How Often Should You Weed, Really?

When my family has busy years, work and sports and caring for each other takes precedence over garden activities. My mother hates this, because there is nothing she loves more than to be amongst her plants and in the soil. Some years, though, there is little we can do to spend the time with our garden that it needs. If this sounds like you, and you have years here and there that you just feel like giving up, fear not! Breaks are actually really good for your soil. Edward H. Faulkner years ago wrote Plowman’s Folly. According the the Reader’s Digest in the 1940’s, “probably no book on an agricultural subject has ever prompted so much discussion in this country.”

Here is a favorite paragraph of mine. It dismisses all anxiety we may have about leaving our garden beds to lay around and do nothing:

All through the South, farmers have for generations “rested” their land for a number of years between periods of cropping. This practice used to be criticized severely as an evidence of laziness, but agriculturists have discovered that it really has merit, and that soil so treated is considerably rejuvenated and will again produce satisfactory crops. The benefits to be derived from allowing land to lie idle are directly proportionate to the abundance of wild plants that spring up. Southern farmers of the old school never kept their crops so free from weeds that there would not be plenty of seed to germinate on any land that was left to itself for a season or two. The second and third seasons’ growth of weeds registered, by their increased height and vigor, the benefit the new plants received from the decaying material produced the previous year. The longer the fields lay idle, the more completely they were restored to normal productiveness.
Weeds are not so bad, it turns out! And having the soil rest and be covered by weeds does an incredibly important job: it helps to keep the minerals and the vital nutrients in the soil. And our favorite bonus: it saves water when you do get back to planting:
Such processes of soil renewal really should not be construed as idleness for the soil. In reality the so-called idle soil is working vigorously to re-establish a non-erosive surface. If there are enough weed seeds in the soil when it is abandoned, only a few years will be required for the surface to be properly “nailed down” again, so that runoff water will not be so plentiful or so effective in moving the soil minerals.
There you have it. If you’re beating yourself up not gardening enough and leaving behind weeds, maybe that’s life telling you that, well, it’s just what your garden wants!