Annual Vegetables, Perennial Vegetables, Permaculture, Sustainable

Mulch or Potatoes: Experimenting with Weed Suppression

Rains pummeled Tampa for the last few months. I left town and my garden at the end of April. Knowing I would not be able to do any yard work through May and June, with the exception of a few visits just long enough to collect a harvest, I experimented with three weed control strategies.

  1. I mulched one bed with a free pine mulch that a tree service company dumped in my driveway.
  2. A second bed I interspersed Boniato Potato seedlings wherever there was a gap of a foot or more.
  3. The third bed is the largest, and has historically had the worst weed problems, so I did both: Boniato Potato seedlings plus pine mulch.

When I returned over two months later, the yard was a bit of a mess. But it was clear which strategy was most successful.

Here is the raised bed with pine mulch only.

pine mulch bed
3-tiered raised bed with pine mulch only

What do you mean you can’t find the bed? See that tiny bit of cedar poking out? 🙂

Consider this method a massive failure.

Now take a look at the raised bed with Boniato Potatoes only. I ran out of mulch, so this was clean soil from the compost pile plus potatoes. Some weeds still worked their way through, but this bed is in far better condition.

potato seedlings
Boniato Potatoes used as weed suppression in raised bed

When I started poking around, I was happily surprised at what I found. The potatoes did not choke out my plants, but filled in around them.

Here is a tall basil plant that would have been strangled in the mulch-only bed. The potatoes blocked the weeds around the basil without killing the herb. And those few tomatoes are attached to an Everglade Tomato vine that runs underneath the potato leaves. Also hiding among the potatoes: Yellow Pear tomatoes, Okinawa Spinach, and Pineapples. A few plants that started in this bed have disappeared: kale, a mesclun salad mix, and more greens that don’t typically fare well this late into the summer.

basil
Basil and Everglade Tomatoes protected by Boniato Potatoes

Some weeds still managed to weasel through the dense canopy of potato lives, but compared to the other bed, this method was far more successful.

And here is the largest garden bed. It is lowest to the ground, only raised by about 4″, and already had a weed infestation. I pulled out everything I could in April, but expected a number of returning invaders. In this bed, I mulched, I planted potatoes, I added moss from the tree in the front yard. I did what I could.

both
Boniato potatoes, pine mulch, and a bit of moss as weed suppression

The result is better than I expected. A lot of weeds, yes, but the plants I care about are protected enough. My Rosemary bush is healthy. The Cranberry Hibiscus I thought I lost in the freeze came back, along with at least ten volunteers. False Bird of Paradise, also heavily damaged by January’s freeze, are back.

It took a couple hours to excavate, but the plants I care about are all here, protected by the potatoes and mulch. I harvested a bowl of Sweet Italian Red Peppers, Hungarian Hot Peppers, and Chili Peppers. I clipped handfuls of Basil, Mint, Papalo, and Cuban Oregano. I yanked the tomatoes that were at the end of life. The Prickly Pear Cactus, Aloe, and other succulents in pots throughout the bed are not thriving, but are also not dying. They are just waiting around for some love and attention. Florida Lettuce, Okinawa Spinach, Sticks on Fire, False Roselle, Lillies, Lemongrass…they are all doing well, hiding among the potatoes.

I’m looking forward to eventually harvesting the sweet potatoes, a secondary reward for this self-caring weed control. Overall, I’ll call the method a success.

 

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