You know, I’ve never liked plastic. It has some excellent uses, sure – but still, I like to avoid most stuff that takes roughly a bazillion years to break down.
When I started my home nursery business a year and a half ago, I did a lot of research into methods of controlling weeds. I thought about mulching an area for my potted plants and trees… considered using my parking slab as a work area… wondered if I could just stow potted plants here and there around the food forest… then decided to heck with it.
There’s a nursery I love located between Ocala and Gainesville called Taylor Gardens Nursery. Their plants are nicely lined up on this really tough woven landscape plastic. Though there’s over an acre of plants, the weeds are minimal and it makes for a good shopping experience. Dave, the owner, also plants his gardens in plastic sheeting with holes cut for transplants.
For my nursery, I decided to just go their route and put some plastic down in my yard. The stuff lasts 10 years, even in Florida sun.
Yeah, eventually I’ll have to throw it out, but it will get a lot of use before then. Plus it will save me a lot of work. No need for a weed eater or for procuring and then hauling mulch around.
So… the plastic barrier was broken… but I wasn’t about to add plastic to my garden. I’m a permaculture and organic guy, for goodness sake!
In my nursery last year, I covered about a 12 x 30 area with woven plastic ground cover last year, then decided to move it and plant a garden in that area.
I pulled up the plastic and found the ground beneath was moist, weed-free and ready to plant.
Hmm. Food for thought.
It turns out Martin Crawford, author of Creating a Forest Garden: Working With Nature to Grow Edible Crops, agrees with me. He uses heavy tarps and landscape fabrics to kill off areas of problematic weeds for a year before planting new patches of food forest.
Woven landscape fabric (unlike straight cheap black plastic) allows water to pass through into the soil beneath. This, and the warmth of the plastic, encourages the germination of weed seeds – and their death through light starvation.
However, it wasn’t Martin Crawford, my experience with the nursery, or the knowledge of weedy death that really pulled me into the idea of experimenting with plastic in the garden.
The final plastic straw that pushed me over into testing weed barriers in my garden this fall was seeing three videos from Herrick Kimball (inventor of the Whizbang Chicken Plucker and author of The Planet Whizbang Idea Book For Gardeners which I now believe is a must-buy book for homesteaders).
Check these out – four-day carrots!
Now that’s a clever, if somewhat time-consuming idea.
One of the biggest problems we face as gardeners is twofold: time and weeds.
Weeds take time to eliminate… and if you don’t eliminate them, they’ll eliminate your yields.
In annual gardening, fast growth is everything. Weeds keep plants small and starved for nutrition, cutting a lot of potential from your garden.
For huge fields, using plastic in the garden probably isn’t worthwhile. In a small area, it seems as if it could be a valuable tool. I’m imagining they would be particularly useful with sprawling crops such as melons and squash, since they’re really difficult to weed.
As gardening preppers, the point is to grow the most food for the least amount of work. If this method works well for me, I’ll let you know. Thus far I’ve planted my own four-day carrot bed, plus onions and cabbages in holes cut through cheap hardware store plastic. When I get more professional woven plastic groundcover, I’ll try using it as a weed killer over the winter and spring and see what happens.
Herrick writes about his inspiration for this method here if you’re interested in reading more.
This isn’t the most waste-free or ideologically pure way to go about gardening – but if it helps you grow food at home, I think it’s worth a try.