From weed-full to weed-free in a morning

Andy writes:

Can you transform a 3mx5m section of overgrown plot into a productive, easily manageable and ultimately weed free area, in just a morning? YES, YOU CAN!

Step 1. Cut the weeds down.
I use a rotary mower with the blade as low as possible, which will get very close to the ground and help guide where any bumps and dips are. Level any highs into the lows as much as you can. The flatter you can get it the better the end result. Grass cutting from nearby paths thrown down now will rot under the weed fabric you are about to install, be pulled down by the worms and improve the future soil fertility.

Step 2. Lay out your weed fabric.
Even a slight wind will lift it, so find something to hold it down whilst you position it.

Step 3. Staple the fabric down.
Fold the cut edges under, this will give a stronger, straighter and tougher edge, which is less likely to get caught in your mower. Push a 9-inch staple down into each corner, pulling the fabric nice and tight. If the ground is hard you’ll need a mallet, or something similar, to tap down the last couple of inches. You can then push in the remaining staples at 1-meter intervals. Work from side to side to pull the fabric tight as you go.

Step 4. Lay out your plants to decide what goes where.
Remembering that cucumbers and most squash will trail some distance. You would expect that they trail towards the sun, but no, mine always go north. My personal theory is that this is due to the prevailing wind pushing the new growth that way. Courgettes need plenty of space. If your plants grow well they can easily be a meter diameter and more.

Step 5. Cut a cross in the fabric with a Stanley knife (fit a new blade).
Tuck the flaps under, out of the way, so that you have a spade square hole. Push your spade in as far as possible each side. If the ground is hard this can be tricky and you may have to “jump” on your spade. The neater you do this the better the end result.

Step 6. Cut out the top few weedy inches and discard.
Digging in at an angle makes this easier

Step 7. Dig out the hole.
Go carefully so not to damage the fabric, this sheet will then last for many years. As you dig out the soil place it in a barrow or large container, breaking up the lumps and removing the weeds roots. Some go down along way, get every piece of couch grass root out!

Step 8. Dig down a full spade depth.
Skimping here will result in poorer crops. Us a full-size spade. I have tried this process with a border spade and it’s just not as good

Step 9. Put a 50/50 mix of cleaned soil and compost back into the hole.
You can mix it in the hole, but mix the last few inches in bucket to avoid pushing the mixture out under the fabric. You ideally want the fabric going down towards the hole rather than up, that will aid watering.

Step 10. Untuck the flaps

Step 11. Push the flaps down the side of the hole with your spade.
This is why it’s better if the hole is neater. You will need to lightly tap on the spade with your foot to tuck in the flap. Stand with one foot behind the spade to prevent the fabric from distorting as you push down. Place your foot on the soil compost mix to extract the spade but leave the flap secured.

Step 12. The fabric is firmly anchored down.
Light can’t get to the weeds around the hole, so they will die off. The soil level in the hole is slightly lower, this will aid watering. Hopefully rain water will flow off the fabric and collect in the hole. From cutting the fabric to this point will take 10 to 15 minutes depending on how hard the ground is. DON’T RUSH IT. A neat tidy deep hole will give better results both with the planting today and the cleaning of the covered ground for next season.

Step 13. Plant your plants.
Water in the hole will give your plants a good start, particularly if the ground is very dry.

Step 14. One happy Butternut squash plant.
It’s in a big fertile “pot” in the ground, with zero competition from weeds. Use a brush to sweep the fabric around the plants. You have invested in this fabric, look after it. Some snail/slug protection is vital when the plants are tender and young. Use any method that you are comfortable with, but do something, or the stem will be eaten very quickly and the plant is doomed.

Step 15. A morning’s work, including a tea break and chat.
Here we have 3 cucumbers, a honey bear squash, a butternut squash and two varieties of courgette. Don’t be tempted to over fill the fabric with loads of plants. Here less is definitely more! An average family will not be able to consume all the crops that these plants produce. Plus of course 50% of the goal here is to clean the weeds from this 3×5 meter area, maybe for your brassicas next year. The photo diary will expand as the plants progress AND we’ll see how the ground looks when the fabric is removed next spring.

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