I have recently returned to gardening after a long hiatus. The plot I'm
using now is too small to justify my buying a tiller, so I'm turning it
over with a shovel and breaking it up with a hand cultivator.
My question relates to what to do with the weeds and grass turf that was
there when it was merely part of the back yard. I would assume that most
any plant is taking nutrients from the soil and concentrating them in its
tissues. I would also assume that if I removed the soil from these plants
and tossed them away, I would be losing a certain amount of nutrients that
had been in the soil.
I am tempted, during this first year, simply to turn over a deep
shovel-full of earth, break up the soil that was underneath the turf, and
leave the grass and weeds that were formerly face-up to the sun to rot
under the overturned earth. This way the soil would retain whatever
nutrients they possessed.
At least, that's the theory. Can anybody tell me if this is actually a
good idea? Or should I go ahead and shake all the soil out of the turf
layer and just get rid of the plant part? I have most of my garden
planted and already doing well, but I do have a bit more earth to break up
for some later crops.
Just toss it in a compost bin (or even a pile) and nature will take care
of it. As the instructor of our composting class said, "Compost happens."
You can turn it under as you described and that will work fine as well.
Be aware that you will be pulling up weeds so plan to get them early so
they are easier to pull, and do it after a good soaking or a heavy rain
storm when the roots will better completely release their hold.
A good way to separate the greenery from the dirt is to work it through a
piece of hardware cloth. Another way is to beat it against the tines of a
garden rake (a rake head without a handle is great for this!). A few
weeks ago, I cut off the sod from part of my front yard and put it under
my evergreen magnolia tree where it was only dirt. Now, I'm in the
process, between other things, of sifting all the dirt there through
hardware cloth. The weeds, whatever, go in the compost bin (what I didn't
put in the bottom of potato barrels where the worms will have their way
The most important thing is to just do it and use your experience to
discover what works best for your situation. We often say, "Your mileage
may vary," which is so very true.
who has handled it both ways mentioned
That's what I did for a temporary garden bed last year. Larger weeds
and particularly dandelions were removed but the rest was just turned
over, the soil broke up, leveled, and planted. The resulting crop was
fine despite being planted late for our area (July). I'm using the
temporary bed for overflow until I get a good grasp on how the raised
beds are going to perform. When I turned the soil this spring, there
were no signs of the turf that had been turned under. So it worked fine
for me. The only problem you may have is with the root vegetables
(potatoes, beets, etc). My potatoes did fine but we only grow them
large enough to get the small new potatoes. A second problem is the
weed seeds can remain in the underturned turf and cause later problems.
I guess in theory, you could underturn the first year then spray with
round-up before planting the next year. I tend not to use chemicals in
the garden if at all possible so have no experience with the round-up
It depends on what kind of grass it is. If it's bermuda, God help you
if you turn it under and leave it...
If it's a small area, and if the soil is not overly compacted, I think I
would try spraying with Round-up, wait a few days, then transplant stuff
like tomatoes and peppers and zucchini in without disturbing it soil any
more than possible. Mulch with whatever organic matter you can get.
Next year, the grass will be gone, and you shouldn't have a lot of weed
problems this year because you didn't disturb the soil.
On Sun, 30 May 2004 16:58:29 -0400, Joe Williamson
tillers on new plots..where there is grass growing, merely breaks up
the rhizomes and distributes them.. essentially taking a whooole bunch
of cuttings and spreading them around, one of the best ways of making
more grass! So good you didn't get one! ;-)
yup every time you grow something, be it weed or food crops, it
removes nutrients from the soil and store them within the body and
seeds of the plants. Removing the plants, by eating them or throwing
them into the trash, or however remove them from the place they've
grown.. you lose those nutrients from the soil.
That is one way of dealing with them, but weeds will grow in that soil
that you've disturbed, be they from the stuff you turn over, that
grows back up, or from newly exposed seed that has been lying dormant
in the soil until you turned it over, or from seed that blows in or
dropped from birds, something will grow there most likely .. unless
there isn't enough water to support growth, but that would not promote
great soil fertility as soil that dries up, loses beneficial microbial
action as well as beneficial other soil critters.
You can turn the soil and plant what you want this year or next.
There are those who would not recommend that because the larger
portion of soil "fertility" has to do with the microbial/bacterial
life in the top inch or so of soil, so when you turn it, you put all
those critters deep into the soil where they either die, or have to
migrate back to their preferred home in the top inch or two of the
soil where it has light, moisture, air all in context of organic
matter to feed on and during that action .. their wastes.. interact to
free minerals from the supposedly "inert" materials. It's the
interface of water/acids/minerals/organic mater/microbes etc that
feeds the plants to a great degree. Soooo the general thought there
is to keep that stuff where it belongs, and if you do dig, you should
more or les move the "slices" taken with the shovel, forward and pull
any loosened weeds from there, It's a nice idea, and doable if you
aren't working with a Large area. Larger plots, no way, unless you
have a lot of small trainable hands that you can get to pluck out any
grass crowns and weeds.
If there are quack grass rhizomes in there, you do not want to leave
them there in any form, they can, will and DO come back up from depth
over 1.5 to 2 feet deep... as I unfortunately have found out. I've
covered quack grass for over a year with black plastic, they came
back. Covered them with deep hay mulch, it grew back.
If you are able to ..dig out and carefully slice off the sod from the
top of the soil.. as long as it's normal turf grasses, you can just
slice off the top.. leaving the deeper roots, they'll decompose. Put
the live grass/with rhizomes into a pile.. when you've opened up
enough of a trench to see where the grass is in the soil, then you can
just slice it off the top of the soil Or, you can rent a machine ..
sod cutter.. or rent sod cutting shovels.. that look like some hoe or
other tool got run over by a steam roller.. and it flattened out
something to make it somewhat of a heart shape on a long slightly bent
neck LOL Anyway, however you choose to do it with a regular shovel
after starting a trench, etc, get the sod off it, and stack it up,
grass side Down and cover it with black plastic .. or put it in black
plastic bags and leave it in a sunny area, and it will decompose into
rich loam that you can then use however you'd like.
The area you removed it from, you can add some bagged or bulk compost
to, and as another person suggested.. just set out some transplants.
Or.. you can mow it really really short as in scalped..if the
lawnmower won't cut it short enough use a string trimmer to scalp the
turf off, water it well, then put down a layer of newspapers, say 5 or
so sheets thick, spread them out in overlapping layers..twist the
sheets, or just lap them so there are no seams. wet them down very
well. Decide what you want to plant in there, from transplants, not
seed.. if you have that choice, and cut Xs where you want to plant
them, carefully peel back the paper, dig holes with a trowel, or
whatever you want, put in your transplant, and then fold back the ears
of newspapers, and then tuck the very tips under so they aren't
touching the stems of your plants, but keep them close.
Once everything is planted you can water it down again, and then mulch
it with whatever you are wanting to use.. to make it look neater, as
well as conserve moisture and keep the paper from blowing away. You
*could* just leave the paper and weight down the edges with soil,
scrap lumber, whatever you want, but be prepared for frowns from
neighbors if they can see it, or even family if they're neat nicks.
Might have to add more paper too if you leave it exposed. You can
just start mulching it with thin layers of grass clippings so it will
dry easily, not get too hot. Just add to it each week. .. as long as
there are no chemicals on those clippings, like broad leaved weed
killers..they don't know your tomatoes aren't weeds.
Whatever you do, beware of the quack grass perennial rhizomes being
spread around. Take it out send it AWAY ..or burn it, gotta go..it's
EVIL!!! I'm sure there are others in other parts of the country that
are just as bad!
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