The future maintenance of the growing areas should be considered when you are planning and setting out your plot.
In other words, are you going to have the time and inclination to hand weed the beds many times during the growing season. Unless you are retired, or are prepared to cultivate your plot at least twice a week in the summer, and once a week in the Winter, you will probably fight a losing battle with the weeds! New plotters often seem to think that when they have dug over the ground in the Spring, it will only take a little light weeding to keep things under control for the rest of the season. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially if the previous plotter let the weeds get out of hand!! There is the old saying that “one years’ seeds, leads to seven years’ weeds”. There is the additional problem that weed seeds will be blown into your plot by the wind from neighbouring plots or surrounding fields. When using ground cover fabric, it is sometimes possible at certain times of the year to see the fabric covered with weed seeds blown in from the surrounding areas.
Therefore, you must be prepared to put the work in to keep the ground weed free, by regularly hoeing and weeding. If you are prepared to put in the effort, then over time you should get good results.
As weeding, like housework, has never been my favourite pastime, I have evolved an alternative method of cutting down the weeding. My method to keep the annual weeds under control, is to make use of porous plastic weed control fabric. This is much better than black plastic, which would stop rain percolating through the fabric.
This method really comes into its own when used with crops that will be in the ground for many months, such as over wintering brassicas, leeks, onions and garlic. These crops can be growing in the same spot for eight or nine months.
It must be said that many traditional plotters disapprove, saying it looks ugly and messy with the stones and planks needed to hold down the fabric against the wind. There is also the cost of the fabric to consider. If you decide to try it, here are a few ideas to help you.
Size your beds to make best use of the standard size of the porous plastic weed control fabric, 1.5m x 4 m. (8 m length/2) or multiples thereof. This also suits the standard size of white fleece fabric 2.1m x 5 m (10 m/2) which when draped over plastic hoops cut from plastic piping, protects plants from frost or pest damage. It also suits the plastic cloche kits from Lidle which will cover 1.5m x 4m.
Using porous weed control fabric and planting through it, cuts out almost all annual weeds. Slugs do not seem to hide under the fabric, as it is too warm and not dark enough. The black fabric warms the soil and keeps the soil moist. For potatoes, make a hole with a dibber, and push the seed potato to the bottom. As you cannot make a ridge, a few potatoes that grow near the surface may get affected by light. For vegetables like parsnips, fennel, cut 50 mm (2 in) circular holes and sow the seed. For the likes of carrots and beetroot, peas and beans, cut out strips 5 cm x 25 cm long, and sow in the gaps. For planting out brassicas, sweet corn, courgettes, squashes, marrows, leeks, onions, shallots and garlic sets, cut X’s and plant through the fabric. Obviously, you need to have added any fertilizer or lime before you put down the fabric. As you do not need to keep walking over the soil, it does not become so compacted. You should be able to reuse the fabric for several years. See the photographs of sweet corn and winter squash grown through fabric. Note no weeds! Fabric needs to be weighted down with timber, bricks, etc.
This technique is also very useful to keep down weeds under fruit bushes.
Aprox. Conversion Chart.
2.5 cm = 1 inch
10 cm = 4 inches
15 cm = 6 inches
20 cm = 8 inches
30 cm = 1 foot
1 m = 3 foot 3 inches
1.5 m = 5 feet
4 m = 13 feet