Organic Weed Annihilation
(any weed)

Dateline: 6 August 2008
Updated: 11 April 2013


Bindweed (photo link)


My friend Steve is a Christian-agrarian homesteader. He is the most resourceful person I know, bar none. He is also an organic gardener.

One day Steve and I were discussing bindweed. Also known as wild morning glory, bindweed is the most hellish weed I have ever known. Unhindered, it will grow lush and wrap itself around every other plant, entangling it, dominating it, destroying it.

Pull it out and bindweed grows back. Rototill through it and every chopped up piece will grow a new plant. Bindweed is so bad that, if faced with the scourge, even the most passionate of organic gardeners will consider using herbicide.

I know this because when I was a kid, my family had bindweed in our garden. It’s still there. We fought it for years. We fought the bindweed, and the bindweed won. It owns the land where the garden once was.

My friend Steve has bindweed on his land. He knows how bad it is. But he does not have a problem with it in his garden because he has devised a non-chemical technique for totally annihilating the weed from his garden. Now I’m going to tell you what that technique is.

Like I said, Steve is resourceful. For years, he has collected sheets of old steel roofing and siding. He has gotten this material for free for the hauling wherever and whenever he can. In most instances he has removed it off of old buildings himself, with the owners permission. Steve has piles of this old steel roofing and siding stacked by his garden. In the spring, he lays the sheets of steel on the ground over a large section of land where he intends to plant his garden next year (he rotates the placement of his garden from year to year). He weights the sheets of metal down with old tires, rocks, chunks of firewood. The metal “carpet” stays in place for an entire year.

Nothing grows under the steel. Bindweed roots die off. Dandelion roots and burdock and quack grass roots die off. Everything living plant under the metal is starved of sunlight and dies. it is a beautiful thing to contemplate, especially if you have a bindweed infestation.

When Steve removes the sheet metal the following spring, the ground is bare and the moist soil is soft and workable. Sometimes he tills the ground. Sometimes he just scratches the surface with a hoe and plants his crops.

Steve says the bindweed will eventually return into the garden from its perimeter positions. But he can get a good garden out of the plot without much weed problem for the one year.

The idea works. All you need is some old roofing or siding sheets. Start collecting scrap now for future gardens. Once you have it, the metal will last for many years.

This year I decided to use some sheet metal mulch in my wintersquash patch. Since my neighbor moved to Washington state last fall, I lost the use of his land to garden in. I needed to expand the garden space on my own small piece of land. That meant I would have to till up some lawn. Sod tills hard and it occurred to me that I could lay my small collection of salvaged sheet metal siding on the sod early in the spring to kill the grass. That’s what I did.

Then, when it came time to plant the squash, I separated the sheets about a foot apart and planted my squash. No rototilling was needed. I planted my squash as per my Whizbang Squash Planting Secret. Here’s a picture of my squash patch earlier this spring.

As you can see in the picture, the "Whizbang tire cloches" are in place. I have piled grass clippings between the metal sheets to keep weeds down there. I'd also like to point out that with sheet metal mulch you can push the lawnmower over the top of the metal and mow the lawn along the edge very nicely. Here's a picture of a healthy young squash plant with the cloche removed.



This next picture shows the squash bed a few weeks after the cloches have been removed. No cultivating around the squash is necessary. Weeds are no problem. the sheet metal and grass clippings take care of the weeds. On the left side of the squash patch I have continued to distribute a heavy layer of grass clippings, as they are available.


The picture below shows my squash patch at the end of July. It is a dense jungle of healthy, fruitful vines. The combination of my Whizbang Squash Planting Secret (click on link above for details) and sheet metal mulch is a winner. Recycle, reuse, and reap a bountiful harvest. Thanks for the great idea Steve!




P.S. To see a picture of Steve in his sheet-metal-mulched garden, with the most remarkable Blue Hubbard squash you've ever seen, ClickHere, and scroll a short way down the page.

18 comments:

Mountain Morning said...

I LOVE this idea! I have had such a problem with weeds in my garden this year and it's very frustrating! My hubby has some old tin roof...I'm going to try this next year. If we laid it down now, it should be ready by spring, right? Thanks for posting this!

Brandi
http://mountainmorning.blogspot.com

P.S. Does your wife like aprons? I'm giving away a great book on my blog this week and the author has chipped in a little something, too...check it out!

mrtumnas said...

Thanks for the great idea! I've used black plastic before to kill weeds, but it tears and never wants to stay in place. I'll have to give this a try.

Anonymous said...

That squash garden looks fabulous!

I use a similar technique to the metal... I use old cardboard boxes. Just wet them down and put a little weight on them to keep them in place. They do the same thing but decompose over time and I simply till them in at the end of the year.

Heather said...

thanks for the great idea Herrick! We've all but given up on our garden this year due to weeds. This will make next years gardening go so much better.

Judy said...

Herrick,

You you all have squash bugs? Not the borers, but the stinky bugs?

Judy

Berryman said...

I like that idea and will start to look for some sheet metal... free sheet metal. In the meantime, I'm wondering if heavy black plastic would also work as an alternative? Here in Georgia we have something called Johnson Grass. It has tubers underground and the grass gets really tall and invasive. It has grown up taller than my okra and I just have to wade through it to get to the okra. Being organic has meant that I have to "manage" the weeds. I have out planted my ability to keep on top of them this year! Thanks for the tips! Mike Burns - Burns Best Farm.

Homestead Herbs said...

Herrick,
Thank you for sharing! I've got left over metal from the barn building! I know how to use it now!

I'm envious of those squash plants! ;-)

Kris said...

I really wish this would work for me, we have Bermuda grass and even if I put the sheet metal over it, it would just send shoots to the nearest opening. I've even picked up old buckets to find a nest of it all curled together like a basket, white as can be and yet still growing lol. To make things worse is that the whole plant can reproduce, so if I cut it up, it's going to make hundreds of new ones. The only non-chemical way to kill it that I've found is to pour boiling water over it. Not terribly practical. I love your blog, by the way. Keep of the good work!

Ginny said...

What a nifty idea! Thanks!
:-D

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing a great idea. I am not sure where to get hold of the sheet metal as folks around here are so intent on seeing wvery piece of "scrap" metal sold to the recyclers. Cardboard I can come up with and will try it. We definitely have glory bind here in sw Mo.

By the way, how are the beagle pups working out for you?

Anonymous said...

Has anyone tried growing buckwheat as a way to smother out weeds, grow grain for food, and have plenty of green material for compost?

I am going to try this this year. I live in northwest Missouri and we have bindweed, many other weeds, and invasive grasses. I'm really hoping that it will work.

Sandra

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Everyone,

Thanks for the feedback. Cardboard sounds like a good idea.

Judy-
I do have some of those bugs, but not many. There are portions of the squash patch that wilt and die for different reasons as the season progresses, but there is enough growth and overall health to the vines that they still produce.

Mike-
Johnson grass sounds bad. Can you block off a section with black plastic or cardboard for a whole year. My friend Steve says a WHOLE YEAR is necessary to really kill the bindweed.

Homestead Herbs-
Sounds good. Based on this year's results, I am now on the lookout for more sheet metal for my garden next year.

Kris-
I'm sorry that you have Bermuda grass. I'm glad I don't have any of that to deal with!

Anonymous-
Maybe we should go to the scrap yard and buy the metal back. It might be worth the cost to have. Speaking of which, I have another friend who put an ad in the local pennysaver looking for used sheet roofing and siding. Several people called..... Marlene's beagles are a handful.

Anonymous #2-
Buckwheat is a great crop to choke out weeds and as a "green manure." It will work to a degree with many invasive weeds, but it doesn't choke out bindweed. Perhaps (hopefully) your results will be successful.

Sylvie, Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener said...

This is one of the most beautiful squash patches I have seen for a homestead/kitchen garden! Thank you for sharing what you did, Herrick.

On my homestead, I planted a number of winter squashes and pumpkins (different shapes, wight and texture) but the squash bugs and the stinks bugs were terrible. I will have some of course, but not as many as I was hoping for. Next year, I will try your "cloche" system. Since I interplant my squash with corn, and the corn was growing so fast, I did not cover the plants... hence the bugs were worse they could have been. Oh well...next year will be better.

I killed the grass first by laying black plastic for several months, then removed it before planting the squash. I use thick layers of dry grass clipping as mulch. Seem to work nicely.

What cultivars did you plant? Will you report later in the year how well they yielded for you?

Thanks again.

Lloyd, Sheryl and the team said...

Cardboard boxes work just as well as sheet metal. You can layer other organic material on top of it and just wait the year for the cardboard to decompose, eventually, after smothering everything underneath. This is sometimes called "lasagna" gardening because of the layers of organic material piled on top of the cardboard. You can use anything, i.e. old hay, straw, cut grass, etc. to enrich the ground and hold down the cardboard.

This looks a lot better then sheet metal, in my opinion, too.

Cardboard boxes are usually free and easy to come by on recycle collection day too.

Half Acre Homestead said...

What a GREAT Idea!! Although it is early Sept here..I am planting my garden next year where part of my lawn is now..TOMORROW I will lay sheet metal down..and hope It works in so short a time...It can't hurt to try..I am lucky enough to have had our tin roof removed last year and we still have the tin!
YAY! Thanks Herrick!

Sharon said...

You have such good and practical ideas for gardening. I've enjoyed reading and will implement some in my garden this year. I think I'll try this weed killing idea for a new garden area for next year.

Anne said...

Hate to say this but.. you do know that field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) can spread exceptionally far by way of their rhizomes. Much farther than the sheets of metal (we are talking several yards past it easily), and to boot.. the seeds can remain dormant yet still viable for decades.

It not only sends down a long taproot, but it also sends out lateral roots. From the lateral roots it can send up additional plants... which then send down taproots.. and lateral roots.. you get the idea.

I fought it for years. They say the only way to get rid of bindweed is to move. lol. 8 years of constantly ripping it out.. it thrives in poor soils.

You can smother an area, but you need to give it plenty of time. Making sure you don't let it go to seed... ever... and rip out any that you find the second you spot them.

I never got rid of it (neighbors had it), just managed to keep it under control enough to garden.

Anonymous said...

A neat idea for sure. Mulch has the advantage of enriching your soil like no other, but sheetmetal dose look like a good idea for walkways. This looks perfect for pushing wheelbarrows and wagons down without having them sink into the dirt.