The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Weed kill mulch

Weed kill mulch

Cutting ragweedMid to late summer is the perfect time to start next year's no-till garden beds.  Most of the big weeds that grace neglected ground --- ragweed, wingstem, and goldenrod for us --- are blooming or are about to bloom but haven't gone to seed yet.  At the pre- to mid-bloom stage of a plant's life, the weed has pumped as much of its energy as possible into creating viable blooms, so if you cut the plants now, they'll be hard-pressed to regrow.  (You take advantage of this fact when you mow-kill cover crops at this same life stage.)

Meanwhile, midsummer is the perfect time of year to smother lower-growing perennials (like grasses and clover) in areas where you want garden beds to grow next year.  Cool season grasses have already gone to seed and are currently trying to sock away as much solar energy as possible to store in their roots and allow the plants to pop back up early next spring.  By covering up perennials in the middle of the summer, you have the best chance of killing these hardy plants so that the soil will be completely weed-free and ready for vegetables come spring.

Shorn pasture

So "weed" in the title of this post does double duty --- I'm using weeds to create a kill mulch to smother other weeds.  The main component of my weed kill mulch is those fifteen foot tall ragweed plants from one of our chicken pastures --- I'm pretty sure the ragweed shaded out the understory and made it harder for our Cuckoo Marans to find tender forage.  Mark's ninja blade made quick work of the huge ragweed stalks, then I gathered them up and tossed them over the fence to lay alongside the existing beds in the forest garden.

Bundle of ragweed

Even though the idea makes a lot of sense, I should warn you up front that this is another crazy experiment.  That said, I already tried out a similar weed kill mulch last week when I raked up all of the stalks Mark whacked down in the forest garden itself and use them to increase my mulched area.  The weeds quickly died back to a black mass of free mulch, so I'm pretty confident the weed kill mulches will work, although they might need another layer of weeds added on top if perennials start popping up through.

Brush pile

The other factor to consider is the C:N ratio of your weeds.  I had Mark cut a lot of saplings in one of the deer danger zones, then I piled them in another part of the forest garden in a sort of horizontal brush pile (three or four feet deep.)  Branches and young trees are too woody to rot down into an acceptable mulch for vegetables by next spring, so I'll either top them off with manure and turn the area into a hugelkultur bed or just throw weeds on top and let the brush pile slowly rot down.  Ragweed cut at the blooming stage, though, is only moderately woody, so I have high hopes we'll be able to plant directly under those kill mulches next spring.

Our chicken waterer never spills or fills with POOP.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Anna, I want your hat. Where did you buy it??? It's time to replace my old straw hat . . . I bet it would compost well. :)
Comment by Jeremy Tue Aug 16 08:48:50 2011
That hat was actually part of the impetus of our first cruise --- I wanted sombreros for both of us to keep the sun well off of our skin while we garden. We got them in a tourist shop in the Yucatan, and I love mine. (Mark never really took to his, so I guess it's my backup.) I know that's not very replicable... :-)
Comment by anna Tue Aug 16 13:20:21 2011

Well, that's OK. I'm trying to find one a little cheaper than a cruise to Mexico. I'll keep up the search for something closer. Thanks for the reply.


Comment by Jeremy Tue Aug 16 13:49:00 2011
Sorry I couldn't be more helpful! I do have to say that your comment brightened my day --- quite possibly the first time I've ever been asked for anything remotely resembling fashion advice. :-)
Comment by anna Tue Aug 16 19:49:08 2011

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