My History of Gardening and the Secret to a Weed Free Garden

I have to admit that I have a little bit of a love/hate relationship with gardening.

My mom kept the most awesome gardens while I was growing up.  This may be slightly off, given that I was a child, but I remember loads of fresh produce coming from the garden.  My mom made jam, froze broccoli, we had tons of fresh green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes.  I am sure there was lettuce and other veggies that I probably was not as excited about as a child.

When Steve and I bought our first house, I was really excited to plant a garden.  I quickly realized that although it is not super difficult, it certainly is more work than you might think.  Suddenly, the hours my mom spent weeding, fertilizing, planting and harvesting came back to me.  Oh, yeah – this is a project just like anything else.

That first garden suffered greatly, thanks to my lack of time to weed and my lack of patience with hot, sticky days and massive mosquitoes that had to be endured in order to weed.  We probably did not take care to get good soil in place, just assuming we could use a patch of our yard.  I don’t recall getting any fertilizer or compost, either.

After that failed experiment, a few years went by.  We built our current house, had 2 babies, spent some years landscaping and taking care of outside things in our new house.  Similar to childbirth, the pain of that first failed garden faded and I started to dream of a big, glorious garden.

Never one to take things one step at a time (I am getting better in my old age), we plowed up a 25 foot square corner of our lawn, brought in black dirt and manure and tilled the square into a fertile garden.  That first year, the garden actually did well.  I stayed on top of the weeding and we enjoyed some fresh produce and flowers.  Over the next few years, we planted strawberries over half the area, and those were wonderful for the next few years after that.  I was able to try a bunch of different plants, as well as methods like square foot gardening.

Eventually we had 4 kids total and the garden got away from me once again.  I never, ever got any carrots to grow in that garden (so weird).  One year, tomato blight took out all of our tomatoes.  Another year, we added straw (or was it hay?) – anyway, it was the one  you DON’T want to add and we might as well have just planted a hoard of weeds.

That garden plot morphed into a spot for our plastic play house, then our trampoline and when we put the pool in 2 years ago, we moved our play set and sandbox into that space as well.

former-garden

With failed garden #2 under my belt, I took a step back (old, wiser) and just did some container gardening for a couple of years.  We enjoyed the best of summer freshness with just basil, chives and tomatoes.  That was very manageable and gave me some much-needed gardening confidence.  I was able to enjoy tasty summer goodness on a small-scale and thoughtfully plan my larger garden (what a concept!) before actually executing it.

As we worked on refreshing the yard with the addition of the pool, I watched the sun patterns in the summer and learned that our side yard had a good amount of sunlight each day.  I built some raised garden beds, which we filled with garden soil (black dirt, compost and sand) this spring.

Raised Garden Beds |www.countingwillows.com

All of this is a very long way of getting to the point of my post – how to enjoy a weed free garden.  Are you ready?  Don’t blink or you will miss it!

WEED IT EVERY WEEK

Did you catch that?  That is the secret to your garden appearing weed free.  Sorry, but it can never actually be free of all weeds, but it sure can be nearly free of weeds!  Just start with it weeded, plant your seeds and give them 2-3 weeks to come in, so you don’t mistake anything for weeds.  This is when planting in rows is handy, because you can see where your plants should be.

I simply use this handy garden tool to break the surface along the side of every row once a week.  In fact, that tool makes such quick work of the weeds that I planned my garden with spaces large enough to fit it in.    Even if it is 95 degrees and 75% humidity or the mosquitoes are out in full force, I can get all the weeding done in just 5 minutes per week.  Start skipping weeks and you start to get into trouble.  The secret is that keeping it nearly weed free lets your plants grow strong and healthy.  Breaking the surface of the dirt stops even the smallest weeds from growing.  That helps keep future weeds out and makes it easier to identify any weeds that do creep into your garden.

This is one of the garden beds 1 week after weeding.

Secret to a Weed Free Garden |www.countingwillows.com

And here it is immediately after my weekly weeding, which you can barely even call it that because one bed literally takes about 60 seconds to weed.

squash-after-weeding

Getting in there once a week gives me a chance to thin out the plantings, notice any damage, hand-pick the occasional weed that has grown right next to a plant and check on progress (green tomatoes!) happening in the garden.  Sometimes if I have time and I feel like it, I go weed it once every 5 days or so.  But, usually by the time the heat of July sets in, the garden is mainly weed free and the veggies are thriving.

Secret to a Weed Free Garden |www.countingwillows.com

And look – in the second and third rows above – carrots!  Finally!

Our long-term plan is to put in at least 3 more beds and move to square foot gardening to maximize garden space.  For now, I am happy to just have some simple rows in.  This year we are growing snow peas, bush beans, carrots, onions, tomatoes, peppers, basil, thyme, chives, zucchini, cucumbers, lettuce, rhubarb, radishes and white pumpkins. We have had our rainiest June on record, so the garden is doing surprising well considering the hot, sunny days have been in short supply so far.

Next year I would love to plant a few beds of strawberries.  In my experience, you can never grown enough strawberries – the kids eat them all before they even make it to the house!

Here is to happy and successful gardening!  If you have any helpful gardening tips, I am all ears – I have a long way to go in my gardening adventures.

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