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Tilth & weeding

Weeding is much easier in a healthy, well-structured soil. If the soil is loose and porous, hoeing is much less laborious, weed roots easily shake free from the soil resulting in faster death, and more of the root system of perennials will pull up along with the top when hand weeding. Three elements are key to obtaining good soils structure.

Stay off the soil

There are several ways to avoid walking on soil that will be growing crops. One is to create permanent beds with paths between the beds. The paths can be covered with bark mulch or sown with grass and frequently mowed to prevent weed growth. Regularly edging the walkways to prevent encroachment of sod into the beds may be necessary. Raised beds have advantages (early warming in the spring and less stooping) but the sides of the beds may be difficult to keep weeded. Another approach is to till the entire area and lay old (unpainted) boards on the ground to make paths that support foot traffic. The ease of weeding soil that has not been trampled has to be experienced to be appreciated.

Add organic matter

When compost, cover crops and mulch materials like straw and leaves from the previous year are incorporated into the soil, the decomposing organic matter and the beneficial fungi that grow on it bind soil particles into small, stable crumbs. The spaces between crumbs allow easy penetration of water into the soil and rapid root growth for the crops. The decomposing organic matter provides a source of nutrition for crop growth. Cover crops are particularly valuable because the fibrous root types (e.g. grasses) help aggregate the soil into crumbs and tap-rooted types like sweet clover penetrate and loosen the subsoil.

Keep soil covered

Keeping the soil continuously covered with a crop, cover crop or mulch prevents rain drops from breaking up soil crumbs. It also prevents the soil from baking hard in the sun. Moreover, organic materials from cover crops and mulches provide food for earthworms. These create soil pores with their burrowing and cement soil particles into crumbs with their slime.