This year was full of disappointment. The spring was very short this year and we jumped into a hot dry summer. The black weed block fabric collected a lot of heat and the bean plant leaves just started to dry up. No matter how much watering was done it didn’t seem to make a difference. Luckily we caught it early enough and put up hoops covered with Agribon to give the poor plants a break. It took awhile but most of the plants not only recovered, but flourished under the subtle shade of the covering.
Once the beans started growing again we had another issue. A strange instance of curly leaves started taking over the worst of the burnt plants. Because these plants curled, they didn’t get very tall. The short plants they beans that crew touched the ground before the were full size. This resulted in curly beans laying on the fabric. We have no idea what causes it but it had an impact on overall production and quality.
Next year I plan to plant early to make the most of the spring rains to allows the leaves to grow faster, covering enough black fabric to minimize the heat. If the curly leaf is a disease, hopefully throwing out the twice used fabric will get rid of any residual. Wish us luck!
The biggest inefficiency we’ve had since we started growing vegetables is the amount of time spent pulling weeds. Since we manage the plot naturally we do not use herbicides. It requires pulling by hand with small tools or a hoe. The stirrup version we purchased this year is now our favorite method. While the straw we used last year significantly reduced the weeds, we now have a plot 3 times the original size to tend to!
The biggest decision we made to save weeding time was to purchase weed blocking fabric for the first time. It was actually cheaper than we expected, even for the heavy duty version which is supposed to last for 3-5 year. It’s a little more complicated to use than you’d think. Rows aren’t perfectly straight but the fabric is so laying it down by hand can be a little awkward. There are a lot of metal clips you need to push through the fabric into the clay soil. Then there is the question of how do you put plants into the ground under the weed block?
I’d seen farmers take a knife and cut an X in the spot where the plants would grow, pull the folds up to expose the soil and pop the plant in, folding the fabric back down around it. After doing research online we found the best way to create the holes without doing a lot of damage to the fabric. Burn holes leaving no sharp edges that could easily tear.
We started with a spare piece of plywood and drew circles with a compass spacing them the distance we wanted our plants to be apart from each other. For instance, in intense gardening tomatoes are planted 9 inches apart. We drew one circle and then measured 9 inches from the center of the first hole to find the center of the next hole, using a yard stick to keep them in a straight line. We drilled the holes out and now have a template or stencil for the holes. This 9 inch template can also be used for zucchini which is planted 18 inches apart. We even added a second line to the template to plant beans 4 inches apart or by burning every other opening, making holes for basil planted 8 inches apart.
Burning the holes is easy. Using a small propane torch, we laid the stencil down on the row and rapidly burned the fabric showing through the template. I say rapidly because we don’t want to start the template on fire!
We didn’t put any fabric down on the rows with lettuce or root vegetables because it would be difficult with the intense gardening method (I’ll explain in a future post). Those rows will still require a lot of weeding.
Now that the holes are burned, it’s time to start planting!
You can see how we burned the holes in our weed fabric watching our YouTube Channel: