How to control weed on a farm or large veggie garden

July 12, 2019

we have a large vegetable garden that is 100x250'. We grow different types of vegetables for our own (2 of us) use and with the intention to sell to people. This is our first year and we did ok with most plants thriving. We have some failures such as potatoes which probably rotted away because of too much rain. Our problem is the weed which is taken over most of the garden. Hubby tried to weed wack some of the areas but inevitably he destroyed some plants. Our plan is to weed wack area by area and put 6-8" of woodchips down. Obviously we should have done that before we planted the perennials including some fruits trees, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and figs. If we put the thick layer of woodchips down, would these perennials come back up next year?

We also plan to laydown the woodchips in the squash field and area where we grow tender vegetables such as greens, carrots, tomatoes, etc. we will wait till the fall after we harvest from the plants.

what do you guys think?

Comments (16)

  • marymd7

    No, perennials will not come through 6-8" of wood chips. You should mulch around not over them. I use straw and chopped up leaves in the vegetable garden as a mulch. It's light, cheap, readily available, and decomposes to improve the soil. In addition to improving the soil and reducing (nothing eliminates) weeds, an organic mulch helps regulate soil moisture and temperature. The soil is always covered - mu. I pull the mulch back to plant seeds or bedding plants. I just keep adding it throughout the year around the plants and over the areas that aren't planted (as where one crop has finished and I intend to plant a succession crop). Wood chips are an organic mulch, but I would only use wood chips on areas I did not intend to plant - paths, areas surrounding the planting beds themselves. They do not break down as readily and, if they are mixed into the soil, can nitrogen rob to a less than desirable degree.

  • mxk3

    I put down landscape fabric on the walking/working paths, and covered with straw. In the beds, I mulch with a thick layer of fallen fall leaves between plants/plantings. The sooner you can get mulch down the better, it does help keep the weeds down. If you leave bare ground, nature will cover it for you...

    What I'm trying this year is laying down landscape fabric right on top of the bed between the melon and squash vine rows -- was a tip from someone here. I used the landscape fabric pins, and I can just roll it up and store for the season, move where needed next season. My mistake was not buying dark brown or black -- the light-colored stuff is butt-ugly laying on top the ground, and I can see it from the house (don't have any leaves left to mulch over it with). Oh well. The vines grow so fast it won't bug me in a couple more weeks.

    You really have to keep on top of the weeds -- they quickly get out of hand. I'm still battling quackgrass (!) that DH tilled in (!!) when we created the garden. I absolutely dreaded going out there the first year, what a giant weedy grassy mess, it was constant work. So the next spring I decided to lay down the fabric on the walking paths, that helped immensely. Still have a lot of weeds in the rows, though. I keep a big plastic nursery pot in the garden, when I'm out there putzing or harvesting I just reach down and pull -- a little here, a little there means fewer giant weeding sessions needed. The weeds pull easily if you stay on top of them -- weed-wacking them isn't really going to help, they're just going to come right back if they're perennial weeds or grass.

  • Shule

    We use black plastic in most of our vegetable garden. It keeps weeds out entirely, except for on the planting sites. However, it's not the best solution for every crop, and you can't water through it. It's great for watermelon, muskmelons, tomatoes, herbs and such, but may be more difficult to use it effectively for say radishes, and other things you plant close together in rows. Also, it makes the soil hotter, which can be both good and bad. If you lay the plastic down some weeks before cutting any holes in it, it can potentially solarize the soil and kill a lot of the weed seeds. We did that on an area, this year, which before sprouted lambsquarter like crazy, but afterward it took a good while before we saw any weeds (and they weren't thick when they did sprout).

    Landscaping fabric is similar, but weeds are known to grow through it more often, and it probably won't solarize the ground much, if at all, due to how it can breathe. However, you can water right through it. Black plastic is much easier to remove, though, IMO, and it retains water to a degree, such that you don't need to water as much, even though watering thoroughly is more of a challenge. In fact, on a large scale, you'd probably want to learn to dry farm if you used it (but it's great, if you're doing that), IMO.

  • HighColdDesert

    Back to Eden is a series of videos by a guy who uses deep wood chips mulch on his large vegetable gardens and on everything, and it works great. Google it. He's a bit of a fundamentalist and talks about it,but this garden technique is hugely popular and successful.

  • PRO
    Len NW 7a
    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?><md>in a large area like yours weed control will take planning and some hard work.

    Step one is to stop all weed growth outside of planting area. weed cloth covered with wood chips or bark works for me, combined with vigilance to pull persistent weed starts.

    For me raised beds planted very densely with mulch between keeps daily wedding to a minimum. If weds live to go to seed you are losing the battle.

    For this season I would cover every thing that is not producing with black plastic, cultivate and mulch around your crops, and develop a strategy for next year.

    Growing squash helps:) good luck
  • Shule

    @HighColdDesert Wood chip mulch (as well as shredded wood mulch) is very effective, and I really like it (especially for peppers). Ours seems to last a year or two before we need to add more to supplement it. So, on a large scale, it could be expensive, unless you've got a good source for them such as a whole tree chipper (or if you know someone with one) or something.

  • vgkg Z-7 Va

    I use a weed wiggler type hoe to maintain weed control (one on the right). It's less effort to use than a regular hoe as it less disturbs the soil and "shaves" off the weed tops to leave them on the ground to breakdown as mulch. I use it about 2 days after each rainfall as it's best to catch the weeds early.

    eta, my garden size is similar to yours, now if I can only devise a way to carry around a portable AC unit with me.

  • shp123

    Thank you all. Yes, we are totally overwhelmed with tall weeds. DH weed wacked for two hours in the fruit tree area. Now, we are looking to get a ton of woodchips to cover it. He think he is going to rent a brush hog to clear the squash field and the area where we are growing greens after the harvest. Then again woodchips to cover it. The problem is the berry patch that planted all kinds of berries. I may have to hand weed around each plant and lightly mulch them like MaryMD said.

  • PRO
    Len NW 7a

    vghg that weeding tool is my garden partner x

  • Shule

    Speaking of plants that keep the weeds out, muskmelons are great for that, in my garden. They shade the ground pretty thoroughly, and they grow thickly.

  • gracie01 zone5 SW of Chicago

    If you know someone getting rid of wall to wall carpet, cut it in strips to lay between rows, upside down. Makes a good path and lasts.

  • windberry zone5a BCCanada

    @HighColdDesert Thanks for the very interesting link Back to Eden. Paul Gautschi's way of gardening is so unconventional and so refreshing. Great!

  • defrost49

    I have no idea why hardware and farm stores don't carry good weeding tools. I grow in long narrow beds so use a hand weeder. My original was a Cape Cod weeder. A Vermont garden writer recommends a cobra headed weeder. They are similar. For quack grass I use a chopping motion to get the end under the weed, then I can pull it up. For young sprouted weeds I can just drag the L-shaped end thru the soil. For a long root like quack grass, sometimes I have to hold the main section in one hand and chop at the soil to get the long runner root out. The scuffle hoe mentioned above is good for long rows. I realize you can't hand weed such a large garden but a combination of tools and techniques should help. I put down thick layers of wet newspaper to edge a bed, then cover with grass clippings.

  • Josie23: Zone 5: WI

    My husband and I tend just over 2 acres of garden ourselves. Now its not solid vegetables there are wide paths between the sections that we mow, which helps for access and runoff control since it is on the edge of the driftless region and everything is a hill. But it is still a lot for 2 people. I cut it down from 80 tomato plants to just 35 this year since I don't need to preserve, but still have almost 70 zucchini since I sell them. Just to give you a couple example of the scope of our area. We also have perennials like asparagus, rhubarb, walking onions and a few apple trees.

    We give a lot of stuff away, just today I took in 2 buss tubs full of fresh cukes and a giant bundle of dill to my part-time work place for my co-workers.

    We both have full time jobs (I also have a part time one) but are out there every night after work until dark and full days most weekends. The secret.... hard work and lots of hay mulch. We also use landscape fabric under things like tomatoes, zucchini and peppers which is great, but don't expect it to last for more than one year.

    Weed wackers can do more damage as you mention if you are going close to plants but can be helpful around the edges of garden. You should expect to carefully use a hoe or hand pull weeds closest to the plants themselves and you can lay down a THICK layer of hay. Hay works well for long-season veggies, but is more of a pain around radishes, lettuce, peas and other short lived plants. It can also cause things like cabbages to rot by keeping too much moisture under them, especially this year.

    The Eden Garden looks interesting for smaller operations, however I would never consider wood chips around non-perennial plants. I till organic material (neighbors composted cow poop) into my garden areas every spring, and wood doesn't break down fast enough to till it into my ground, hay/straw does. Even if I didn't till I still use a rotation plan to help control disease etc. Having to pull back wood chips every season in order to plant seeds, plants, etc would drive me batty.

    I have also read that wood chips can tie up the available nitrogen in the top level of the soil, and because of this they are not the best option for mulch around annual plantings.

    Good luck on your garden!

    shp123 thanked Josie23: Zone 5: WI
  • Shule

    Wood chips are only a problem with nitrogen if they're mixed with the soil.

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