Although I do find weeding to be somewhat relaxing, dealing with the quack grass is something that I hate doing. You can't just pull it out easily and every little piece of the root starts a new plant. And to do it without using any type of commercial herbicide, such as Roundup, I find a dandelion fork or a garden fork become my best friend while weeding. In trying to come up with an effective way of dealing with it, this year I am going to try using a woven landscape fabric AKA woven weed fabric. But, I am not going to buy it, I am going to make it - a homemade woven weed fabric DIY project..
Why use Woven Landscape Fabric
As I discussed in my earlier blog, Achieving a Permaculture Design Principle with the Back to Eden Gardening method, covering your soil is an important part of achieving one of the action items of the Permaculture Design Principles . Although I look forward to seeing how my new Back to Eden garden will do, I am not prepared to convert everything to this method of gardening at this time. In my main garden, I use decreased row spacing with companion planting to cover the soil. But with that comes a lot of uncontrollable quack grass AKA cooch grass AKA crabgrass (Elymus repens). Although grasses can be a very effective cover crop in the right location, in my garden it is not something I want. In the pastures, most certainly, but not in the garden. I could certainly spray it out and have an easy, effective way of dealing with the quack grass but as I mentioned in the earlier blog, it is not my favorite at all. There are more and more studies showing the links to how it affects human health and the effects to the biodiversity in the environment are becoming more documented. So avoiding the use of glyphosates has become very important to me.
To try to avoid the use of glyphosates and spending all my time weeding with a garden fork or a dandelion fork, I am trying the Back to Eden gardening method on a couple of beds. But I also decided to look into the possibility of using ground covers, AKA landscape fabrics, AKA weed fabric AKA woven landscape fabric AKA woven ground cover. Although it goes by many names, it's purpose is basically the same - to prevent weeds and grasses from emerging.
Deciding on which Woven Landscape Fabric to use
Once a person starts digging into it there are so many kinds of woven landscape fabric and so many applications it almost becomes overwhelming. I found this good article, Landscape Fabric Types and How to Use Them [Guide] that quite nicely describes the various landscape fabrics out there and how to use them. Although the article suggests the use of burlap, I know from personal experience that using things like burlap will not work for me because the quack grass just grows through it and becomes a giant mat. I did run across a Landscapers Planters Paper Mulch but decided that paper would not be that effective unless I was adding a mulch over it, much like the Back to Eden Gardening method. But what about the others?
Exploring the information about the various fabrics out there I noticed one thing right off. And that was some were made with polyethylene and some were made with polypropylene. Researching it more, it basically boils down to landscape fabrics made with polypropylene will be a little stronger than the polyethylene ones and therefore should last longer. But as research always goes, it takes you down a rabbit hole and I started wondering about what it does for the garden.
Both of these fabrics create a physical barrier to prevent the germination of grass and weeds but still allow for the flow of air and water. But as is noted in this article, Landscaping Fabric – Everything You Need to Know (+Helpful Tips) there can be some adverse affects to the garden soil such as soil compaction and not allowing soil microbes and earthworms to do their job. And although I would agree that because it is not a living mulch it is not continually building soil, I could add compost on an annual basis to improve that activity. But perhaps it does affect soil temperature so that it does affect the earthworms and soil microbiology or maybe there was some other things going on. Perhaps this is why the article would make the statement that "over time this barrier will drain the soil of essential nutrients." .
Although polyethylene and polypropylene are BPA free and both are FDA approved as safe Packaging & Food Contact Substances in the United States, and the FDA - CFIA and Health Canada, Food Safety Systems Recognition Arrangement will allow for the application of its findings to Canada, it is noted in the article What to Know About the Toxicity of Polypropylene that there are some potential problems with its use such as cancer, asthma, and absorbtion of phthalates, to name a few.. Polyethylene has made the list for one of the harmful products as noted in the article 7 Types of Plastic Wreaking Havoc on Our Health due to environmental concerns and ingestion of antimony. So although neither of these fabric types may be the best thing to add to my garden to grow my own safe, healthy food, the use of landscape fabrics is an effective way to lessen the work of maintaining it. And perhaps it is the lesser of the evils. But how effective is it?
We see landscapes done with all kinds of landscape fabrics, from rock mulches put over heavy duty landscape fabrics to lighter weight ones used in flower beds and sometimes in gardens. I watch a creator on YouTube, Living Traditions Homestead, who have switched from the Back to Eden Gardening method to the extensive use of a Polypropylene Woven Ground Cover from Growers Solutions. They started using the woven ground cover in 2018 and although they note in the video, Back to Eden DOESN'T WORK but THIS Does! that the woven weed fabric does not add organic matter it does allow for the movement of air and water. And since the initial use they have been using it every year and highlight the benefits of it each year since installation in 2018 with Does Weed Fabric Really Work in the Garden?, including in 2021with We Hope This Decision Doesn't Make Our Garden FAIL! and in 2022 with Finally Planting Day, we just can't catch a break!.
With this information in hand, both good and bad, I decided to give landscape fabric a try. But with a twist. .
Homemade Woven Weed Fabric DIY project
I get my chicken feed in mini bulk bags AKA totes on a weekly basis, so to say that I have a few of them would be an understatement.
Although I reuse what I can for getting oats and I sell some of the better looking mini bulk bags to offset the cost of them I pay with the feed, there is no recycling station that will take them locally and the feed store will not refill them. So what to do with them is always an issue for me and disposing of them in the garbage is disturbing on so many levels, so the thought of using them in a Homemade Woven Weed Fabric DIY project was appealing.
Researching what they are made from for an earlier blog post, How to container garden, revealed that they are made of Woven polypropylene and that they are FDA approved. Exactly the same as the Polypropylene Woven Ground Cover, which would therefore include the concerning details I identified earlier. Although the product description states they resist UV and water, I know first hand that water does get through them. So I thought I should maybe be sure and decided to test it out. Being that breathing through the mini bulk bag is easier from the outside surface of the mini bulk bag, I figured that perhaps the water would go through easier one way than the other. So I tried pouring water on each side of the mini bulk bag to see if there was a difference.
And as suspected from trying to breathe through the bag, there was a difference in water percolation rates. The outside bag surface allowed the water to flow through faster,
than the inside surface of the mini bulk bag.
Feeling confident from my earlier use in the raised bed garden and the research for this Homemade Woven Weed Fabric DIY Project, I felt fairly confident hat the mini bulk bags would work as a landscape fabric for helping to control the quack grass. Additionally, being that Growers Solution does sell a White Reflective Woven Ground Cover, I figured I was on to something. It may keep the ground a little cooler due to its reflective nature but as Living Traditions Homestead determined with the black version of this fabric in Does Weed Fabric Really Work in the Garden?, it may not be that different, but I will see.
Gather the supplies for the DIY Project
With this information in hand, it was time to put my plan into action. First things first, I gathered the supplies.
- A used mini bulk bag
- A box cutter or sharp knife
- Wire to make staples for holding the landscape fabric down. Wind getting underneath the fabric could rip it out and take the plants with it if not properly secured, so preventing that is important.
Making the Homemade Woven Weed Fabric
I start by cutting off all 4 straps used for lifting the mini bulk bag and cutting off the thin, flimsy fill tube.
I then open the bag up by cutting down the bag from top to bottom, stopping at the base of the mini bulk bag.
I cut the base off the bag, leaving me with four components - the base, the handles, the fill tube and the bag itself that will be used in the Homemade Woven Weed Fabric DIY Project.
Laying down the Homemade Woven Weed Fabric
I will be laying the homemade woven weed fabric down in my squash patch as the quack grass is thick in here.
Had I done this before I planted, as I originally planned, the quack grass would not have been so thick, but it didn't happen so we deal with it now.
I decided that although a quick rototilling would have been beneficial, I could not do it with the squash plants in there and so I decided to use my new Long Handled Scuffle Weeder from Homestead Iron.
I am really enjoying this Scuffle Weeder as the long handle means that I do not have to bend over as much, the handle size is larger so it fits my hands better and it's diamond shape head is great for just cutting the weeds off below the surface on either a push, pull or sideways motion. And for this application, a slight movement of the handle up or down put the blade under the grass and cut it off so that I can very easily pick up the grass clump. It worked fantastic!
After preparing the location, I laid out the woven weed fabric and tacked it in place using one of the staples I fabricated from bending pieces of wire.
And then pounded it well into the ground.
I then positioned the landscape fabric hack over everything, including the squash, and put in another staple at the opposite end, pulling the landscape fabric snug. Being it was too wide for this application, I had to cut it to fit.
But no worries as the shorter cut piece was laid down and stapled in place on the west edge of the garden where the grass is coming in.
Normally, I would have laid the homemade woven weed fabric down on the ground and then melted planting holes, using a blow torch, to plant the seeds. But with having established plants to deal with I had to find the location on the homemade woven weed fabric to cut the holes for the plants. So folded it in half and brought it up to the plants and cut a hole that I could pull the plants through.
Once the holes were cut, I was able to unfold the landscape fabric hack and finish stapling it to the ground.
I used eight staples around the outside edge and one at each opening. Keeping the wind from getting under the homemade woven weed fabric is of concern so I made sure to put enough along the outside edges to hold it down. But once it was done, the first one looked good I thought. Now to finish it off.
The homemade woven weed fabric is very white in the garden setting and I would normally be concerned about how much light is getting through to the plants I am trying to kill under it, but I had noticed while putting the homemade woven weed fabric in place that it was fairly dark underneath it. It should work.
With the first piece of homemade woven weed fabric in place I then continued down the row repeating the process overlapping each homemade woven weed fabric by about two to six inches, depending on how straight my cut was. And one piece at a time, and five mini bulk bag later, the Homemade Woven Weed Fabric DIY Project is completed and the whole row is covered.
And not much was wasted because I used the pieces I cut off to do the outside edge of the garden beside the corn. Now I can get the rest of the garden weeded.
Homemade Woven Weed Fabric DIY Project control
I feel that it is important in determining a pass or fail grade on my Homemade Woven Weed Fabric DIY project to leave an area uncovered by the homemade woven weed fabric, a control. This area has quite a bit of quack grass growing in it and has spaghetti squash, zucchini and dill growing in it as well. I will be weeding and treating it the same as the rest of the garden to determine if there is a difference between the two gardening methods, two different methods of achieving the covering your soil action item as described in the Permaculture Design Principles.
Although the findings of my research are somewhat concerning to me, I have to weigh it against the work that weeding makes for me. Sure I could just let it go, I could build all raised beds, I could cover the entire garden with mulch, but at this time in my gardening journey and my life I feel that the Homemade Woven Weed Fabric DIY Project will work out well. It will be interesting to see how the plants will grow and whether it will work on the quack grass. But time will tell.
I was wondering how it would affect the soil temperature, so at 3:30 PM, July 6, 2022 with the sun high in the sky and the air temperature at 74F or 24 C.
The ground temperature was 76 F or 25 C.
And the ground temperature under the homemade woven weed fabric was 69F or 21C, cooler by about 7F (4 C).
It will be interesting to see how the temperature fluctuates through the summer and how things grow as a result.
Using the mini bulk bags for this application is a bit more labor intensive than just rolling off a roll, but they would be thrown out otherwise. So with a little work, I can reuse something I have already paid for but had no other use. Or at least nothing I have thought of thus far.
Every farmer that gets their feed in bulk will more than likely have a stash of mini bulk bags, if they are not disposing of them. By making a phone call or two, a person could have essentially free landscape fabric to use.
Be sure to check back later in the summer when I will do an update on how things are progressing.
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