homeschool projects if you’re of a mind to tackle them. Our children and I, learned so much from our livestock projects. 4-H is wonderful for the family. I strongly encourage you to go that direction if you need field managers. HOWEVER: installing animals on your place that you know nothing about and don’t wish to “DEAL” with; as lawnmowers, is a disaster for them and for you. Don’t do it!
If you are toying with the idea of animals on your property. RESEARCH FIRST AND LEARN WHAT THEY REQUIRE. THEN SOUL SEARCH AND MAKE A DEEP COMMITMENT TO THIS LIFESTYLE.
TRACTOR MOWER: Our old circa 1950 Oliver tractor with it’s bushwhacker attachment, still plugs along with it’s leaky, sorta plugged up radiator and old tractor issues. Dave babies it so it mows our driveway lane and when it feels up to it, he’ll tackle the back fields. It’s old and slow but still works and we’re grateful for it! That tractor stands between us and totally wild, un-reclaimable driveway and fields. The blackberries and tree seedlings pop up every year and get a foothold quickly!
WHITE VINEGAR: Put into a three gallon sprayer and sprayed directly on the weeds, makes weeds very unhappy. Vinegar is effective during dry times when the weeds are thirsty. They suck up the vinegar and die(or get very sick)quickly. Unfortunately, they regrow quickly in the rain. Vinegar is a good ally in a small yard driveway area, when it can be reapplied often. Just use it when the bees are in their hives. They don’t like being sprayed with vinegar!
THE LANDSCAPE FABRIC CAMPAIGN:We are installing landscape fabric in our flowerbeds and between our raised garden beds. Last year the raised garden beds were surrounded by tall grass. We found it really tough to get around the beds. The flower beds were just over run with weeds due to my lack of time to constantly weed. Landscape fabric provides a weed barrier, but if you use soil over the top of it; even a thin layer, weeds will almost certainly regrow.
In the picture above, last year’s garden, the weeds were recently sprayed with vinegar. As it turns out, the weeds did regrow quickly and were still unmanageable. This year landscape fabric and gravel have managed the weeds nicely so far. An occasional shot of vinegar on the few still remaining or pulling them by hand, keep the regrow easily managed.
THE WEED DRAGON, otherwise known as the scorched earth approach:
I have used our new weed killing machine twice now. We were initially very excited about blow torching the weeds! Our frustration with the prolific grass, blackberries and multitudes of other weeds around here all through the summer….we might have had an evil laugh or two about this prospect. But killing our weeds is a serious business. Even for a 100,000 BTU flame thrower! That sucker is hot! The intense blue flame at highest setting wilted the weeds and finally brought them down to a semi charred pile. Our instruction book said they didn’t need to go to ash(although some did). Guess what? The weeds came back the very next week! ARG!!!
Burning is kind of like this. My hubs strapped the propane tank on a dolly he had and I started burning away… and burning away… and it took FOREVER to actually kill those incredibly lush, healthy weeds. That burned patch you see in the photo? At least 30 minutes of burning. Do you know how long burning the weeds around here is going to take??? And I get to smell like a lovely, slightly propane smelling campfire.
On the positive side. The Weed Dragon does a great job on fence lines made of metal posts and wire. Much better choice than a weed wacker. And it’s great edger as you can see around our rock wall. Also it does help in driveways with low growing weeds to keep the gravel cleaned up. The codicil being…it’s a very hot fire your working with. Along with your personal safety precautions, be careful not to ignite flammable areas and then walk away!
RAISED BED SQUARE FOOT GARDENING:
This is the ticket for growing an easily managed garden or flower bed. One of the most difficult tasks with ground level beds is the weeding. It’s back breaking to bend over a large plot of flowers or garden produce (and I have for three decades!) and defeating to know you’ll conquer an area, move on and soon have to return to that first, grinding labor because those weedy pests just won’t quit! Raised beds really help! Growing the square foot pattern in raised beds with a nice stable, wide lipped board, rock or concrete to sit on, and a narrow bed width is the best plan. That gives easy to reach from both sides, and a garden plan that the produce will be close together and help shade out the weeds. Great help and time savor for weeding!
Over the years Dave has made many many retaining walls to help increase the use-ability of our property and to give us better recreation opportunities on our up and down place.(a couple of them pictured above) Each or those walls requires weed maintenance. If you making retaining walls, think ahead and use good gravel backfill and landscape fabric to hold back the weeds from ensconcing themselves into the wall.
One codicil here…you’ll notice in the picture of our large raised flower bed above how wide it is. BAD IDEA! That is my most difficult weeding challenge every year. It’s just too big! I’m steadily moving in the direction of low maintenance bushes for this beast of a bed. We love the focal point in our yard. WHEN it’s well weeded. That hasn’t happened lately. I’m too busy!
MULCHING! Mulching is the practice of laying a material over the ground that will smother the weeds, as landscape fabric does, and breakdown over time to enrich the soil. Win win! There are many many types of mulching material from rocks(they will not break down and eventually will get weedy so I don’t want to do that!), to a good deep, organic compost. Other mulches include beauty bark, straw(NOT hay or you will get masses of grass growing in your beds…I know!) steer manure, peat moss, wood chips…anything that can breaks down over time to improve your soil and smother weeds in the mean time will work.
We have mulched in the past with limited success. Usually weeds just grow right through it! Did I mention blow in weeds from our surrounding fields are a big part of the problem here? Also, as you can see our garden is sloped so mulch tends to go down hill…working on that.
We hope by using a VERY deep layer of mulching material(twelve inches?) we may stop the weeds from growing up out of the soil. You’ll notice our garden soil is very heavy clay. A good mulch will improve it over time . We really need to get on that project!
TO SUM UP: Organic weed control is best approached with a full array of options, easily and quickly changed out. Combine those with a good long term strategy like proper sized raised beds, and a proper sized property for your abilities. The methods we use all come with good and bad points, but, at least, they won’t do untold damage to the environment and pollinators. A weedy place is way better than a tweezed appearance at the cost of our eco-structure. We are stewards of this planet. Lets all mind our own plots organically!