Controlling weeds in your garden

Some weeds are inevitable in Spanish gardens especially if you live inland surrounded by fields. That was our position with the flower garden before we were surrounded by houses and still is in the vegetable garden.The worst times for weeds are the autumn when soil becomes moist and the sun is still warm enough to germinate seeds and May and June when residual winter moisture and rising temperatures stimulate weeds to grow as fast and as strongly as planted flowering plants and vegetable plantlets. However being dedicated to organic/ecological gardening we do not use weed killers but use natural methods.

When starting the garden lay temporary or permanent paths and terraces with stone chippings laid over black plastic.
Don’t leave unrendered spaces between slabs of rock when laying crazy paving paths.
Plant closely to smother weeds that germinate.
 Maximise the use of ground cover plants. There are many available as illustrated in chapter 4.4 of Your Garden in Spain.
Remove any couch grass as soon as it appears as it can establish deep roots that even weed killers will not reach.
Remove all small weeds during the winter cutback and put on the compost heap.
Mulch between plants with stone chippings or ground lava over porous plastic. A mulch of compost around shrubs will also inhibit weeds. But don’t do this to trees as it can lead to fungal diseases attacking the trunks.
Use a gas or infrared wand to burn weeds that appear in old chippings or on drives.
If you are a fanatic for a totally tidy garden then weed the vegetable plot several times a week and put all weeds on the compost heap. But recognise that this will be time consuming, especially in the spring.
Most vegetable gardeners, including us, will want to take a more laid back approach to the problem and perhaps make maximum use of the beneficial properties of many weeds.
We therefore suggest the following practical less time consuming approach.
Recognise and accept that weeds are inevitable and that keeping them totally under control  - except when growing vegetables intensely on a small scale - may be counterproductive.
Control your enthusiasm for a weed free plot.
The first priority is to remove weeds adjacent to shallow rooted crops such as lettuces and onions or blocks of plants such as young carrots. If you leave the weeds they compete for moisture and food and eventually for space. But wait until seedlings have put down firm roots and weeds are big enough to grasp easily to avoid unearthing young plants.
Recognise that shallow rooted weeds around established deep rooted plants can provide shade for the top of roots and reduce water evaporation.
The second priority is to remove deep rooted perennial weeds. These are difficult to remove when they mature and if bits of root are left in the ground they re-grow and compete with deeper rooted vegetables and seed profusely.
The third priority is to hoe off the grass and weeds in unplanted areas. Having done this we cover them with a layer of well rotted manure and an old natural carpet and leave the worms to prepare an enriched seed bed over the next three months.
When we take the carpet off to prepare a seed bed we first harrow and rake and then leave for a week for any seeds to germinate. We then hoe again before planting. Seed beds can be de-weeded using a flame gun or infrared burner. However there is a danger of killing off useful micro organisms and shallow worms.
The planting of seedlings through holes in plastic mentioned in the last chapter not only conserves water but also stops most weeds from growing. However use a heavy grade of black plastic as thin plastic  lets a degree of light through and weeds can grow under the plastic pushing it up..
Put all weeds except deep rooted perennials on the compost heap. Once rotted down they can be recycled as compost. And the compost will include the minerals and trace elements that weeds took from the soil plus carbon taken from the air by photosynthesis. So weeds become a useful crop!
 Recognise that some weeds (out of place wild plants) have additional uses. Borage plants are good for attracting pollinators, marigolds for attracting black fly and fennel flowers for attracting a variety of insects from other plants and larger insects that devoir the smaller ones.
Some weeds such as dandelions, nettle, wild garlic and horse tail make useful effective fertilizers, fungicides and, insect deterrents .
Others such as nettle, wild garlic , wild rocket and  asparagus make interesting spring dishes. Ideas are included in chapter 7.9 of Your Garden in Spain.
Burn deep rooted perennial weeds especially if they have seed heads.
If any readers have additional ideas we would be interested to hear from them via the editor.
In recent months our book has become available in many inland stores as well as the coastal bookshops. However if you have no such store or shop Your Garden in Spain can be obtained by mail order from the publishers Santana Books on or if you have no computer link by telephone on 952-485-838. Inland British product shops can arrange to stock the book directly from the publishers or via Bargain Books 645-868754  or Bookworld España 965-831751.

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