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Your Survival Garden’s Worst Enemy: Weeds

Weeds
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With so many Americans growing vegetable gardens for the first time, I thought it apropos to write a post concerning the one culprit that has caused my husband and I to want to throw up our hands in surrender.  I am not speaking of rodents, varmints, or hungry neighbors.  This enemy is fierce.  This foe is the common weed.  An opponent like no other, one that will take over and suffocate your tomatoes while you go on vacation, one that grows faster than you can pull it from the ground.  If you dig up uncultivated ground in hopes of being self-sufficient, be prepared or this rival will defeat you before you can say “cucumber sandwich”.  Our family has fought the good fight for many years and learned from our mistakes and I want share what we have learned the hard way in hopes of saving fellow Preppers of an empty wallet and an aching back.

Before you begin…

First of all, if you do not mind spraying your food with weed killer like the guy down the road from us, you will have a weed free garden with very little effort outside of filling your sprayer up and possibly receiving a pulled wrist muscle.  He sprays religiously and his garden is beautiful.  However, he also has a putrid complexion, thin hair, and all of his pets have extra legs.  Our family chooses to go the chemical-free route and I am sure he laughs at us when he sees us bent over in our garden getting dirt under our fingernails.

Secondly, if you are willing to invest the money required to create a square-foot gardening and a weed-free wonderland, go for it.  The downsides are not only cost, but lack of air circulation, need for more watering, and if wood is used to make the raised beds it will eventually rot and have to be replaced.

Also, do not assume that you can simply go outside, lay down something to kill your grass in a lovely rectangular pattern, and commence growing delicious fruits and veggies.  We had a friend come over with a back hoe and dig up a large square where our veggies would sprout and grow and feed our family.  We were optimistic and naive and discovered that when you dig up a plot of grass that has a variety of weeds thriving in it, you will have many years of weeding ahead of you.

Here is a brief list and description of the top ten weeds you will encounter in your veggie patch and ideas on eradication.  If you are looking for a quick and easy solution other than chemical annihilation, STOP reading at this point because it will take a determination and a will to succeed that cause most people to either cover their gardens with grass seed or put in that in-ground pool they thought they always needed.

 

Most Unwanted Weed List

Crab Grass

Crab Grass

1. Crab Grass

This weed is fast growing and sprouts seed heads quickly in warm weather.  So quickly in fact, that if you happen to miss it you will be fighting all of its numerous offspring the following year.  Even worse is that when you think you have caught it and are in full annihilation mode and pull it from the ground, you have probably left its rooted nodes behind that are thriving a couple of feet away.  Your best defense is to pull it the second you see and not let it sprout a seed head,  mulching helps as well.

Dandelion

Dandelion

2. Dandelion

Yes, some people eat this in salads or brew tea with it, but truth be told, if you don’t control its population, you will be fighting a vigorous invader.  The best measure is to pull it out completely, being sure to remove the root as well.  Mulch is not very effective, however, but some gardeners swear by the dandelion puller.

Bermuda grass

Bermuda grass

3. Bermuda Grass

This weed is especially irritating because of its extensive root system.  We have pulled this out thinking we got the root and all, set in a pile beside the garden, let it winter over and lo and behold it was still alive and thriving the following season.  This grass sprouts from rhizomes that break off when you try to dig it out.  I had a gardener tell me that the roots can be as deep as 15 feet underground.  The only way you can keep it from slithering into your home and stealing your children is to mulch HEAVILY.  And forget putting down black landscape fabric because it will grow through it.  Solarizing helps as well, if you are dealing with a large patch that is winning.  This involves spreading clear plastic down in your hottest months and let the sun bake it.  Digging a moat around the garden is also recommended to keep it from creeping so quickly into garden beds.

Bindweed

Bindweed

4. Bindweed

Similar and a cousin to sweet potatoes this is called the “zombie plant” because it just keeps coming at you no matter what you do.  Do not let this hateful weed go to seed because its roots can go as deep as 30 feet underground.  Also, the seeds can stay viable for 50 years.  Unfortunately the best way to eradicate it is to pull it.  Do not till it or you will till the seeds into your soil, but use a fork after it rains to avoid leaving any fragments behind.

Chickweed

Chickweed

5. Chickweed

Some people eat chickweed in a tasty salad and use it for its medicinal properties.  I personally want to kill it.  It is a winter weed and it grows quickly.  If it is pulled at the wrong time the seeds will sprout new little chick-weeds everywhere.  You must pull it in the early spring. One positive aspect of chickweed is that you can feed it to your ducks and chickens, they will love it.

Ground Ivy

Ground Ivy

6. Ground Ivy

Pull it, it comes back.  Pull it, it comes back.  Pull it, it comes back.  Get the point?  This is best pulled out if you water the ground first before pulling by hand.  You must remove all the underground runners as well.  If you till it, it will sprout from root fragments and you might as well put in an in-ground pool over your garden.

CanadaThistle

Canada Thistle

Eek, this is a prickly perennial that requires wearing heavy-duty leather gloves to remove.  Some gardeners recommend cutting this down to the ground and pouring a mixture of vinegar and salt on the stem area.  You can also remove with a fork being sure to get the whole root system.  If all else fails and the weed takes over, you can use the fibers from the stems to make rope.  You will be very skinny due to lack of food, but you will have some good strong rope.

Burdock

Burdock

8. Burdock

Vinegar works well on hot days with this nasty biennial invader.  You can also take the time to dig this out of the ground, but it is much like the dandelion and it is imperative to remove the whole root system.  Mulch is useless.

Quack Grass

Quack Grass

9. Quack Grass

This perennial weed grows mainly by creeping underground rhizomes that release chemicals that poison other plants and keeps them from growing.  The runner roots must be removed, but be aware that the roots are very thin and it doesn’t take much for them to break off causing you to miss fragments that will become new “quackers”.  Again, do not till this weed, because you will spawn many more of its devil children.  Cover crops can help, such as field peas, buckwheat or crimson clover which will overcome the quack grass.  Many gardeners have reported that it is very common for it to crop up when buying composted manure or mulch so be sure you are not getting product full of quack grass.

Johnson Grass

Johnson Grass

10. Johnson Grass

This noxious weed needs to be dug out in its entirety.  It is suggested that Johnson grass needs to be allowed to sit out of your garden for several months before tossing into the compost pile.  Cover crops can be helpful in suppression.

 

 

The following is from Mother Earth News:


Organic Weed Control: What Works, What Doesn’t

In our comprehensive Worst Garden Weeds Survey, gardeners rated several mulch types and organic herbicides based on their effectiveness in controlling weeds. Out of those who’d tried each type, here’s how the methods ranked, including the percentage of respondents who found each effective.

Top-Rated Mulch Types

1. Paper or newspaper (80 percent)
2. Black plastic (76 percent)
3. Straw or hay (69 percent)
4. Shredded wood or bark (65 percent)
5. Grass clippings (63 percent)
6. Living mulch (45 percent)
7. Clear plastic (21 percent)

Top-Rated Organic Herbicides

1. Vinegar (72 percent)
2. Herbicidal soap (68 percent)
3. Neem oil (57 percent)
4. BurnOut Weed & Grass Killer (42 percent)
5. Weed Prevention Plus (29 percent)
6. Weed Pharm Organic Weed Killer (23 percent)
7. Cinnamon bark crab grass killer (17 percent)

Seize the Sun. More gardeners reported success with mulches than with herbicides. As you evaluate your mulch options, keep in mind that clear plastic — the lowest-ranking mulch type — will only work to kill weeds if it’s used in summer and pulled tightly over soil, creating a hot environment weeds can’t tolerate. This method of capturing radiant heat from the sun under clear plastic is often called solarization. To solarize a bed, water areas of bare soil, and then cover the areas with clear plastic. Dig a trench and bury the edges of the tightly pulled plastic in the trench so the heat will build up, and keep the plastic cover on the garden bed for three to six weeks.

Mulches Are Strong Medicine. Several gardeners said the most successful mulch strategy was to use newspapers and/or cardboard under a thick layer of organic mulch, such as grass clippings, shredded leaves, straw, hay or a combination of these (wet your newspapers so they don’t fly around as you try to lay them down).

The tips most often cited were to do a couple of good hand weeding sessions early in the growing season before laying down mulch, and to keep reapplying organic mulches as they decompose throughout the season. Grass clippings will block weed growth better than the same thickness of hay or straw, but will usually not last as long. Grass also releases more beneficial nitrogen than hay, straw or leaves. Start your mulching regimen early, before weeds get a foothold, and don’t be shy about applying a lot — if you can, mulch 6 to 8 inches deep with hay, straw or leaves, or 2 to 3 inches deep with grass clippings. Organic mulches are a quadruple win because they suppress weeds, build fertility, retain moisture and are often free. Simply gather grass clippings and leaves from your property, or get them from friends or neighbors who don’t use lawn herbicides.

Many respondents commented that black plastic mulch is effective because it blocks light from weeds, but it can leave a mess of fragments in your garden when it eventually deteriorates. Others noted the usefulness of landscape fabric laid beneath a layer of straw for keeping weeds out of paths.

Organic Herbicides. Almost all of the gardeners who commented on organic herbicides said the ones that work only offer a temporary fix. Many said store-bought options aren’t worth the money. Many gardeners considered vinegar an effective herbicide option if applied directly to weeds on a sunny day. If you’re cautious about protecting the soil food web in your garden, note that vinegar can do minor harm to soil microorganisms.
Read more here:

In conclusion, weeds are not our friends.  They will invade every inch of your garden if you allow it.  New gardeners should plan on spending the summer months at home working in the garden upon digging their new garden.  Make it a family affair.  We have given our children sections of the garden that they have to keep weed free.  Neglecting your renewable source of food is not wise.  The reward for all your hard work is that your family will be growing food for the table and pantry and eventually, after years of waging war on weeds, you will win.  If you can practice eradicating diligently and removing weeds upon sight, you will eventually have fewer weeds invading your garden and more food in your belly.

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  • Expat

    Pre emergence herbicide prevents weed seed germination and is not evil. It’s just corn gluten meal. 60% protein and edible.

    Glysphate (Roundup) is a harmless as anything in the home and degrades to nothing in less than 2 weeks.
    Landscape fabric is 100% weed effective.
    2″ of wood shavings form a 1/2″ thick mat that weeds don’t penetrate easily.
    Corn. potatoes, squash planted in hills will out preform weeds.

    Biannual weed such as Burdock cannot be dug out with reasonable effort but cutting the seed head off in the second year prevents more of the bastards. A touch of roundup works even better.

    In a survival situation it’s best to pick your battles. Organic is 10% truth and 90% plain old ignorance.

    • prepperjournal

      Thank you for your comments Expat,

      I do agree with you on your point about how if you are in a survival situation that its best to pick your battles. For example, if you are faced with starvation and eating processed food, I will take my chances eating processed food, probably very happily. If I am dying of thirst, I won’t turn my nose up at water that has fluoride in it or that was stored in containers that may have BPA in them.

      However, I disagree with you that Roundup is harmless and landscape fabric is 100% effective at stopping weeds.

      Roundup is a chemical that kills, surely we can agree on that, right? Even if you take the large number of clinical trials that have shown a link to cancer in Glyphosate, and the fact that the entire EU has implemented a two year ban on pesticides and throw all of that out. Do you really believe that spraying chemicals that are designed to kill anything on your food is the best idea?

      For landscape fabric, have you ever used it? I have spent hundreds of dollars on landscape fabric and this never guarantees you will have weed free areas. You might have a reduction for the first year, but eventually grass and weeds grow through and over the landscape fabric. Or at least it does where I live.

      Wood chips break down but if you use wood chips and landscape fabric both early in the season, you may not have to worry about weeds for the first year, but this isn’t a long term solution. If only it was that simple, I would be very happy, but the home improvement stores wouldn’t sell as much.

      If we have a survival situation, wood chips and landscape fabric might be extremely hard to come by. If your garden is new or if you are like me and have a year gone already for the weeds to strengthen you will have this problem. Using that same argument, you might not have the ability to buy Roundup either…

      Pat

      • Expat

        Roundup is not an insecticide but a herbicide. It works by inhibiting an enzyme plants need. Humans don’t have that enzyme o are not affected. GMO’s contain a substitute enzyme not affected by Roundup (Glysphate). Human and other animals also do not have that enzyme.
        as a landscape contractor for many decade I use landscape fabric by the truckload. There are many types and weights. some is like paper and very nice for yearly applications in the garden proper. Other are heavy enough to use in road ways or a shade cloth. Weeds can grow on top of fabric but not through it. They are few and easily pulled.
        Notice I mentioned wood shavings, not chips. There is a difference. Shavings mat down and last longer. They do form a weed barrier and are even difficult to dig through. By laying on top of the ground they adsorb nitrogen from the air not from the root zone.
        As with anything you will always need some maintenance. Choosing proper plants helps too. Potatoes, corn, squash amaranth are not easily affected by weeds.
        Prepping means buying supplies ahead of time and not waiting for SHFT. Include garden supplies in you other preps. Do include plastic sheeting, landscape fabric, herbicide (Glysphate and 2-4-D), etc.

  • farmer phyl

    Plant wide beds and narrow pathways for higher yields and less weeds. Plant the whole bed so it is full of plants–no rows or paths in the bed, just fill it with plants. Weeds love bare ground and sun. If you space your garden plants close enough together that they just barely touch when they are mature and heavily mulch the pathways with bio-degradable material, paper, cardboard,straw, leaves, etc. You will have more veggies and almost no weeds.

  • DaveP

    I swear by ‘flame weeding’ you get a $30 propane handheld torch from harbor freight or HD, hook it up to a propane tank, and you can get all the weeds in a large area in an hour. It works best when the weeds are from sprout size to 6 inches, when they are too numerous and small to really pick by hand. it basically cooks the water right out of their cells where they sit. Oh, and it also kills any seeds that are growing. you can also use it to sterilize freshly turned over ground by killing all the seeds that you just turned up.
    It also helps that propane is a great alternative fuel source for the prepper…win/win.

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    Bye

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