Since "they" say that the cheapest experience is that which you obtain second hand here's a story for anyone starting out...
A piece of advice handed to me third or fourth hand from my Mum was:
"Cover over the weeds with a bit of old carpet and leave it for at least six months to a year. It will block the light, they'll die back and rot into the ground and the area will be cleared without turning a spit of earth".
Sounds great doesn't it?
- Recycling something that's going in the bin anyway.
- Clear the weeds without buying weedkiller (cheaper, etc.).
My Mum got this tip from the old neighbour - John - that lived next door before I was born.
It does work - though not as good as perhaps it once did.
If you can get your hands on some old carpet made before the Sixties, it would probably work fine.
Before the introduction of plastic, carpet would have been made of natural materials - mostly wool, with hessian for the backing, possibly cotton threading or stitching. So if you left it out on the damp ground, eventually it would rot away and would probably improve the soil as it went. The worms and other beasties would find it nice and cosy under there and aerate the soil as they went about their business.
There's a company from the Lake District that makes compost from the wool of the sheep from up on the fells : Dalefoot Composts
The problem is the amount of plastic that is used to make modern carpets, which is non-biodegradable. So while, yes, it will smother the weeds for you, at the end of the year you have to work out how to dispose of it.
Thinking I was being smart, I had left the pieces as large as I could manage thinking that there would be fewer gaps for the weeds to grow through or for the wind to catch under and lift. It made sense at the time, but when I was laying it initially it was dry, fresh and clean(ish).
When the time came to take it away because I wanted to work that section, it was heavy (soaked with rainwater), smelly, mouldy and awkward. It was a job to cut it up in to smaller pieces to manhandle into the wheelbarrow. After it had been lifted, there was still the tedious task of picking up the individual pieces that had fragmented off the carpet. It wasn't decomposing as much as breaking into shards like a shattered window.
It really, really stank. After I'd hauled it off to the landfill skip at the dump, the odour lingered in the back of the car for about a week after, despite spraying and wiping down all the surfaces inside.
So, yes it worked - but it wasn't worth it overall.
If you are determined to use carpet to clear your plot here's what I would add:
- DON'T lay it direct. Lay it on top of a tarpaulin or plastic sheet that you can fold and lift after you've taken the carpet off to bundle up any bits that have fallen off. You can then shake out the tarp over the bin.
- Keep the pieces small: put more weights (bricks, planks, etc) on top. It's easier to handle/cut when it's dry.
- Turn the pieces if you can. The fresh air and sunlight will hopefully keep the mould down.
A better solution would be to use large pieces of brown, unprinted cardboard - the sort that flat pack furniture comes in; sometimes you'll find piles abandoned next to the on street recycling bins.
-Give it a good soaking to help peel off any tape left on (Sellotape is a brand name - they don't make it from Cellulose anymore, it's plastic) - and try to pull out any staples you see.
-Lay a couple of layers over the weeds and weigh it down with stones, bricks, etc. The cardboard will decompose into the soil and if you've taken off the tape, then it can be dug in or covered in compost and planted through once you're ready.
A word of warning - Earthworms will appreciate the cover and work the soil, but so will the Slugs and Snails - you don't want to be swapping one problem for another.
"Aladdin" from Ferry Road.