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I love my vegetable garden, but every spring it looks like the Amazon, and the task of clearing the overgrown weeds is not enjoyable.

One fall, I took cardboard and laid it down over my beds and covered it with straw. The following spring, I lifted the cardboard, and voila, the bed was perfectly prepped and ready for planting. It was glorious.

I have already restarted this process for the remainder of the garden but was hoping to get some alternate strategies. While the cardboard/straw works well (from what I can tell), it:

  1. Costs money... straw isn't as cheap as it used to be
  2. Takes time - collecting cardboard from local stores, flattening it, laying it down to shape
  3. Isn't exactly beautiful, although the straw does take the edge off

I can't help but think I'm not the first person who's had to deal with this. I am very interested in and open to cover crops, but bear in mind my goal is to minimize the work I have to do in the spring, when I am busiest. Do cover crops create work for me in the spring, or do they just die? Aside from cover crops, are there other low-cost strategies I can apply now to control weeds in the spring?

For what it's worth, I've tried burning the weeds in the spring with a propane torch without much success.

Also, two limitations I am bound by (admittedly self imposed):

  1. No tilling -- I have no-till beds, and I am married to the idea
  2. No Artificial chemicals like Round Up -- I'm 100% organic in my veggie garden

I am in North-Central Indiana, zone 5b.

  • 1. just use cardboard and some rocks/soil to wiegh it down. No straw needed. 2. Does collecting and applying cardboard take more time than weeding? 3. Are the weeds more beautiful than the cardboard? We cover crop our gardens with oats or wheat, but they do require tilling under or removal in the spring. We do this by hand. – That Idiot Oct 7 '15 at 13:14
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Whether or not your cover crops winter kill (die during the winter) is dependent on what cover you plant. A winter cereal like wheat or rye will survive over winter easily, and potentially become an issue in the spring if you aren't ready for them. Others, like oats, will die in the winter, leaving you a clean bed in the spring assuming they grow enough before they die. The trouble is it's already getting late to get much growth from oats.

Rye would establish modestly well this time of year and take off as soon as spring arrives. The best organic no-till kill is to flatten and crimp the stalks when the seed-heads emerge (probably in early-mid May in your climate). For warm season crops (tomato, pepper, squash) the timing would be convenient, less so for cold crops like peas or potatoes, which could be in the ground a few weeks by the time rye heads.

These Winter-kill guidelines are based on USDA zone 4-7, colder and wheat can winter kill, warmer and oats survive winter.

Personally, I have used both cardboard and black plastic, definitely does the job but if you don't like the look of it it's not much good.

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So long as you aren't fighting perennial weeds, black plastic will probably be easier than cardboard to deploy and roll back up the following season. Thicker mil plastic will be superior (and will last longer, as it will be exposed to UV radiation all winter long). Apart from the chore of cutting it to the size of your garden the first year, rolling it out and anchoring it with a few strategically placed rocks or (preferably) flat concrete blocks. Flat blocks will be less likely to cause tears and protect better against wind.

If you do have perennial weeds, consider leaving the plastic on for a full year and gardening in elevated boxes. Rhizome barrier is costly, but might be the better investment over the long term. 40 mil should be more than adequate.

  • Any links to this type of material so I can see what you're talking about? – Hambone Oct 8 '15 at 11:39
  • I believe commercial links are forbidden on Stack. :-( Not sure if I could find a non-commercial link, but your favorite search engine ought to get you there - and construction supply outlets will carry reasonably thick vapor barrier materials. – Chris Oct 15 '15 at 2:49
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I staple landscape fabric down on the side rails of my raised beds, and use the same fabric year after year.

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I use a hoe. Usually 2X, maybe 3 in a bad year, a couple weeks apart, and my crops out-compete anything that comes along besides bindweed and lambs quarters. Those two get pulled by hand.

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