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How to keep weeds out of the garden naturally involves putting in some time and effort ahead of time. It can make a tremendous difference in the time and effort you need to put into the garden once the growing season starts. Today I’ll walk you through what we are doing to prep not only our vegetable garden but our flowering medicinal herbs as well.
I’m super excited to be adding a ton of flowering medicinal herbs and will share how I’m adding them in. In addition, I’ll be giving you an update on things that we put into place last year to cut down on weeds and how they are working after almost a year of being in place.
Listen in below to the full podcast, Episode #245 Natural and Easy Ways to Keep Weeds at Bay of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen, and life you want for your family and homestead.
If you’ve been a longtime listener of the podcast (it’s been around since 2014!) or a follower of my blog, you’ve seen me evolve over the years; from the main focus being on food production. So talking about raising as much of our own food as possible with vegetable and fruit gardening and increasing each year so that we would have one more crop that we were raising a complete year’s worth allowing me to feed my family of four without buying from the store.
I’m still doing that and is very much a part of our practice and what we are doing with our gardening, but I realized that there’s this other aspect of gardening that I wasn’t enjoying and that I really needed to bring in…and that was flowers.
Flowers are obviously planted for beauty as well as pollination but can be planted as companion plants or for natural medicine. And some flowers just cover all of those benefits rolled into one. In the past three, I’ve put a lot more focus into growing flowering herbs and deepening those layers not only with those plants that serve a purpose, but also areas of beauty. Some areas I’ve sown wild seed mixes just because I want to see gorgeous flowers.
Some previous episodes, that you may want to listen to if you’ve not done so already, where I talk about this. They are:
How to Design a Cottage Garden – Forgotten Medicinal & Edible Plants with Carolyn from Homesteading Family.
Natural Weed Control & Heirloom Flowers in the Garden with Shaye Elliott from The Elliott Homestead.
Those interviews were conducted almost a year ago and I’ve implemented a lot of the tips from them and want to share with you how they’re influencing what we’re doing this year in the garden and the results.
Last year I implemented using wood chips in half my vegetable garden. Many people are familiar with the Back to Eden style of gardening, which is using wood chips as mulch so that you don’t ever have bare ground, to help keep weeds out of the garden and build up the soil. You keep adding layers of wood chips on top and it breaks down, continually feeding the soil. Back to Eden was made popular by Paul Gautschi. Paul lives here in Washington state. I’ve never had the privilege of meeting him or taking one of his garden tours, but that’s where this whole style of gardening took off.
There are other different methods that are very similar with just a little bit of different nuances and the medium that people like to use. Those methods/terms and mediums are:
In a recent interview with Joe Lamp’l, No-Till Gardening Benefits & Getting Started, he shared that his favorite material to use is shredded leaves. Some people like to use straw while some will use composted hay, but basically you’re creating mulch layers so that you don’t have bare dirt and it helps to keep weeds out of the garden. At the same time, it helps create better soil as well as help retain water by reducing evaporation. That is a great benefit to conserve water and ensure your plants don’t dry out as fast.
In the past, I’ve bought weed blocker fabric, put down multiple layers, and planted my plants. And for the first few months, maybe the first year, I don’t have weeds come through. But, eventually, I always have weeds grow through that weed blocker fabric, no matter how many layers I put down. It does not work, nor, as it breaks down, does it feed your soil.
My experience with weed blocker fabric has not been good, despite many attempts to use it. Inevitably, after a few years, that fabric would be overrun with weeds and I’d be super frustrated and mad. In fact, the bed in front of our house I just gave up on and didn’t worry about it for about two to three years. I just didn’t weed it for two to three years.
It was a bunch of perennials in the deepest shade area on the north-facing side of the house. No type of food production out of that bed so I just let it go but every time I drove into my driveway and saw it…it just looked horrible.
I want my home, both the inside and outside, including the gardens, to be a sanctuary. I want it to be somewhere that when I pull in the driveway and come home or I walk into my house, that I find it beautiful. Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder so that’s going to look different for all of us, but when I’m looking at an area and think that I need to do something with that area, well, then it really needs to be done.
So I spent a good three whole days weeding. Now, I do HIIT (high-intensity interval training), lift hay bales, lift weights so I feel like I’m in pretty decent physical shape. But getting that whole garden bed weeded out…it kicked my behind! I was so sore!
After I put all that work in, got all the grass, buttercups, and all the weeds that don’t really have any benefits out. Now, some weeds, like dandelions and stinging nettles, have benefits, but the buttercups and grass, not so much. You can read how to harvest and make stinging nettle tea here
That was the major part of getting that bed under control. It felt so good after I got all the weeds out which let my hostas and other perennials shine. They look so great. I’m never letting it get to that point again so I have to have a way to stay on top of it. My solution was to get a bunch of wood chips and heavily mulched. Because I got those weeds out of there I was able to add in some new plants, such as an apricot foxglove.
I ordered a few new plants to keep me motivated and some new pretty flowers that will grow in the deeply shaded area. But I also continued this method.
Last year, with half of our vegetable garden I put down a layer of cardboard with a layer of wood chips on top of it before I planted to see how it worked at keeping the weeds out of the vegetables. It’s still that way almost a year later.
This summer will be a complete year to really document soil health. Before I started this experiment I did soil testing and I’ll do it again once the full year is up to see how the wood chip layer affected the soil health.
As far as weed suppression goes, I did this in several other beds and where I had erred in the past…you have to keep adding the layers when you’re doing wood chips, leaves, or straw! They break down, which is good because that feeds the soil and plants. But if you don’t keep adding these new layers, then it just breaks down into dirt and compost and the weeds are going to quickly come back. I made it my mission last spring that I would spend a certain amount of time weeding and keeping on top of it.
Of course, these beds haven’t been touched since the fall because we’ve had snow and freezing temps and everything was dormant, but, I just went out after having some sunny milder, high forties, weather and found that there were very few weeds.
There were a few buttercups and some grass so I spent about seven minutes pulling them out. This is the time of year to be pulling weeds out because the soil is pretty loose after the snowmelt and rain. You want to do this before they really start to grow and sending down deep roots. So in just a little bit of time, I pulled all the weeds.
I have another bed where I’ll be planting my medicinal herbs that I did the same thing. In total, I spent about an hour pulling weeds between three beds. Some of that included just deadheading and removing dead foliage that I’d let die back to feed the roots and hadn’t gotten to removing them from the garden before now.
It amazed me in just one hour those three beds were done. Whereas last year it took me almost 20 hours to do just one bed! My key takeaway, and the reason I’m sharing this with you, is just spending a little bit of time each day and being diligent is worth the effort. I didn’t weed every day, but I would make it a goal that once a week I needed to hit these different areas so I would rotate through. For example, one day I might only have 10 or 15 minutes and I knew it would only take that long to spend in a certain area, so that’s where I would focus.
By staying on top of it and devoting really less time overall, not only was it more manageable for me throughout the spring and summer and into the fall months, but it made a huge difference on the number of weeds that are now coming back. I know I can continue that pace and I know if I do so that next year I should have even fewer weeds. I’m really, really pleased with using that method. Part of it also is continuing with the mulch layers.
An important part of this is to be very diligent and working weeding into your schedule and doing small bits often rather than saving it up until it gets really bad and then hitting it. Don’t take the procrastinator route when it comes to keeping those weeds down. It really makes a big difference. Not only in the number of weeds, but I really feel the plant’s vigor is much better and the perennials that I want to spread are spreading…they just look so good. So I’m super excited.
Don’t take the procrastinator route when it comes to keeping those weeds down.
I’m also adding in a lot of new medicinal flowering herbs this year to the vegetable garden. Many of the medicinal flowering herbs require cold stratification. Check out my video where I explain about cold stratifying and how we can mimic nature.
In nature, a lot of herbal flowers and some biennials, such as carrots, go to flower which then creates seeds. Those seeds drop to the ground in the fall. Now, if there is warm weather it’s assumed that those will sprout and start to grow, but then when a hard frost comes those sprouts would be killed off which means no more seeds to grow. God has worked into our wonderful nature system where those seeds protect themselves by requiring that they go through a cold period over many weeks before they will actually germinate and grow.
When we’re seed starting indoors we’re growing a seed that hasn’t been outside all winter long, which means we need to mimic that and do the cold stratification which means we need to put the seed into a moist and wet cold environment, just like if it was going through the snow or cold rains during the winter months. Then we bring them to room temperature and plant it like it’s springtime. The seed now thinks it’s safe to grow. That’s basically what we need to do but there are a little bit more hands-on in the tutorial in the above video.
Not all seeds require being cold stratified and will grow without it but some, if you do it, will have a higher germination rate, meaning that almost all of the seeds that you plant will sprout. Whereas, if you don’t do it, maybe only half would sprout so you’re upping your chances that more will grow for you.
I have a lot of varieties that I’ll be putting in and many are going to be beautiful. I’m super excited to see the explosion of all the different blossoms growing in my flower beds. The main reason I’m putting these in is because of their medicinal properties. The varieties I’ll be putting in:
I got all of these seeds from a company out of Oregon, Siskiyou Seeds. I’m super excited to be putting in all these seeds and growing them. Some are perennials while some are annuals which means some after I get them growing, will just come back year after year. I love my perennials because of that factor. My hope is that the others will reseed themselves. Otherwise, I’ll be seed starting them each year and planting.
I will be sharing more about how we use these inside the Pioneering Today Academy where we’re starting a deep dive each month and really going in-depth on both growing and harvesting as well as the medicinal uses of specific herbs. I’ll also be sharing some here and in YouTube videos.
I’m a big tester. I love to test everything to see if there is any difference and if one way is easier than the other. If they both have the same outcome, I’ll go the easy route every single time. With many of these seeds, I’ll be cold stratifying some of them indoors as well as scattering outside. At the time I started this experiment there were still quite a few weeks left of frost. I’m looking forward to the results. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!
If you would like more information on growing your own backyard fruit and vegetables I am doing the Organic Gardening Workshop starting March 18, 2020. For six days you get to watch all of the videos on growing your own food for free! But you need to be registered so that I can send you the links each day to watch the videos as they go live for only 24 hours. Just click HERE to register. We’re covering seed starting, crop rotation, companion planting, succession planting, cold frames, and so many other great things, not just from myself but from other teachers as well. Jill McSheehy of The Beginner’s Vegetable Garden Podcast is going to be doing an awesome session on raised beds. Marjorie Wildcraft is doing a session as well so be sure to grab your seat! I can’t wait to see you there!
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.