Weed Free Seed

There is a growing demand for certified noxious weed seed free forage and mulch as a preventative program to limit the spread of noxious weeds. Information for Producers The use of certified noxious weed free materials is one way to prevent the spread of noxious weeds. This is an especially useful tool in areas where detection and Q. My Significant Other and I are at odds when it comes to weeding—I am a weeder and he is not-though he thinks he is. I remove weeds down to the roots, and then loosely rake the area to loosen up any remaining roots I may have missed. My Better Half uses the Grab and Yank method, leaving many roots in the ground. Then he tosses what he rips out over the fence, scattering any seeds the weeds may have developed to regrow and blow back over into our garden. He insists they don’t regenerate, and I don’t see how they can’t. Now, he is an avid composter, organic through and through and I love him dearly—but it has gotten to the point where we can’t be in the yard at the same time while I’m weeding because he’ll offer to ‘help’. Mike: Pleeeeasssse set one or both of us straight on weeding! —Carol and Joe in Bordentown NJ A. Well, as in most such disputes, the partner who sits down to pee is in the right. Some perennial weeds will regrow from even the tiniest of roots left in the ground; and his ‘fence tossing’ is like hiring the ghost of Johnny Appleseed to spread fresh chickweed in your yard every season. But your technique isn’t perfect either. When you rake the area to loosen up any remaining roots, you could be triggering dormant weeds seeds to sprout a week or two later. When pulling weeds, you should always soak the ground thoroughly, reach down low and pull gennnntly. Slow pulling from drenched soil gets all the roots out. But you’ve got the right basic idea, and he’s a weed’s best friend—so you get a B-Plus and he gets an F-minus. However, there is a much better way to deal with weeds—one that gets 90% of a full season’s worth of unwanted plants out of the way early in the Spring, so that you can spend hot summer days pulling on a cold brew or a ceiling fan chain instead of dandelion roots. It’s called the Stale Seed Bed technique, and it takes the worst aspect of tilling and turns it on its head. Tilling causes weed woes. Yes, it loosens up the soil, but it also exposes to sunlight the two hundred to 54,000 dormant weed seeds lurking in every square foot of garden soil. That sun exposure begins the process of germination, and then the diligent tiller re-buries the seeds, waters them, and maybe even feeds them. Then the diligent tiller is shocked; shocked!—to be overrun by weeds a month later. (The diligent tiller should be proud of those weeds—they were probably planted better than the tomatoes are gonna be!) That’s why I preach the Gospel of Raised Beds: When you grow in defined areas that are no wider than four feet (so you can reach the center of the bed without stepping into it) you won’t have to step in the bed during the growing season, the soil won’t become compacted and you won’t have to till again—just add some fresh compost to the surface of the bed every season. And, when those beds are raised six inches to a foot above the surrounding surface, grassy weeds can’t creep in from the sides. But it IS good to till the soil to loosen it up before you build those beds. So here’s the plan: Till up the soil in your growing area, and then mark off four-foot wide sections with two foot wide walking lanes in between them—whether you intend to grow in raised beds or not. If you are going to build raised beds (you smart person you!), construct them now. (See this previous Question of the Week for all the details.) Then level out the growing areas and water them for twenty minutes every morning. After ten days to two weeks, all of the weed seeds you till-planted should be up and growing. Walking only in the lanes, use a razor sharp hoe to slice the baby weeds off at the soil line, being careful not to disturb the actual soil. Let the decapitated weeds lie there on the surface to decay, feed the soil and be a visible warning to other bad plants. Then cover the walking lanes in between the beds with a single layer of cardboard with two to four inches of wood chips or shredded bark on top. This will keep weeds down in the lanes (and it’s the only real good use for wood chips or shredded bark.) Ideally, wait a few more days to see if any late bloomers emerge in the beds, and if they do, off with their heads as well. And that’s it. Doesn’t matter if the weeds were annuals or perennials; cutting they little heads off at that young an age does them in. You now have beds that are ‘stale’ of weed seeds—and a pull-free summer ahead. If you’re going to direct-sow things like lettuce and peas, sow the seeds on the surface of your ‘stale soil’ and cover them with a little compost or screened topsoil. When you dig holes for plants, immediately mulch around the newly-installed plants with shredded leaves or pine straw. Keep a one to two inch mulch on the surface during the growing season and over the winter and few to none your weeds will be. (You’ll find LOTS of info on different mulches in this previous Question of the Week.) Ask Mike A Question    Mike’s YBYG Archives    Find YBYG Show

Certified Noxious Weed Seed Free Forage and Mulch Certification Program Standards

There is a growing demand in North America for the use of certified noxious weed seed free forage and mulch as a preventative program to limit the spread of noxious weeds. This voluntary certification program is designed to assure that forage (hay, cubes and pellets) and mulch (straw) sold with proper certification identification meets minimum standards designed to limit the spread of noxious weeds. Buyers are provided assurance that forage and mulch certified through this program meets these minimum standards.

These certification standards comply with the Regional Weed Free Forage Certification Standards developed by the Regional Weed Free Forage Committee of the North American Weed Management Association. The Regional Weed Free Forage Committee has established minimum standards to allow uniform participation by states and provinces in the program. Forage and mulch certified under the Michigan Crop Improvement Association’s (MCIA) certification program with proper certification markings attached will be eligible to be shipped into restricted areas in the United States and Canada where only forage and mulch certified under the Regional Forage Certification Standards can be used.

The standards are designed:

  1. to provide some assurance to all participants that forage or straw certified through this program meets a minimum acceptable standard
  2. to provide continuity between the various states and provinces in this program
  3. to limit the spread of noxious weeds through forage and straw
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The various inspections and site visits that are an integral part of this program minimize the opportunity for misleading or fraudulent actions on the part of the applicants participating in the program. However, the production and distribution of certified material depends on the integrity of those participating in the program. MCIA makes no warranty of any kind, expressed or implied, including the warranty of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. There are no warranties that extend beyond the description of the face thereof.

It is the responsibility of every member of MCIA to abide by the rules, adhere to the standards, and report irregularities or violations. The MCIA Board of Directors will act on any case where rules established by MCIA are knowingly or intentionally violated. Action taken by the Board of Directors may result in the suspension of membership in MCIA.

APPLICATION FOR FIELD AND STORAGE SITE INSPECTION

Applicants desiring to have their forage and/or mulch certified must apply to the Michigan Crop Improvement Association on the application form supplied by the Association. Forms are available upon request from the MCIA office at P O Box 21008, Lansing, MI 48909 or by calling (517) 332-3546.

Mulch field inspection applications must be received no later than June 15 th . Forage field inspection applications must be received 4 weeks prior to cutting. Late applications may result in the field inspection not being made. If such inspections can be arranged, a late application fee will be assessed.

A field is defined as the area occupied by one crop, covered by one inspection report and not divided by streams, public roads, other crops, or other barriers that materially increase the difficulty of inspection. If the certified forage or mulch field is also being inspected for certified seed production, indicate the corresponding seed production field number(s) on the application form.

A storage site is defined as any location where harvested certified forage or mulch will be stored pending sale.

GENERAL STANDARDS

Forage, mulch and storage sites shall be free of those noxious weeds and undesirable plant species identified in Appendix A.

  1. In Michigan, forage, mulch and storage sites shall be inspected by MCIA.
  1. Forage and mulch shall be inspected in the field of origin. The field shall include the surrounding ditches, fence rows, roads, easements, grass waterways, or a buffer zone surrounding the field. Applications must supply MCIA with maps to field and storage sites identifying township and section number.
  1. The field and storage sites must be inspected by MCIA prior to cutting or harvesting.
  1. Fields and storage sites which contain noxious weeds or undesirable plant species (as identified in Appendix A) may be certified if the following requirements are met:
  2. The noxious weeds and undesirable plant species in the field in which the forage or mulch is being produced were treated to prevent seed formation or seed ripening to the degree that there is no danger of dissemination of the seed or the propagating parts of the plant capable of producing a new plant.
  3. The noxious weeds and undesirable plant species were treated not later than the rosette to bud stage (or boot stage for grass species classified as weeds) prior to cutting or harvesting.
  4. The treatment method can include but is not limited to:
  • Burning
  • Mowing or cutting
  • Roguing
  • Chemicals
  1. If noxious weeds have not been treated and are present in areas adjacent to the field, an isolation/buffer strip must be established between the crop to be harvested and the area infested with noxious weeds. This strip must be no less than 10 feet wide. The strip can be established by mowing or cultivation.
  1. Pellets and pelleted milled feeds must be certified in the field of origin if heat is not used in the process. If heat is used in the processing, pellets and pelleted milled feeds may be certified based on official testing by the MCIA seed laboratory for weed seed viability.
  1. A Field Inspection Report shall be issued by MCIA indicating that the above requirements have been met based upon field inspection.
  1. Product passing field inspection shall be eligible to receive a Transit Certificate.

FIELD INSPECTIONS

To be eligible for forage or mulch certification, fields must be inspected by a representative of MCIA before harvest. A crop that is harvested prior to inspection is not eligible for certification. It is the applicant’s responsibility to ensure that the crop has been inspected before harvest.

Field inspection is a thorough examination of the forage or mulch production site to confirm compliance with the certification standards. A visual inspection of the field and entire field border will be made by the inspector. MCIA’s inspection procedures will follow the guidelines established by the Regional Weed Free Forage Standards.

Minimum guidelines for field inspection

  1. There shall be a minimum of two entry points per field.
  2. There shall be a minimum of one entry point per each 10 acres.
  3. Each point of entry shall be at least 150 feet into the field, each additional 150 feet shall constitute an entry point. Travel shall be uninterrupted, proceeding through the field being inspected.
  4. The entire field border shall be walked or driven.
  5. Field shall be inspected within 10 days prior to harvest.
  6. An inspector may not inspect fields of which said inspector has ownership or financial interest.

The applicant may request a reinspection when a portion of a field does not meet the certification standards – i.e. untreated noxious weeds in the field and/or lack of required isolation/buffer strips.

  1. The applicant shall make the required correction(s) as indicated on the original inspection report.
  2. The applicant shall contact the MCIA office requesting reinspection to verify the required corrections have been completed. A reinspection fee will be charged.
  3. A new field inspection report shall be issued by MCIA indicating the requirements have been met based upon the reinspection.

STORAGE SITE INSPECTION

  1. All storage sites shall be inspected a minimum of 10 days prior to use.
  2. The site must be free from noxious weed seeds and noxious weeds capable of producing seeds during the time the certified product will be stored.
  3. Product stored at a site not inspected is not eligible for certification.
  4. Product stored at an inspected site not meeting the freedom from noxious weeds requirement is not eligible for certification.

CERTIFICATION LABELING

Certification tags will be issued for eligible forage or mulch by MCIA upon request by the applicant. Applicants may request certification tags by declaring the amount of forage harvested on the Field Inspection Report.

Certification tag minimum requirements:

  1. The words “North American Weed Free Forage Certification Program”.
  2. The statement “Certified to the North American Standards”.
  3. State of issue – agency name and telephone number.
  4. Producer name and lot number.

MAINTAINING IDENTITY OF HARVESTED FORAGE

The applicant must keep accurate records of the amount of forage or mulch harvested from each field including where the forage or mulch is stored after harvest. The following records must be maintained:

  1. The number and average weight of bales harvested.
  2. The exact location where bales are stored.
  3. Date of harvest.
  4. Field number and location of the field where the product was produced.
  5. Copies of all certification documents.
  6. Current inventory records.

Records must be made available upon request by MCIA.

INTERSTATE SHIPMENT

Interstate shipment of certified product may be accomplished by a transit certificate if required by the receiving party or another entity. Official transit certificates are available from MCIA and contain the information necessary to meet the North American Weed Management association standards.

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PRODUCERS

Landsburg, Ken, 1640 W. Walker Rd., Sandusky, MI 48471 Contact Information – Phone 810-404-9161.

Murphy Farms LLC, 177 S. Gregory Rd., Fowlerville, MI 48836 Contact Information – Phone 517-223-3853.

Shrontz Farm, 22105 T Dr. N, Olivet, MI 49076 Contact Information – Phone 269-789-0655.

APPENDIX A

Regional Designated Noxious Weed and Undesirable Plant List

The following weeds have been designated as noxious or undesirable in the Regional Weed Free Forage Certification Standards:

  1. Absinth Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
  2. Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon)
  3. Buffalobur (Solanum rostratum)
  4. Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense)
  5. Common burdock (Arctium minus)
  6. Common crupina (Crupina vulgaris)
  7. Common tansy (Tancetum vulgare)
  8. Dalmatian toadflax (Linaria dalmatica)
  9. Diffuse knapweed (Centaurea diffusa)
  10. Dyers woad (Isatis tinctoria)
  11. Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis)
  12. Hemp (marijuana) (Cannabis sativa)
  13. Henbane, Black (Hyoscyanmus niger)
  14. Hoary cress (Cardaria spp.)
  15. Horsenettle (Solanum carolinense)
  16. Houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale L.)
  17. Johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense)
  18. Jointed Goatgrass (Aegilops cylindrica)
  19. Leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula)
  20. Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria L.)
  21. Matgrass (Nardus stricta)
  22. Meadow knapweed (Centaurea
    pratensis)
  23. Medusa head (Taeniatherum caput-medusae)
  24. Milium (Milium vernale)
  25. Musk thistle (Carduus nutans)
  26. Orange hawkweed (Hieracium auranthiacum)
  27. Oxeye daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum)
  28. Perennial pepperweed (Lepidium latifolium)
  29. Perennial sorghum (Sorghum almum)
  30. Perennial sowthistle (Sonchus arvensis)
  31. Plumeless thistle (Carduus acanthoides)
  32. Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum)
  33. Puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris
  34. Quackgrass (Agropyron repens)
  35. Rush skeletonweed (Chondrilla juncea)
  36. Russian knapweed (Centaurea repens)
  37. Scentless chamomile (Matricaria maritima)
  38. Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius)
  39. Scotch thistle (Onopordum acanthium)
  40. Sericea Lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata)
  41. Silverleaf nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium)
  42. Skeletonleaf bursage (Ambrosia tomentosa)
  43. Spotted knapweed(Centaurea maculosa)
  44. Squarrose knapweed(Centaurea virgata)
  45. St. Johnswort(Hypericum perforatum)
  46. Sulfur cinquefoil(Potentilla recta)
  47. Syrian beancaper(Zygophllum fabago L.)
  48. Tansy ragwort(Senecia Jacobaea)
  49. Toothed spurge(Euphorbia dentata)
  50. Yellow Hawkweed(Hieracium pratense)
  51. Yellow starthistle(Centaurea solstitialis)
  52. Yellow toadflax(Linaria vulgaris)
  53. Wild proso millet(Panicum miliaceum)
  54. Wild oats(Avena fatua)

Additional weeds designated as noxious under the Michigan Noxious Weed Law:

  1. Bull thistle(Cirsium vulgare L.)
  2. Dodder (Cuscuta species)
  3. Hedge bindweed (Convolvulus sepium)
  4. Morning glory (Ipomoea species.)
  5. Serrated tussock(Nasella trichotoma)
  6. Yellow nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus)
  7. Velvetleaf(Abutilon theophrasti)
  8. Wild onion(Allium canadense)
  9. Wild garlic(Allium vineale)
  10. Yellow rocket(Barbarea vulgaris)
  11. Hoary alyssum(Berteroa incana)
  12. Indian mustard(Brassica juncea)
  13. Black mustard(Brassica nigra)
  14. Jimsonweed(Datura stramonium)
  15. Wild carrot(Daucus carota)
  16. Buckhorn(Plantago lanceolata)
  17. Wild radish(Raphanus raphanistrum)
  18. Curled dock(Rumex crispus)
  19. Giant foxtail(Seteria faberii)
  20. Charlock(Sinapis arvensis)
  21. Bitter nightshade(Solanum dulcamara)
  22. Black nightshade(Solanum nigrum)
  23. Eastern black nightshade(Solanum ptycanthum)
  24. Hairy nightshade(Solanum sarrachoides)
  25. Fanweed(Thlaspi arvense)
  26. Cocklebur(Xanthium strumarium)

APPENDIX B

APPLICANT’S RESPONSIBILITIES

  1. Be a member of the Michigan Crop Improvement Association.
  2. Complete the application for field and storage site inspection by June 15 th for mulch or 4 weeks prior to cutting for forage. Include:
  3. A detailed map indicating location of field and written directions.
  4. A detailed map indicating the location of storage area and written directions.
  5. Indication of whether the field is being applied for under the seed certification or noxious weed free forage and mulch programs.
  6. The field application, field acre and storage site inspection fees.
  7. Approximate cutting date.
  1. Prepare the field for inspection. Treat noxious weeds and undesirable plant species (see Appendix A) in and adjacent to the production field as described in the standards. If noxious weeds in adjacent areas are not treated, a 10 foot wide isolation/buffer strip must be established by mowing or cultivation.
  2. All fields must be inspected prior to harvest by MCIA to qualify for certification. Notify MCIA if your fields are within a week of cutting and you do not have an inspection report indicating that the field has been inspected!
  3. If the field meets certification standards, proceed to Step 6. If the field does not meet the standards, proceed to the Reinspection Procedures on page 3.
  4. Maintain the identity of all forage or mulch harvested from fields meeting the certification standards. The forage or mulch must be stored in an inspected storage site separate from uncertified forage or mulch. A written record of certified material stored at this site must be maintained.
  5. Request certification tags by submitting the MCIA copy of the Field Inspection Report to the MCIA office. Report the number and size of the packages/bales from each eligible field. Remember to sign the FieldInspection Report.
  6. Attach the certification tags provided by MCIA to eligible forage.

THE MICHIGAN CROP IMPROVEMENT ASSOCIATION’S RESPONSIBILITIES

Information for Producers

The use of certified noxious weed free materials is one way to prevent the spread of noxious weeds. This is an especially useful tool in areas where detection and management of these species is difficult. New Mexico is moving ahead with a program to certify hay, erosion control materials and gravel to be free of noxious weeds. Additionally, this will enable New Mexico producers to participate in a niche market for noxious weed free products.

Certification of a forage, erosion control materials and gravel is strictly a voluntary program for producers. Interested growers should contact the SCNWFP to have their crop inspected and certified. A fact sheet on the certification process is available down below. Regulations requiring certified hay on public lands are expected to be implemented by the USDA, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, BIA, and possibly other federal agencies in the future. Regulations requiring certified mulch for construction and wildfire restoration are already in place with several agencies. New Mexico Department of Agriculture and SCNWFP will have no relation to, nor involvement in enforcement of the regulations requiring certified weed free forage. Requirements for certified weed free forage are specific to federal lands that have passed regulations and construction or restoration projects with certified weed free stipulations. This program will not affect the movement of un-certified forage into or out of New Mexico.

Inspection Process

The SCNWFP certifies forage products, mulches, erosion control materials and gravel pits. Products certified through this program meet minimum acceptable standards provided by North American Invasive Species Management Association (NAISMA).

Products such as alfalfa, hay and straw are required to be certified at each cutting by contacting SCNWFP 10 days prior to harvest. Annual site/facility inspections are required for mulches, erosion control materials, and gravel pits.

What Are the Required Documents to Get Started?

To request an inspection, the required documents are available below & can be emailed or mailed.

Email: [email protected] or mail to: PO Box 30003, MSC 3Ley, Las Cruces, NM 88003.

What Are the Fees For Inspection?

  • Acreage fee = $6.00/acre (less than 10,000 total acres), $5.00/acre (10,000 to 20,000 total acres).
  • Driving time = $25.00/hour

Inspection time = $25.00/hour

What Should I Expect For the Inspection?

A trained inspector will inspect the perimeter of the field and the interior of the field for the presence of North American and NM Noxious Weeds, using various patterns depending on the field shape and size. The inspector will provide a copy of the Inspection Certificate to the producer. Transit Certificates are also offered for out-of-state shipping of the certified products. The special twine (Figure 1) and/or labels (Figure 2) provided at the time of inspection are considered, in most cases, the proof of certification of the products within the state. At least one strand of the special twine needs to be placed on each bale of certified hay/straw.

Purple and yellow twine used to certify bales and forges that meet the standards of the North American Weed Free Forage Certification Program

This orange label is used in the Certified Noxious Weed Free Program for products that require another form of labeling besides twine. Products with other colors of labels have not been certified by NMSU Seed Certification. It is encouraged that you ask for a Certificate of Inspection that will accompany the products we have certified. You can find an example of the Certificate of Inspection to the left under Weed Free Forage Forms.

Previous and Current Growers

Bio-Grind, Inc., Roger Allen, Ruidoso Downs, NM, (575) 937-3690, (Certified Compost/Mulch)

Charlee’s Farm, Cary Pobstman, San Tan Valley, AZ, (480) 341-3498, (Certified Straw)

Curtis & Curtis, Tye Curtis, Clovis, NM, (575) 762-4759, (Grass/Straw Hay)

Dr. John Harlacker, La Mesa, NM, (915) 539-1707, (Alfalfa)

Environmental Erosion Controls, LLC, Pertalta, NM, (505) 859-0881, (Erosion Control Materials)

Epifanio Romero, Llano, NM, (505) 587-2000, (Timothy grass hay)

Felipe Sanchez, Jarales, NM, (505) 250-0265, (Alfalfa)

J-Bar Company, Joe Lambert, Canyon, TX, (806) 655-2022, (Certified Wheat Straw)

J & M Bailing, Mike Grady, Farmington, NM, (505) 326-0145 or (505) 330-4968, (Straw)

Joe Blair , Lordsburg, NM, (520) 429-0913, (Alfalfa)

Miller Feed and Supply, Albuquerque, NM, (575) 897-2444, (Alfalfa, Timothy grass)

Sierra Feed Store, Truth or Consequences, NM, (575) 894-3994, (Alfalfa)

SouthCross Farms, Brad Bingham, Amarillo, TX, (806) 679-5858, (Certified Wheat Straw)

List of Weeds

  • NM Noxious Weed List
  • North American Weed List

The College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES) is an engine for economic and community development in New Mexico, improving the lives of New Mexicans through research, academic programs, and extension.
Learn more about our mission and programs.

The Stale Seed Bed = a Weed-Free Garden

Q. My Significant Other and I are at odds when it comes to weeding—I am a weeder and he is not-though he thinks he is. I remove weeds down to the roots, and then loosely rake the area to loosen up any remaining roots I may have missed. My Better Half uses the “Grab and Yank” method, leaving many roots in the ground. Then he tosses what he rips out over the fence, scattering any seeds the weeds may have developed to regrow and blow back over into our garden. He insists they don’t regenerate, and I don’t see how they can’t. Now, he is an avid composter, organic through and through and I love him dearly—but it has gotten to the point where we can’t be in the yard at the same time while I’m weeding because he’ll offer to ‘help’. Mike: Pleeeeasssse set one or both of us straight on weeding!

—Carol and Joe in Bordentown NJ

A. Well, as in most such disputes, the partner who sits down to pee is in the right. Some perennial weeds will regrow from even the tiniest of roots left in the ground; and his ‘fence tossing’ is like hiring the ghost of Johnny Appleseed to spread fresh chickweed in your yard every season.

But your technique isn’t perfect either. When you “rake the area to loosen up any remaining roots”, you could be triggering dormant weeds seeds to sprout a week or two later. When pulling weeds, you should always soak the ground thoroughly, reach down low and pull gennnntly. Slow pulling from drenched soil gets all the roots out. But you’ve got the right basic idea, and he’s a weed’s best friend—so you get a B-Plus and he gets an F-minus.

However, there is a much better way to deal with weeds—one that gets 90% of a full season’s worth of unwanted plants out of the way early in the Spring, so that you can spend hot summer days pulling on a cold brew or a ceiling fan chain instead of dandelion roots. It’s called the Stale Seed Bed technique, and it takes the worst aspect of tilling and turns it on its head.

Tilling causes weed woes. Yes, it loosens up the soil, but it also exposes to sunlight the two hundred to 54,000 dormant weed seeds lurking in every square foot of garden soil. That sun exposure begins the process of germination, and then the diligent tiller re-buries the seeds, waters them, and maybe even feeds them. Then the diligent tiller is shocked; shocked!—to be overrun by weeds a month later. (The diligent tiller should be proud of those weeds—they were probably planted better than the tomatoes are gonna be!)

That’s why I preach the Gospel of Raised Beds: When you grow in defined areas that are no wider than four feet (so you can reach the center of the bed without stepping into it) you won’t have to step in the bed during the growing season, the soil won’t become compacted and you won’t have to till again—just add some fresh compost to the surface of the bed every season. And, when those beds are raised six inches to a foot above the surrounding surface, grassy weeds can’t creep in from the sides.

But it IS good to till the soil to loosen it up before you build those beds. So here’s the plan:

Till up the soil in your growing area, and then mark off four-foot wide sections with two foot wide walking lanes in between them—whether you intend to grow in raised beds or not. If you are going to build raised beds (you smart person you!), construct them now. (See this previous Question of the Week for all the details.)

Then level out the growing areas and water them for twenty minutes every morning. After ten days to two weeks, all of the weed seeds you till-planted should be up and growing. Walking only in the lanes, use a razor sharp hoe to slice the baby weeds off at the soil line, being careful not to disturb the actual soil. Let the decapitated weeds lie there on the surface to decay, feed the soil and be a visible warning to other bad plants.

Then cover the walking lanes in between the beds with a single layer of cardboard with two to four inches of wood chips or shredded bark on top. This will keep weeds down in the lanes (and it’s the only real good use for wood chips or shredded bark.)

Ideally, wait a few more days to see if any late bloomers emerge in the beds, and if they do, “off with their heads” as well. And that’s it. Doesn’t matter if the weeds were annuals or perennials; cutting they little heads off at that young an age does them in. You now have beds that are ‘stale’ of weed seeds—and a pull-free summer ahead.

If you’re going to direct-sow things like lettuce and peas, sow the seeds on the surface of your ‘stale soil’ and cover them with a little compost or screened topsoil. When you dig holes for plants, immediately mulch around the newly-installed plants with shredded leaves or pine straw. Keep a one to two inch mulch on the surface during the growing season and over the winter and few to none your weeds will be. (You’ll find LOTS of info on different mulches in this previous Question of the Week.)

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