Tuesday, November 22

Controlling weeds part two - vegetables

Having successfully deployed weed control fabric to fruit beds our attention turned to the vegetable beds which in theory should be easier to deal with as they would be empty when the fabric was laid.

At this point I should mention that the fabric we buy is 100g and not the cheaper 50g. We found that the cheaper fabric wasn't effective. We also buy widths suitable for our beds so that we can avoid cutting and fraying as much as possible. Where the fabric is slightly too wide we fold the edges rather than cutting it.
Having laid the fabric we had to decide how to hold down the outer edges. We tried wooden planks but these provided a slug hiding place. We tried tucking the edges into the soil but this meant that weeds grew in the soil around the edges. Finally we decided on laying the fabric flat and mulching either with wood chippings or well rotted manure.

Next how to plant through the fabric? We have two basic methods. The first is to cut crosses in the appropriate planting positions. The spacing varies depending on what will be grown in the bed.
In the case of brassicas the crosses can double as cabbage root fly protection.

In the case of other crops the flaps can either be left as for the brassicas or tucked back underneath the fabric as in the case of potatoes.
This method allows more space for the potato, which is planted as deeply as possible using a trowel, to push through. Our earliest potatoes are not planted through w.c.f. as roots are harvested individually when needed and this is less easy when covered with fabric.

The hole planting method is used for.
sweet corn
Broad beans, outdoor tomatoes,courgettes and squash.
A slight variations is also used for climbing beans. The canes are pushed into the planting holes.
Our second method is used mainly for directly sown seeds and is potentially more destructive as the fabric does fray after a while.
A flap is cut in the fabric as shown in the dotted lines on the diagram above left. We have found that the second method and cutting several flaps instead of one long one makes the fabric easier to move in subsequent years. The flaps are folded back under the fabric and if seeds are to be sown directly a trench is scooped out and filled with compost. Sowing directly into our soil is only really successful for peas - see the photo below. The wooden planks in the photo above right are temporary until the fabric is mulched.

I tried using pinned down canes to hold down the edges but this does't really work and so we now use metal pegs.
The black plastic pegs don't work as well as the metal alternatives which are also easier to remove.

The trench method is used for:
Onions and shallots
Peas and sweet peas
Lots more besides such as annual/biennial flowers, beetroot and salad crops are gown using this method. The trench width varies with the crop for instance peas are given more space.

We grow leeks using this method too - we tried growing in a hole but they proved too difficult to harvest.
Once the crop has been harvested the fabric is removed, the ground is dug over and any weeds that have managed to push through are removed. The bed is then covered again for winter.

The following season the fabric is rotated with the appropriate crop at planting time or if convenient this is done after clearing the bed in autumn.

As well as controlling the weeds which is beneficial to crop growth,  I think the fabric has other positive effects. The colour absorbs warmth and so must help in warming the soil early in the season and also must help reduce moisture loss in summer.

I just wish we had started to use  w.c.f. earlier when we were both working full time. During the growing season with things to plant and crops to harvest the weeds used to have a free reign - not anymore!


  1. I am starting to adopt your method of weed suppression using identical membrane I have started with strawberries and will continue in the spring in much the same way I hate weeding when the weather is fine I would sooner be out and about with my camera I assume you feel much the same way

    1. We just want time to do both, David. It's working just fine.

  2. A really interesting post. I've covered the allotment this autumn, and now I have the fabric I think I shall plant through it next year as well. I already have strawberries planted through it, and it's been brilliant.

    1. It really has made a huge difference for us CJ especially as at one time we had to chose between weeding and picking fruit.

  3. On such a large plot, I can imagine the time saved each year by using the fabric and your plants seem to really enjoy it!

    When I need to hold edges of fabric or plastic down, I use rebar - not sure if it's call that as well in the UK. It has the benefit of the bamboo poles as it's skinny and long but it's heavy enough to hold down the edges without the need for pegs, etc.

    1. The wood is just temporary until we cover with mulch, Margaret. The mulch is then incorporated into the soil later.

  4. You will yet go no till.
    I have ben a fan of plastic mulches ever since a colleague planted a conifer border forty years ago.at Askham Bryan
    It was really good but eventually went the way of most dwarf conifers and made a forest. It came out at the millennium.

  5. One of these days I'll get that fabric for my veggie patch, it certainly does the trick!xxx

    1. It's been one of our best moves, Dina.

  6. A lot of great ideas Sue, I am sure I will nick a couple of them in the future :)

    1. It's called sharing, Jayne 😉

  7. Excellent detailed post, Sue. My mind was considering all sorts of possibilities for the beds up at my shared allotment. Good point that slugs love a bit of wood for shelter; I'm not replacing raised beds when they start to rot, no point in giving slugs a helping hand! Where do you buy your 100g w.c.f?

    1. We usually buy the w.c.f. from Amazon, Caro

  8. The weed control method is really working well! Soon there will be more harvest for us to see! ;)


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