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Is There Such a Thing as a Weedless Garden

Sunday, May 10, 2015:

I just spent the day in action motivated from reading the book Weedless Gardening, by Lee Reich. When I saw the title on another gardening blog I read sometimes (northwest edible life), I almost rolled my eyes and went on to other things. However, the title got me just enough so that I went back to see what she might have to say that made her take it seriously. I didn’t find that, so much as an admission that there was really no such thing, but the book had some strategies that made a real difference. I was still skeptical, but then there is always that niggle that makes me wonder if I’m missing something. Maybe there is a better way? The book was only about $9, so I ordered it.

The day the book arrived at my house, I read 2/3rds of it before bed. Why? Because it was like a discussion with a fellow gardener, full of encouragement, reminding me of things that are helpful, plus ideas of a couple of modifications to my approach that might be useful to apply. In the past, I have written on my blog about some of it’s main principles, such as

  • No tilling

(Why I Do Not Rototill My Garden Every Spring)

  • Mulching

(Why I Mulch With Grass Clippings in my Southwest Idaho Garden)
(How to Keep Weeding in Your Garden to a Bare Minimum)

  • Controlled watering to growing areas

(How to Organize an Effective Garden Watering System)

Mr. Reich expands on each of these ideas, such as not just “no tilling,” but “avoid disturbing the soil at all.” I’m not sure I can do that, but he has some interesting methods that he employs to follow through with that. He applies mulch with some specific tactics that I had not thought of or had previously discounted. When I was trying them again today, they seemed hopeful. I even asked a trustworthy neighbor for his lawn clippings, after double checking that his lawn had not been recently treated for weeds. He was happy to dump them over my fence and they are already spread! All the thinking stimulated by the book also helped me problem solve an area that was uniquely difficult (a narrow space between two fences was partially stuffed with some straw).

Reading the section on compost reminded me of some questions I have about some common assumptions people make about compost. In order to kill any weed seed, it is supposed to be allowed to heat up, but we are supposed to be encouraging soil friendly microbe growth, which could very well also be killed by such heat. My husband put my mind to ease with this, suggesting that microbes will easily spread back into any hospitable environment after it cools. Not that my compost gets that hot, though. I let my chickens turn things in their rather large pen. I deal with weed seeds by being careful not to put seeding weeds in there.

There does seem to be the assumption in the book that most gardeners are dealing with a suburban size lot. For instance, the author says that he can keep his weeds in check all summer by pulling a few little ones every two weeks. It takes me longer than that to visit every corner of my acre.

While there are many helpful details in the book, one thing that I would have liked is specific mention of how he handles weeds that spread by root. Weeds like bind weed and ground cherry never seem to be small and don’t just “pull up.” I have tried just mulching over the top of them and they seem to think I’m doing them a favor by slowing down the other weeds. Maybe with more consistent, deeper mulching?

This does not mean I am disappointed in the book. On the contrary, I think it was a few dollars well spent. The writing is clear, informative, and engaging. And while still being a source of ideas, the author leaves plenty of room for the idea that there is more to be discovered; and he is open about what problems he still has or might be the result of his overall strategy.

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