There are weeds and then there are weeds.
Let’s talk about annual weeds first, those flowers in the wrong place.
I like annual weeds; they tell me the soil is capable of sustaining plant life and they feed the compost bin.
It can all go wrong if the seedlings and small plants are left to flower and set seed. A single groundsel plant can produce around 1700 seeds per year!
Then there are the other weeds, the perennials such as brambles, bindweed, couch grass and horsetail. I don’t like those at all and see no benefit to them. A sharp spade, a probing fork and a squirt or two of glyphosate seem to be the answer to these persistent menaces.
Although I’ve had an allotment for 10 years, moving to a new site and tackling a seriously overgrown plot gave me a chance to start again and rethink some of my practices.
Like a lot of allotmenteers, I have become interested in the no-dig approach. I am persuaded by the evidence that mulching rather than an annual dig is better for microbial life and produces larger harvests.
The only thing about no-dig that I struggle to understand is how to manage those perennial weeds. My reference point has been Charles Dowding’s books. I’d recommend ‘How to create a new vegetable garden’ to anyone starting out with a new plot – the first 119 pages are devoted to clearing ground and preparing the soil.
My take-away from the book is that with access to enough cardboard and mulch, annual weeds can be knocked back and a new garden created without any digging effort.
Dowding’s pet hate seems to be brambles and he acknowledges that the only way to deal with them is to dig out the main root. He uses non-permeable membrane to cover couch grass and bindweed but after 9 months under cover, they were the only thing still persisting. His attitude seems quite laid-back and appears content to hoe out new shoots as they appear, knowing that eventually the plant will weaken. It seems there are no short-cut solutions to perennial weeds.
It’s interesting that a number of people with established plots are now turning to no-dig, me included, albeit one bed at a time. Maybe that is the most successful way to go, particularly for those taking on overgrown allotments; dig first, establish a composting routine and then gradually convert to no-dig.
My polytunnel has 3 deep hugelkultur beds that will be no-dig. It will be interesting to see how these fare in the next few years.