Every season the battle of the weeds begins.
Unless you have unlimited time on your hands your garden will likely succumb to weeds on many occasions.
In a matter of days weeds can take over, especially after a lot of rain. And if you’re as lazy as I am with weeding (ahem busy having summer fun) you might end up going weeks without weeding. You’ll likely start to get discouraged by the daunting task of pulling out weeds that are now strongly rooted or are close to going to seed.
But not to worry!
Believe it or not there are many ways to get rid of weeds naturally.
First of all there are two ways to handle the weed situation in your garden:
- Remove them or
- Smother them and build something new.
I’ll go over different ways of removing weeds, some preventive measures and some ways to make weeds useful.
The ‘Remove’ the Weeds Method
HA who wants to do that?! Truth is sometimes you have to as that’s the majority of good old-fashioned gardening work. It also depends on your finances. Above you can see us hand-digging out grass squares to put in our new garden. It would of been much nicer to pay someone to dig it out with a tractor but it also adds to the cost.
Below you can see the weeds in our greenhouse when we moved to our new acreage. They were over 5 feet tall but because they hadn’t been watered in months they pulled out easier than I thought they would. Sometimes using your hands to pull out weeds then hoeing is the best option. We were going to let the chickens in their for a few months but it was heading into winter and we didn’t have our flock yet. After allowing the weeds to germinate and pulling them up again I decided to mulch to reduce any further weeds from coming up.
Now let’s skip ahead because using your hands is the least enjoyable of these methods for large masses of weeds (unless you can get into a weeding meditation sort of rhythm, then rock on).
A good garden hoe is essential for removing weeds. Everyone has a preference in what feels right for a good hoe, I’ve met farmers who prefer the flat wide ones, some like the sharper ones. My favourite is the diamond shaped hoe, I love that I can hack down at the weed roots with the sharp diamond corners as well as get the smaller weed seedlings by reducing the width of surface area I’m hoeing down.
Now that we have flat land with long rows I’ll likely invest in a wheel hoe (affiliate link)
What tools work for weeding really depends on the size and shape of your garden beds.
You can also get smaller hand sized hoes (affiliate link) for getting in-between smaller rows. The smaller ones work better in raised beds where you’re weeding close to your vegetables. I also use a ‘dandelion remover’ tool (affiliate link) which also works great with deep taproot weeds although burdock has proven too large. It’s also great for those prickly weeds you don’t want to go close!
Chickens are fantastic for scrapping up the ground and eating all your weeds. You won’t be able to use them in your garden beds, but you could cover each bed using pvc pipes and chicken wire and let them free range everywhere else. They are great to throw in the garden in the fall or off-season to clear everything up, we did that last year with our hens and they did an excellent job. I’ve really thought about chicken proofing beds that don’t need regular harvesting (like long season plants such as parsnips, carrots, onions, garlic, dried beans etc) then fencing off the rest of the garden for chicken free zone. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this book on incorporating chickens into the garden.
Vinegar or Hot Water:
I’ve yet to try the vinegar or hot water method. This option is supposed to kill the weeds without using herbicides or pesticides which only add harmful chemicals into your garden (& thus your body). I’ve heard that it works great, although I do wonder about the acidity of the vinegar affecting soil ph. The hot water method is great if you have left over canning bath water.
For real!!!! The first time I volunteered at a local farm, they used a blow torch along with hoeing to keep weeds in control. I was a little surprised, and haven’t tried this but be advised to use caution if using this method for weed control. Obviously you can’t do this during peak summer or drought scenarios due to fire risk. Read more on how to use a blow torch for killing weeds here. You can see the red dragon torch here (affiliate link).
I’m going to be brief with this method and say you can till with either a gas-powered tiller or the old-fashioned kind (if you don’t have rocky terrain like ours) but I personally don’t recommend it. You disrupt and kill most of the microorganisms so beneficial to your soil structure which is not good for long-term healthy soil. The till or no till is a big heated debate among gardeners and farmers as it’s been the easiest way to clear large areas of land. (Read a debate here). However if you have large areas it does the trick, especially if this is your first year gardening and you want to put in a garden quickly.
I’m sort of kidding here. I remember my Grandma would be pay me a penny for every dandelion I pulled up when I lived in France. Oh those glory days. I don’t really recommend you get your children to weed unless it’s a respectful trade or if you make it super fun. This past summer our girls would make ‘garden soup’ by picking out different weeds (after I showed them what’s safe to grab) and then put them into a bucket with some water and stirred the ‘soup’ with a good ol wooden stick. So not much ‘weeding’ accomplishment by them, but it would at least keep them busy while I weeded the garden.
That concludes the ‘removing’ them method of getting rid of weeds in your garden.
Now on to smother & building new.
Smother the Weeds & Build Something New Methods
This is my favorite method with large areas of weeds, smother them and build something new. In fact, I often look at corners of the garden that are full with many weeds and go ‘meh, I’m not going to bother weeding that area, I’ll just throw some cardboard down and build a new bed next season. You can only do this if your weeds are shorter, if they are super tall this won’t work as well until the spring.
Here are some great permaculture methods
1. Sheet Mulching/Lasagna Gardening
Above you can see a garden bed we made with the Lasagna gardening method.
Sheet mulching, or lasagna gardening, involves layering cardboard, soil, straw, compost, manure, etc into layers until you have ‘built up’ and created a new bed.
This works especially great if you have a large area that is full of weeds and you don’t want to hand weed or hoe it all. Homestead Honey walks you through ‘Building Soil with Lasagna Gardening’
Hugelkultur beds are old or rotten logs that are stacked upwards and can hold water and decompose slowly releasing nutrients into the soil. They are neat because you can plant on both sides because of the height.
For full details on how to build a hugelkultur bed check out this link. Read more about Hugelkultur here & here.
This post wouldn’t be complete without some preventive measures right?
I’ve become a huge fan of mulching garden paths to prevent weeds. Every year that we use wood chips in our garden paths the weeds are significantly reduced, although I’ve found it only lasts a couple of years. Other mulches are straw, newspapers, I often use cardboard in areas for short term weed reduction. My Healthy Green Family uses newspaper as mulch (cheap!) and also experimented with hay.
Wood chip mulch was all the craze after a lot of gardeners watched ‘Back to Eden’. We even mulched with wood chips ourselves as wood chips are far more available and cheaper than straw here. There is a debate on using wood chips in your whole garden like the Back to Eden Method because of the potential to increase soil acidity levels. Read ‘ 5 things you should know about wood chip mulch’
General Weeding Advice
Weed Early & Often and Definitely Before Anything Goes to Seed
So long as they haven’t gone to seed, you can compost the green parts of any weed as the ‘green material’ in your compost.
Use the Weeds AS Mulch
I’ve started using weeds like grass, large burdock leaves or dandelion greens as mulches in-between rows. They’re FREE and add some nitrogen back into the soil. Once again though, just make sure nothing has gone to seed and it’s not like grass roots which spread underneath and on top. I wrote about using weeds as mulch here.
Use the Weeds to Make Useful Products
There are many weeds that have a medicinal or nutritional benefit to them. You can then use the oil to make ‘Dandelion Salve’ like the Montana Homesteader did or Dandelion Lotion Bars like the Nerdy Farm Wife. You can even make Wild Nettle Beer or Dandelion Wine. Check out some burdock recipes here.
Study your Weed Cycles
I’ve observed many different types of weeds and their life cycle in the garden and I’ve noticed that many weeds are easier to remove in certain ‘target window’ times. Grass is always easier dug out in the spring than the fall. I find Burdock to be a challenge as I noticed it has a two-year cycle. Even though you always want to remove weeds before they go to seed, some plants, like burdock, actually get stronger if you try and remove them too early (kudos to mother nature!). I’ve found that if I cut them down right before it sets seed not too early in the season, I can pull up the root the following spring much easier. Of course you can also consume burdock root but I haven’t bothered yet…
The more you know about your weeds the better you can battle them.
This is my first year growing cover crops and I’m delighted with it so far. The idea behind cover crops is that not only are you suppressing weeds from growing in between growing seasons but you’re also adding nutrients back into the soil. Below is one of 3 beds with a mustard green cover crop (and we can eat it too!). For a guide to how to grow cover crops check out this article from West Coast Seeds. Next year I really want to try growing Buckwheat after reading ‘9 Reasons Buckwheat belongs in your Garden’ from Attainable Sustainable.
My Favorite Lazy Weeding Advice: Leave the Beneficial Weeds
This might seem contradictory but hear me out! Our current garden is larger than we’re ready for since putting in the fencing, as a result we have many large areas without garden beds and only limited amount of time and money to put in new beds every year. What I’ve become a large fan of is selecting your weed battles based on edibility. You’d be AMAZED at how many weeds are not only edible but also super nutritious (Read ‘Weeds are Good For You!’ by This Organic Life). Dehydrated wild nettle (which is super high in iron, calcium, minerals etc) at our local health food store for example is $7.99/100g!! I’ve learned to leave large patches of it in the garden, sort of like a healthy perennial weed patch, until I can build new beds. I also leave plantain, dandelions (in most places), chicory and lambs quarters. Leaving the beneficial weeds is great ‘back up’ food if you need it. You can make a green super powder with weeds as Joybilee Farm does!
What to do if you have a an apocalypse of weeds
If you have a massive area that needs clearing, and the weeds are higher than 3 feet tall, I highly suggest borrowing or getting some animals to do the work for you.
Make sure none of the weeds are poisonous though. On our mountainside acreage we had a full invasion of wild tansy- which can cause liver toxicity and death rapidly in livestock.
If you have huge area that needs clearing you’re likely going to need to till, or excavate/use a tractor if you have rocks in the ground if you’re not patient for chickens or pigs to clear it out.
Dealing with weeds is part of gardening and over time you’ll learn the best ways to prevent or get rid of weeds in your location based from your land or backyard.133