Hate weeding? Then fill those gaps!

12 Oct

Do you ever have those ‘aha!’ moments? When suddenly something (often quite obvious) just clicks in your mind and makes so much sense. I had one of those recently, thanks to Jason and Linda.

Linda is the author of The Permaculture Home Garden, and although I don’t own a copy (something I must rectify), Jason does and follows its principles at his place in South Australia. Recently he spoke about planting density, and Linda’s concept of how you can reduce your weeding by planting more densely. She explains that if you leave gaps, that’s where the weeds will take hold. What a revelation!

So I’ve been quite mindful of this in my planting for the summer. Take the first section of my front garden bed as an example.

At the back I started with overwintered capsicums. Because of their headstart, they should get pretty tall this year so I put them at the back (the sun comes from the northern side at the front).

Then I looked and realised that although I put the capsicums at the back, I could fit in a bit of parsley behind them. Parsley doesn’t need full sun, so it should be fine sitting behind in the shade. Also along the edge (next to the neighbour foot traffic) I like to put a bit of pretty stuff, so in the gaps between the parsley I planted some zinnias.

In front of the capsicums I planted some new chilli seedlings. These are jalapenos, and I planted a number of them in the hope that I’ll have enough to pickle this year. I also put in some of Liz’s mini mama capsicums around to the left. All these plants will grow significantly to cover the space densely at maturity. In the meantime however there are large gaps for the weeds to thrive in. I have therefore put some fast-growing tatsoi into the gaps, along with some nasturtiums, a cabbage and some garlic chives towards the front and a rockmelon to ramble throughout everything and spill out of the bed.

Platings don’t need to be permanent. Fast growing things are great to put in, harvest from now and pull out once the larger plantings get to size later in the season.

I’ll need to do some weeding in the short term, but pretty soon it should almost take care of itself.

I actually took that photo exactly a week ago. This is what it looks like today.

You can see that the tatsoi grows fast. I’ve been harvesting from it this week too. Another good contender for fast gap filling is wild rocket. It self-seeds like crazy and it grows really really fast. It is probably my favourite salad leaf, so I can never get enough of it. I might actually scatter a few seeds around this bed today because I still think the gaps are a little too wide.

And now lets have a look at another section. This is down the other end of my Bed A, which is along the front of my block against the road.

At the back we have the sunflower, because every neighbourhood needs a bit of cheer. I like to plant them right along the front in early spring and there should be a happy show by late November or early December.

Cucumbers line the front and will climb my dodgy DIY trellice. I also have some curly parsley going on at the right, which was a self-seeded transplant, then some lettuces and sugarbaby watermelons at the front. I have put wild rocket through the gaps, but it is still too small to pick out in the photo. I think I should have put more curly parsley in – I love how decorative it is as a border planting.

To the right I have a carrot patch that I planted one month ago.

Behind the carrots are some chillies that couldn’t quite keep up with the carrots’ growth rate in the short term, some more zinneas and another sunflower. I had to keep on top of the weeds for a few weeks while the carrot seeds were germinating and still small, but now they will take care of themselves.There just won’t be enough light penetrating for the weeds to thrive.

Way up to the left I have snow peas and okra that is just germinating. I think I’ll throw some dwarf green beans in around the okra because the okra is nutrient-greedy and will grow very tall.

So thanks Linda and Jason for the insight. I’m loving my new found freedom to plant densely and not feel constrained by recommended spacings. In the worst-case scenario and things get crowded – I can just pull something out or transplant it to somewhere else.

Have you had any ‘aha!’ moments lately? Or do you have any suggestions how I could improve my dense-planting approach?

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9 Responses to “Hate weeding? Then fill those gaps!”

  1. Michelle October 12, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    I definitely try to squeeze in as much as possible into my vegetable beds, it does keep most of the weeds down, but there is always something that insinuates itself into the mix. This summer I kept finding big solanum nigrum plants poking out of the tomato plants.

    My latest aha! moment occured to me as I contemplated ripping out the tomato plants in the next few weeks. I nearly always follow the tomatoes with fava beans and it occured to me that I should leave the five foot tall tomato cages in place and let the favas grow inside them. The favas always end up falling over when they get tall and heavy with beans. What better way to keep them from flopping all over the place than to keep them confined to the cages. I figure it’s worth a try, and surely easier than trying to stake the plants after they start to fall over (my usual approach).

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney October 20, 2012 at 8:31 pm #

      That sounds like a great idea Michelle. Droopy broad beans always frustrate me too.

  2. Daphne October 12, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

    I often let things like Asian green be really close at the start and slowly thin out the bed and let the rest grow bigger. Baby greens are very tasty and it does cover up the soil.

  3. Louise October 13, 2012 at 8:23 am #

    Wow, looking food. What amazing growth on your carrots. I plant densely, but must say it came from the fact that I had such limited space. But when I read, similar to yourself, that it saved effort on weeding and also kept the soil damper, then I sort of went , ahha! So that’s why.

    I am also partial to including flowers in my bed – zinnias, I love them and sunflowers and lupins and violas. I find that the violas in particular cover the soil well and are great tucked in around sparsely keeping their roots cooler and damper. And they are pretty and you can eat the flowers in salads.

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney October 20, 2012 at 8:34 pm #

      I planted some heartsease this year for salads too. The first one has just flowered – so pretty and tasty 🙂 I’ve never heard of lupins, but they look spectacular!

  4. Linda Woodrow October 13, 2012 at 9:25 am #

    I plant really densely. This image gives you an idea. I have to intensively fence my gardens these days, so that’s part of the reason. But also I find that though it takes a lot of compost and water, you use less overall for the yield by concentrating it all in one area. And the plants protect each other a bit from sunburn and wind damage. And, as you say, defend the space from weeds. I also like to have a seedling ready to pop into any gap as soon as I harvest something out of it, like this, so that the weeds don’t invade. It was an aha moment for me when I realised it too!

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney October 20, 2012 at 8:36 pm #

      That is very helpful Linda. I’ve been out there this week filling gaps even more densely following your comment. I’d never thought of having seedlings ready to just throw in on demand, but your comment sent me back to the leftovers from the spring planting, looking to see what I could use after all. Thanks again for your insight.

  5. Liz October 13, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    I too am a very dense planter although as much for space reasons as anything else. I do find I don’t get too many weeds and the areas I do get weeds in like in between the garlic are usually because i haven’t planted as densely. Incidentally I don’t know if it was a continutation of my computer woes but I had issues commenting on your blog yesterday.

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