Growing Your Own Vegetables - Problem Weeds

31st Aug 2002

When I got married and bought my first house I had also bought a fairly large back garden which I wanted to dig over and grow vegetables in. With the assistance of my father we managed to get it growing away, full of vegetables, in the very first season. As soon as the vegetables had germinated through I was taught my first basic lesson from dad, 'keep the hoe moving from now on' and that simple piece of advice has meant that I keep getting the optimum harvest from any sowing. Weeds can be so invasive and devastating in the vegetable garden, indeed it is often the one reason why people don"t bother to continue growing their own fresh vegetables. I was once told that the definition of a weed is -  ‘A plant that grows where it's not required'. For instance, if you haven't harvested cleanly this years potato crop, then the remaining small potatoes will shoot and grow again, just like a weed and probably right in the middle of your row of peas next year.

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Hand Weeding

Once weeds are popping their heads through soil where you have directly sown seed, a time when young seedlings are in danger of being suffocated, it's always better initially to hand weed. At this time the row of seedlings will  probably be in need of thinning out as well so thin out and hand weed at the same time in an around the row for about two inches from the centre. The space between the rows can  then be easily cleaned up with the hoe, it's always amazing after this initial thinning and weed control how the seedlings romp away to give you strong established plants.

Hoeing

There are two basic hoe types, the Dutch hoe which has been around for many years and works on the push and pull theory and is well proven to be efficient at what it does. However my favourite weed control tool is not really a hoe at all, it's a totally different concept and is called a Swoe. Whilst the hoe has two cutting edges, the Swoe has three, the push and pull action is available whilst also it has a narrow blade on the side which is really useful for getting in between plants within a row.

The best control however really does start from now on in readiness for the next season by continuously hoeing any area of the vegetable plot that is going to remain empty for the remainder of the season. The old saying that ‘one years weeds is seven years seeds' means in effect that weeds can germinate long after they have shed their seed on the soil. Thorough preparation of the soil by way of weed control from now until late Autumn will ensure that you have a much better chance of  controlling weeds next season.

There's no doubt that the regular use of the hoe is the easiest, the best, as well as being a healthy option for yourself in terms of light physical activity. Hoeing is not hard work, indeed it can be quite a pleasure and certainly therapeutic as the blade skims back and forth through the crumbly soil taking away your stresses and worries at the same time. The regular use of the hoe is essential; even though weeds may not be apparent, they soon will be after disturbing the soil when you see the young weeds white on the surface. The best time to hoe is when the weather is dry and sunny, the sun will then shrivel up all the annual weeds. Hoeing regularly aslo creates a mulch with the upper two inches or so of soil drying out to conserve moisture below.

Perennial Weeds

With perennial weeds such as couch grass, thistle, and docks, then hoeing can still be beneficial if carried out regularly. For instance weeds, like all plants, need the process of photosynthesis to grow, for this they need daylight, therefore if you continue to knock off the protruding shoots they will eventually die off through starving their storage cells of nutrients.

Herbicides or Weedkillers

There is however an easier way to treat perennial weeds through the effective and careful use of Herbicides or Weedkillers. Basically you have two groups to select from for the vegetable garden, a Contact and a Systemic.  Do not use a Residual Weedkiller, the type that is often used on perennial shrub borders, it leaves residues in the soil and therefore a danger on the vegetable plot. 

The first group is a contact killer such as ‘Weedol' which effectively kills off the tops of the plants in a very short space of time and is ideal for annual weeds. The second is a systemic type which contains the chemical Glyphosate, usually sold as ‘Roundup' or ‘Round Pro Biactive'. This is a translocating herbicide which works extremely effectively when applied through a fine rose or a sprayer on to the plants foliage. It can also be utilised as a gel which you apply directly on to the foliage, this is available as ‘Tumleweed Gel', and particularly useful for spot application. The chemical translocates through the plants system down to the roots and totally eradicates the weed. Don't be surprised if you see nothing happening for the first couple of weeks, it can take up to 21 days to show any effect. After this point you can speed things up by physically removing the weeds, any roots left in the ground will have already taken in the chemical and will die off completely over the Winter months.

You can use Glyphosate between the vegetable rows during the growing season as well killing off any foliage that it touches on. It does however mean that you have to be extremely careful when applying, do not let it contact the vegetable foliage as they will also be killed and for this reason alone I would prefer to use the hoe. However the one good thing about it's use in the vegetable plot is that once it is in contact with the soil it naturally bio degrades into harmless compounds. This means that you can sow vegetable seed in the same soil that has been sprayed over, as soon as the following day.

Mulching

Mulching is another excellent way of keeping weeds under control, particularly after the plants have grown on from the seedling stage. Points to remember with mulching are that the soil should be free of weeds prior to applying the mulch, it should also be moist. I have used very effectively partly rotted straw in between the rows, pulling it from the bale in wads of about three inches thickness. Mulching serves to keep moisture in the soil as well  but can aslo be a problem with slugs as it can be the ideal moist dark are to hide under and if you have vulnerable plants close by, then you will have to use slug pellets as well.


Weeds can be so invasive and devastating in the vegetable garden, indeed it is often the one reason why people don"t bother to continue growing their own fresh vegetables.
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