How to Have a Weed Free Garden

weed free garden

Are weeds getting the best of you and your garden?  Ever wondered if there was a way to get rid of them?  Is it truly possible to have a weed free garden?

Yes, it is.

But it will take some prep work.

Let me start you off with a story of my gardening history and then I’ll let you in on the secret 😉

My mom always had a garden.  And we kids always had to help her.  Which we hated, I mean, loved.  Every year we had to clean out the chicken house, dump the manure on and then later put straw over that.  It was a lot of work and wasn’t pretty at all!

In my early married life, I decided to have my first garden.  Jeff tilled a spot and I happily planted in the dark brown luxurious dirt.  And I grew a giant crop of… weeds.  I blamed it on location.

So, the next year, we tried again, this time in our front yard.  I figured if it was closer then I could take better care of it.  The idea being convenience.

It was better, but I still had lots and lots of weeds!

I remembered my mom’s method of garden, so I tried that.

And I still had weeds!

And then a few years ago, I was introduced to lasagna gardening.  You can check out this book for more details.  The problem was adapting it to my situation for my fairly large garden.  So after a few years of experimenting, I think I have it figured out.

The secret?

CARDBOARD AND MULCH!

So, let me show you….

weed free gardening
This is my garden on April 25.

OK, notice all the highlighted areas.  The green area was mulched the winter of 2016 (over a year ago) with cardboard laid down first, cow/chicken manure over that and then covered with a thick layer of straw.  I grew potatoes in that area last summer.

The blue area was treated the same way in 2016 and then in January 2017 (this past winter) I threw on a super thick layer of leaves.

The pink area was mulched in 2016 with cardboard, cow manure and straw.  It received a fresh layer of cardboard, cow manure and straw in January of 2017.

Now, look again at that green area.  See all the weeds??  I have also found weeds popping up in the blue area with the leaves.  But the pink straw area?

Nothing.

Not a weed one.

Here’s another picture of the garden so you can see how thick the straw is.

weed free gardening
Lots and lots of straw!!

Here’s what you do to start a fresh garden or rejuvenate an old spot.

1   DO NOT TILL!  Yes, that’s right.  Do not work up your soil.  All you do is invite weed seeds to sprout.  And if you have bermuda grass (which I fight) you just make it mad and it will stage a hostile takeover of your garden!

If you do have a massive weed problem all ready, then either mow or spray the area first.

Lay down thick, heavy cardboard.  I’m talking the good stuff.  I saved tons of boxes from our remodel and used those, I used my brother-in-law’s from his house build, and my husband was able to get a whole bunch of cardboard from work.  Just ask around- you’ll be able to find some.

After that put on a super thick (we’re talking 8-12 inches) layer of manure of some sort.  Now, make sure this is old and fairly composted.  A year old or more is good.  I’m lucky because we have animals so Jeff pushes up big piles of manure/hay mixture every spring that accumulates around the hay feeders and then I use it the next year.  Again, ask around and you can usually find a farmer willing to give it away!

Layer on the straw (or leaves).  Do NOT use prairie hay!  It will have weed seeds in it.  Old alfalfa is good, too.  Again, I’m blessed because we put up our own straw every year, so I always have a ready supply.  Ask around for whatever is prominent in your area.  Just remember, you want it THICK!  No measly 2 or 3 in layers.  Nope, I’m talking a foot thick or so.

Ideally, you should do this in the fall so your garden has time to compost itself until spring.  Because our falls are so busy on the farm, I usually don’t get to it until January.

I still have to pull the occasional weed, but they can barely take root and I don’t have to spend time “weeding” like I use to.

The key, though, is to be diligent about this every year!  Nature will take back over (as you can see from my highlighted garden picture) if you just let it go.

But, if you do the right kind of work on front end when it’s cold, then when it’s hot and your garden is producing over abundantly, you can be dealing with the produce and not worrying about weeding it, too!

What gardening tips do you have?  What have been your failures and successes in the garden?

Feel free to share with your friends!

How to Water Bath Can on a Glass Top Stove

water bath canning

So last week, I FINALLY started and finished my canning!  Hip-hip-hooray!  On one hand, I actually enjoy the process and the feeling I get as I gaze at all my lovely jars filled with garden goodness, but on the other hand, the canning itself takes so much equipment and set up.  I’ve been putting tomatoes in the freezer as they’ve been ripe, plus I had tomatoes left over from last year still in the freezer, so I spent four days and got them all done.

This year, I tried something different.  I have had a glass top stove for the past thirteen years and I’ve always read that you can NOT use a regular water bath canner on the glass top because of the concave bottom.  I’ve read that it can trap heat under the pot because of the uneven surface and possibly cause your stove top to crack.  Years ago, when I first started dabbling in canning (jellies, primarily), my handy machinist/farmer husband made me a custom rack to go in the bottom of my large stock pot.  I could can 7 pints in it, but no quarts (it wasn’t tall enough to cover them with enough water).  Using my stock pot has served me well, as long as I was only canning jellies and pints of applesauce.

A couple years ago, I expanded my canning repertoire to add my grandma’s tomato soup.  We use this as our base for chili.  But, canning it in pints meant that it would take three pints for a crock pot of chili, plus if I was also making applesauce that year, I just didn’t have enough jars to accommodate this!  I really wanted to be able to can quarts.  An option is using a pressure canner (since they have a heavy flat bottom), but I didn’t want to invest in one just for quarts of tomato sauce and, honestly, pressure canning kinda of scares me 🙂  I know, I know, it’s only lack of experience, but still.

After much research and bouncing ideas off of my sister, I arrived at a workable, non expensive, non scary solution for water bath canning on a glass top stove- canning outside!  We have a propane camp stove, so I set up a table in my carport right outside my back door, set the stove on that, and voila! I can can quarts 🙂

water bath canner

Was it wonderfully convenient?  Yes and no.  Yes, because canning outside frees up a burner on my stove inside for preparing meals during the day and no, because, well, I had to carry the full jars outside!  But, it was worth it.  I canned 21 quarts of tomato soup, so we are set for the winter on that!  I still used my trusty stock pot canner for pints (I did 32 pints of salsa, 12 pints of soup, and 15 pints of thick sauce), mostly because I ran out of propane and didn’t have time to travel the 13 miles to the nearest store while I was in the middle of canning.

Before I leave you, I have one more fabulous, life changing canning tip-  use a roaster for cooking your tomato concoctions down!

roaster with soup

My sister and mom learned this from a neighbor lady and it has revolutionized their canning!  You free up your burner, it cooks down FASTER (because its being heated on all sides, not just the bottom) and you can turn it way down and walk a way for awhile if something comes up and you need to leave the house.  I made all of my salsa, soup and sauce this way and I will never go back to using my stove for that again!  I borrowed my mother-in-law’s and my sister borrows my mom’s, so if you don’t want to invest in one (or like me, don’t have storage space for it!), ask around and I bet you can find one.

What have you canned this fall? 

Feel free to share with your friends!