An easy way to beat weeds and grass Homesteading Basics: How to Prepare a Garden Bed with a Bad Back

Working in the Garden with a Bad Back

When you need to prepare a garden bed, it’s one of those things that can be really hard for people who have back problems due to injury or age.  We get this question often, and we feel like it’s a really important topic – because many of the people who are actively trying to grow their own food for health reasons are the same people who have trouble doing the labor.

Here’s Marjory to tell you about one easy trick that anyone can do to prepare a garden bed, without the backbreaking labor that is usually required to bend over and pull out all of those weeds and grasses.  Instead of hard labor and hand tools, the only things required to do this trick are a tarp and some time…

Prepare a Garden Bed without Breaking a Sweat

The key here is to completely cover the area where your new garden bed will be located.  You are trying to deprive the plants underneath of sunlight and water until they die and begin to break down.  Black plastic sheeting will also work, and you could even use an old shower curtain, as long as it doesn’t allow light through to the plants underneath (don’t use clear plastic).

After you cover the area, you’ll be in a waiting game while the plants run out of food and water.  Eventually you’ll peek under the tarp and find that all of the plants are dead, as Marjory demonstrates in the video.

Be careful not to remove the tarp too soon.  Some weeds can be extremely resilient.  If the roots are still resisting when you pull on the stem of a plant, you might want to give it a little more time to finish the job.

Also read: Eat Your Weeds Don’t Mow Them

Restoring the Life in Your New Garden Soil

One side effect of this method is that while the plastic is effective in killing off plants, it can also have a negative impact on the various soil organisms and microorganisms that you need to have in order to have a truly thriving garden.

Be sure to take some steps to restore the soil food web if you use this method to clear a new garden bed.  Things like compost tea and products containing mycorrhizal fungi can help you restore the balance of life within the soil.  Here is one great solution you can use, and chances are you have all the ingredients in your kitchen already: Pan Juice – A Simple Homemade Fertilizer

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Michael Ford


Contributor

Michael has been the resident editor at The [Grow] Network since January 2015. Michael grew up in St. Louis, where he became a lover of nature - hiking and fishing his way through the Ozark hills in Missouri. He attended Baylor University in Waco, TX, and he currently lives in Austin. Michael has background experience in small-scale farming, commercial growing, vegetable gardening, landscaping, marketing, and software development. He received his Permaculture Design Certification from the Austin Permaculture Guild in 2013.


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  • madeline yakimchuk

    I have started all of my garden beds this way but with a difference… get some big heavy cardboard boxes, maybe from a bicycle or kitchen appliance store, and use that instead of plastic. Keep the area WET, not dry, and wait a year at least. The most you will have to do is add another layer of cardboard if the soil starts to show through. This way the worms will eat everything, and fertilize and loosen your soil. When you remove the cardboard the next year you will have soil that is almost usable as it is… but if you can add seaweed pellets, wood ash, compost, or any fertilizer, and loosen things up a bit with a broad fork, you are ready to go. All this takes is patience.

  • madeline yakimchuk

    oh yes, if you are in a windy area you may have to throw a few logs or heavy rocks not he corners of the cardboard to keep them from blowing away… if you keep them good and wet you won’t have much trouble. Don’t let things dry out too much or the worms will not be happy!

  • Kathy Cerwin

    There is another way..lay down a bunch of newspapers and you can add your soil and compost over them. I have done this for years and it works. You can also use cardboard.

  • Roy

    Great suggestion.

    But how to get rid of a bermuda grass in raised beds?
    Neighbor has a bermuda grass lawn and it is taking over everything.

    • Melohawk

      Weed eat to open up weeds to soak up this mixture: Mix up some beer, Dawn blue dish liquid and water in a sprayer (whatever size you need for your problem). A 1 gal sprayer will take 1 8oz can of beer, 1 cup of Dawn and fill the rest with water. spray liberally over weeds (burmuda grass). Because they have been cut, they will suck up this mixture quickly. In 2 days you should see a difference. It will also kill cut worms and other insects. I found out the hard way that it also kills your plants so only spray it on what you want to die.

      • Sandy

        Deep mulch techniques may also be helpful for a back that does not tolerate digging. The greatest back-saver tip I have found to date has to do with how to shovel. I attended a gardening clinic, and my instructor was an annual fixture at this event. The simple instructions she gave us saved me from the low back pain that showed up every spring when I hit the garden. I am not a certified physical therapist and hesitate to relate what she told me in the event that I have forgotten a point that would protect someone with a different set of back quirks than I have. This would be an awesome topic for your next summit! It has been nearly ten years since the class I took, and it has prevented a lot of suffering, not just in the garden, but while shoveling a lot of deep snow.

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