Ask Dr. Moffat:

Question: How on earth do you keep your walk ways so clear of weeds… Please help me!

Answer: Well, this is not exactly a health question, but we get this question about weeds rather frequently from my clients who know that we try to grow most of our own chemical-free food and who are on Facebook with us, so here’s what we do (not in any particular order):

FOURTEEN STEPS TO BECOMING A WEED-FREE FARM:

1) Water by hand: When we water by hand, which is almost all the time and see a weed, we pull it.

2) Double Digging: When we build a new bed sometimes we take the Michael’s ‘baby’ back hoe and heap up the topsoil disturbing the roots of the tenacious shrubs/weeds so they won’t grow back. We then either let that bed compost for a year or two or pull the roots and lay the soil back into place after this, till and mulching afterwards. .

3) Mulch immediately: If we spend time making a new bed or weeding a particular area, we mulch it with something the same day (because who wants to do that hard work all over again?)

4) Use the resources you have: We mulch with compost, ramial wood chips, chips, shavings, rotted straw (we purchase about 200 bales of barley straw each year) bags and bags of leaves (we have been known to haul in 1000 bags a year but this is slowing down now). We’ve also used cardboard, manures, and even sheetrock to help break up our clay soil.

5) Landscape cloth. When one area gets smothered we move the landscape cloth to another area and smother it. We have been experimenting with laying sheet rock pieces down in the areas that are really dry and not accepting water to change the structure of the soil. The sheetrock seems to be working but allows the mice to have a really nice, protected area where the cats can’t get to them. That’s annoying.

6) Black plastic (we move a big sheet of this from area to another as well). Black plastic never stays in one place for very long as it will heat up so much that it sterilizes the soil.

7) Cut beginning weed roots off at the soil line: I love my sheet rock knife. I get down on my hands and knees and cut those roots off with a 10-inch sweep. Plus, it makes the path smoother to walk on and then I cover it with sawdust or shavings.

8) Dig deep and get as much of the weed root that you can. Rake up the weeds afterwards so they don’t go to seed where they lay. Toss those onto a compost pile or hugelkulture.

9) Watering: Don’t water those areas you don’t want weeds to grow in.

10) Weed in the winter time or early spring or two days after a deep watering or deep rain when you can to get a jump on the season and when the weeds are much easier to dig.

11) Dedicate some time each day to conquering one tiny little bed or area of your yard so that it is weed-free.

12) Don’t let any weeds go to seed: Eliot Coleman says if you let a weed go to seed you’ll have five more years of weeding so. .

13) When things get out of control break out the weed eater: We weed whack the heck out of everything that is not a growing area and have two gas-powered Stihl weed eaters.

14) Ducks. They snarfle along the edges of the raised beds and keep the soil disturbed so that the weeds are easier to move and pull up plus it keeps the slugs/snail population WAY under control. We put the ducks into our hoop house for about 10 days in winter every year when there is snow on the ground to give them a job to do there too. We do have chickens but they trash the place. Some people say to let chickens out only an hour before sundown and they only go for the worms instead of your plants but they seem to scratch up lots of plants looking for those worms so they have their own very large pen with fruit trees and hidey spots in it and we feed them copious amounts of stuff every day so they won’t be bored.

Gosh, that’s all I can think of for now. Michael says the only way of really overcoming a weed challenge of any kind is the application of persistence. I know it’s a lot of work initially, but we started close to the house and then worked outward bit by bit every year starting from the central location (we call this Zone I) and going outward again into virgin territory every year.