Beat the Weeds with Stale Seed Bedding Technique

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Joshua Jones

Turner Farm Community Garden Manager

If you are like most, weeding is one of the most daunting tasks in any garden or farm. The heat of July and August beating down on your back as you struggle to pull the weed and it’s roots from the dry and concrete like soil. What if I were to tell you there is a better way. With just a little more prep work in the spring, you can be on your porch sipping lemonade during the sweltering summer months rather than weeding.

Have no fear, Stale Seed Bedding Technique is here.

I usually start this process as soon as I get the first major ground thaw, usually in mid-February here in SW Ohio. I fully prep my beds as if I was going to plant or seed them that day. That means, tilling or broadforking your beds, removing all the weeds that sprung up over winter, and raking your bed flat. At this point, you would normally plant or seed your bed if you were using the traditional method.

But, when using the Stale Seed Bed method, you would then cover your entire row using black plastic. I use 3-millimeter black plastic, which can be found in the painting section of any major hardware store. It is relatively inexpensive, especially considering what you get in return (remember the lemonade). You cover the row with the black plastic. I make sure the entire row is covered with a bit of overlap (I have 30-inch- wide rows, I use 40-inch- wide plastic). Weigh this plastic down using sandbags, bricks, logs, or large rocks. Whatever you have available.

Make sure it is secured because the wind is a thief.

Leave the plastic covering your rows for at least 7-14 sunny days. The idea here is that you will germinate any weed seeds in your bed, because the black plastic has warmed your soil enough to allow for germination. Then, because the plastic is black the weeds cannot photosynthesize because they do not receive sunlight. After the 7-14 days, you remove the black plastic to see a bunch of wimpy looking weeds, either dead or struggling to survive. You can either hand weed them or flame weed them.

It is VERY IMPORTANT to disturb your soil as little as possible during this process, the more you disturb your soil, the more chance you have to bring more weed seeds to the surface of your row. Flame weeding works the best because you do not disturb the soil at all. Once the weeding is finished you can plant your transplants or direct seed your beds. The seeds or transplants will now have a huge head-start against any weeds that might want to come up.

Once your seeds or transplants are established they will out-compete your weeds. Using this method will cut your weeding time by 50%-75% at least. So, with a little extra work in the cool weather of February, you can sit back in the dog days of summer.

If you have any questions over this method, please feel free to contact me at joshua@turnerfarm.org

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