Fall is the best time for starting a new garden. Some of you may ask why, so I'll just tell you all about what you shouldn't do when starting a garden on a piece of weed-infested, rundown land, sharing from my own experience .
It all started this spring when my husband had the great idea of starting a new garden on the rundown field behind our house, where only weeds and some herbs were growing. Those weeds had been growing bigger and bigger every year, until they almost took over the whole field. We couldn't do anything but watch and clean off the weeds around the house, at least twice a year. With the current economic situation, no one has started any construction as was planned, nor have they planted anything on the empty land. Those contractors probably didn't need the profit from working the land, but we sure could use a few more yards of space to plant more vegetables, for which we were willing to pay to use. We were lucky because they said it was okay to use a piece of their land without having to pay any rent, since they still weren't going to do anything there. The most terrible weeds, Bermudagrass and Johnson grass were suffocating everything on the field, not to mention they were spreading into our garden too. All have strong roots and runners going above and below the ground and they are very hard to kill.
This is what we had to deal with when we started the vegetable garden in the back of our house, on that soil. For starters it was hard to dig and chop the ground. I threw away many huge clumps of soil filled with Bermudagrass or Johnson grass roots, as it was impossible to shake loose the soil and throw away just the roots. But we managed to clear the land somehow, then raked and leveled it. We then sowed the seeds and planted the seedlings I already had.
I never sprayed any herbicide on that piece of land to kill the weeds, so the remaining roots started to re-grow and soon the grass invaded my vegetable garden. Some of the vegetable seeds sprouted and started to grow, even though the grass sucked up almost all the water in the soil. But I was watering thoroughly, so most of the vegetables sprang up. The only ones which didn't were the celery, eggplants and the hot peppers, but I didn't mind much because I already had too much else to do. And not because of the seedlings growing up, or because of the 2 to 3 hoeings between the rows, but because of the creeping Bermudagrass. It took me almost a week to dig between the rows and after another week it was grown all over again. I'm not scared of hard work, especially when gardening, but this was too disappointing and frustrating. Because not only some of the vegetables didn't grow like they should, but also some of the fruits, like the pumpkins and water melons died back, after starting to grow. I got only one cute pumpkin and one small, but sweet (meaning edible!) watermelon, after a whole summer of hard work. Still there were many other vegetables which grew well and repaid me for my hard work.
The worst place for the plants to grow were along the edges of the vegetable garden; maybe because some weren't well spaced, such as the sunflowers, but definitely it was mostly because of the grass growing near the fence, which sucked up all the water, as much as I watered. Even the onions had a hard time growing there! In comparison, the best part of the garden was the area close to our back fence. Some huge yellow plum tomatoes grew there and cherry tomatoes too. Cucumbers, beans, sweet peppers, sweet peas, spinach, radishes, broccoli, carrots and even a few potatoes all grew in this area.
I had many cabbage seedlings and after harvesting the onions, spinach and sweet peas, I planted them on those empty lines, filling in almost the whole garden with them. I had a hard time with the snails and slugs eating on my cabbages, but lured them into buried beer cans and got rid of most of them. Still I had to pick off snails and slugs on an almost daily basis. They were hiding on the back of the bigger leaves, or under the cabbages, in the ground. Like all the other vegetables, the cabbages growing next to our back fence grew well, but the others growing in the back, next to the field, almost didn't grow at all. Still, I had enough cabbage to make sauerkraut in October - which is the tradition at this time of year in my country - and so I saved money from my own work and stocked my pantry with pickled cabbage.
If you asked me if this was worth it, I would answer yes, it was even though it meant hard work and some frustratration. But those of you who are reading this article are lucky because I will now tell you a secret for working the land much easier, and not having to deal with those nasty roots. A friend of mine, who has lived in the countryside almost all of his life, told me this secret of how to work the land easily. His parents and grandparents and even his great-grandparents have been doing this since old times, but people like us, who were born and raised in the city, couldn't have possibly known it. Now that secret has been revealed to us and it seems so easy and the normal thing to do, but who would have guessed that it was that simple?
The secret lies in how and when you dig the ground. Our ancestors were familiar with deep digging the land in the fall of the year and they turned it upside down, so that the roots would freeze and die back during the winter. This was and still is their natural and easy way of killing the weeds' roots by using nature. Our winters are hard, with lots of deep freezes. They are starting in December, but sometimes even earlier, in November, and last until March or longer.
This is a great advantage to any gardener who wants to get rid of weeds without using chemicals. If I had known about this before I would have done the deep digging last fall and would have avoided the hard work of so much weeding. But it's never too late, so I dug the vegetable garden up in late October. If the soil isn't frozen yet at your place, you can do the same now; it's not too late. When winter is gone and the weeds' roots have frozen and died back, people in my country spread manure all over the field for fertilizing the land. Then dig and rake to spread the manure all over the field and incorporate it in the soil. From this point, fertilizing will have to be done only in the fall.
I'm looking forward to garden in my vegetable garden next spring and I hope to have a great harvest, thanks to my friend and to his parents, who shared this secret with me, so I can share it with you too. Wishing you all a great harvest next year, if you choose to take my advice and garden without chemicals!
About Adina Dosan
I'm a Romanian plants and pets addicted, always happy to share my experience.