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vegetable gardenI have a lot of interests and, I'd have to say, weeding isn't one of them. It's not so much that it's tedious (I can do "tedious" when there's a point to it), but weeding is such a time-waster, and such a back-breaker, and so not necessary! If you want to scrub it off your "to do" list, follow the "smart-gardening" technique I've been enjoying for years.


At the beginning of spring, I roll back from my garden bed the length of old carpet that has covered it during the dormant winter months, and invite my slug-chomper-in chief, Rosie-the-chook, to gobble down any grubs she can find. Because the carpet has been cut to fit snugly over the garden (this works best in a raised-bed situation, though it can be used almost anywhere), it takes no more than a minute to remove the miniscule number of weeds which may have peeped through a crack of light around the very edge of the carpet.

When the bed has been prepared and sown with seed, or planted with seedlings, I toss down a generous scattering of slug/snail bait and immediately mulch heavily between (not on top of) the seed rows, snugly around young plants, and onto any bare soil I can see. (If you live in a dryish area, it's important to thoroughly water the bed before applying the mulch).

Mulch, for me, means whatever free/cheap organic covering I can find and, around my home, that's pine needles. (If the very mention of pine needles has you gulping like a goldfish, you can forget those old-wives tales about this brilliant mulch being a no-no in the garden – I've been using pine needles on my vegie beds for years, and they're totally brilliant, conditioning the soil to a fine crumb as they break down, and posing no problem whatsoever. It just pays to compensate for their acidity by adding a few handfuls of lime to the soil now and then.) If you don't have pine needles, perhaps you can lay hands on some unwanted or rotting balage or straw, or clippings that have been through your garden mulcher. Steer clear of hay (it tends to grow grass after a while), think twice about lawn clippings (they go kind of gluggy in wet areas, and then form a hard pan when they dry out), and shy away from sawdust (it's too nitrogen-sapping). Leaf litter is ok-ish, though it's very slow to break down, so use it only if you plan to sow seedlings or large seed (such as spuds or broadbeans) the following year (little seeds won't do well sown on top of leathery leaves).

If birds are a problem in your garden, it'll be important to net your bed before they scatter the mulch over your yet-to germinate seeds and, if you live in a very windy spot, you may need to check now and then to make sure the mulch hasn't blown over the seed drills or covered small seedlings. Other than that, you have, quite literally, nothing more to do in the weeding department other than a few minutes of picking out fine weeds when the germinated seeds are a couple of centimetres high (and, if you're lucky, you may even be able to leave that until it's time to thin).

Does it all sound too easy? A bit like a diet where you can eat as much as you want and still grow slim? Relax, dig out the deck chair and head to the library for a good book – you're going to need it!

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