As many of you that follow us regularly know, we like to try out a few new things in our garden each growing season. It’s always fun to see what might work and what won’t. Although some fail miserably, others have led to some huge time-saving gardening methods – like the potato crates and stake a cage for trellising our tomatoes and peppers. 

weed free garden
The green bean rows are off to their best start ever – and weed free!

Well, as we head into the first week of July, there is one experiment in our raised row garden that has clearly already become the most successful of all-time. Although we normally wait until the end of each growing season to share the results of our little trials, we were simply too excited to hold on to this one! 

Our organic raised row garden beds are the stars of the show when it comes to growing most of our own food.  Not only are they easy to create and maintain, they require little weeding, and concentrate all of our gardening labor to the 18″ wide growing space in each row. We cover all of our growing rows during the season with mulch to keep out weeds, and then plant an all-important cover crop of annual rye, buckwheat or hairy vetch each fall to recharge the soil.  (See Raised Row Gardening)

weed free
Our cover crops growing thick and green in late fall. They are they key to a weed free garden!

Cover crops are quite honestly the key to successful gardening. Not only do they add a tremendous amount of organic matter and nutrients back to the garden, they also protect the soil from losing valuable nutrients from the snow, ice, wind and rain through the harsh winter months. Most importantly – they protect your garden from weed seeds blowing in and taking over.  (see: cover crops)

But if there has been one small drawback, it has been the turning over of that all important cover crop each spring. It can be difficult for some to flip it over, and a little labor intensive.

So this year, as an experiment, we did something different. Instead of turning over our annual rye cover crop this spring by hand with a shovel – we left it in place. We mowed it off a few times in the early spring with a push mower, and left the cuttings in the row. After about three mowings, the entire crop simply died off, and we went to work plating the garden.

weed free
We planted our garden crops right through the annual rye and then mulched like normal with straw and compost.

For our tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, cabbage and broccoli, we used our post hole digger and created a hole right through the soil and planted. and for some of our seed crops like popcorn and beans, we left the entire row in place and used a small cultivator to create a 3″ wide planting row for the seeds. And WOW – have the results been incredible!

 

In a nutshell, here are the benefits: We spent a grand total of about 5 minutes with a push mower in our garden to mow off the cover crop. We spent zero time preparing our tomato and pepper beds, and about 5 minutes per row preparing the seed beds for planting. Our plants are thriving better than ever, and have required less water and maintenance than in any past year.

But as crazy as it sounds – that is not the best part! When it comes to weeds in our garden this year – they have been at an all-time low, in fact, it has been nearly weed free. By leaving the soil alone, and placing a thin layer of straw on top for mulch – they have no way to become established. In addition, the dead tops of the cover crop keep the dirt covered, keeping soil spores and soil-borne disease in check.

And one last piece of great news on the trial – when I pulled back a little straw this week to check the soil below – the cover crop has completely disintegrated. That means in a few months as fall approaches, the soil can be easily raked and planted with a new cover crop again in minutes, creating a true no-till, no dig garden! What could be better than that?!

Here’s to working smarter and not harder.

Happy Gardening! Jim and Mary

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11 thoughts on “Our Best Time Saving, Weed Free Garden Experiment Ever!

  • October 16, 2016 at 8:29 pm
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    We so enjoy your posts and watching you develop your land. We don’t have a push mower…will weed waking do the same thing to kill off the cover crop in spring?
    Thanks!
    Michelle

  • July 8, 2016 at 12:20 pm
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    This is fabulous! My weeds are doing quite well this year :/ Thank you for sharing your “secret” with us.

  • July 5, 2016 at 12:34 pm
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    I did the same experiment on a small patch only instead of mowing, I just grabbed handfulls of the rye and broke the stems over. That left a deep straw row cover and I only needed to dig planting holes for my seedlings or just a little more digging for a narrow seed row. Everything is growing splendidly, even in drought. It’s great for the soil and no weeds! Will be doing this for all of my veg gardens in the future.

  • July 5, 2016 at 9:15 am
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    I have tried to find rye. can you tell me where i can get it.

  • July 4, 2016 at 9:25 am
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    I did a similar experiment this year. I planted a cover crop mix last fall on three of my raised beds and did not till it under this spring. It was growing so well, I decided to plow strips and plant my sweet corn. I would walk on the cover crop so it wouldn’t be higher than the corn. The corn is excellent looking and the cover crop is still growing. It is a mix of vetch, clover and peas, all nitrogen fixing, perfect for corn!

    All my garden is raised beds, heavily mulched with grass clippings. I say my best garden tool is my John Deere lawn tractor with the double bagger! I have old pasture land I mow for clippings. I really don;t have any weeds because of the no till raised beds and heavy mulch. Why work so hard when you don’t have to?

    • July 4, 2016 at 9:26 am
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      The plow I used was a walk behind wheel plow. It cuts about a 4-5 inch strip.

  • July 3, 2016 at 10:08 pm
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    I enjoyed this post. I use the annual rye in my cinder block garden thanks to you. I may have to trim it with grass shears next spring (not enough space to mow) but I will definitely try leaving it! I am also in central Missouri with the clay soil, and the cover crop has definitely helped.

    • July 4, 2016 at 11:08 am
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      Shari, I will give the annual rye a try in a few of my rows that need to be soften up.

  • July 3, 2016 at 12:00 pm
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    This is my second year to use your raised row method in my garden and I love it! However, I have been losing the battle with the weeds, especially spurge. I will try your cover crop method this fall. Thanks for all the great advice!!

  • July 3, 2016 at 10:57 am
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    I love this idea!! I use the Ruth Stout method with hay but my beds are raised. The decomposing hay does a great job with my soil along with added compost. I have clay soil so it has taken a couple years to get a better soil and some areas are still not as good as I would like. I think I will give those rows a try with your method. I am in central Missouri, so do you think it would matter if it is rye or hairy vetch?

    Thanks for your posts, I learn something new from you all the time and appreciate your time.

    God Bless,
    Kim Parker

  • July 3, 2016 at 9:41 am
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    always enjoy your information, thanks, tell me what you are referring to as a 3″ cultivator ? or couldn’t you use a warren hoe, to draw a row to plant ?

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