How to keep weeds out of your allotment (or vegetable patch)

How to keep weeds out of your allotment 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered BlogSo you've cleared the weeds from your vegetable patch. How do you keep them out without using chemicals?
My 80 Minute Allotment method costs nothing, uses recycled materials and is quick and simple.

I'm growing fruit and veg in an average of 80 minutes a week on my small allotment. If you've also got limited time to grow your own, then join me on the 80 Minute Allotment. I'm posting regular updates on how I spend my time on the essential tasks that can be done in short sessions of one to two hours at a time, to show how growing your own can fit into any busy modern lifestyle.  
Last week I used my 80 minutes on the allotment to dig out weeds from an overgrown area at the bottom of the plot, giving me a little more room to grow things. The overall area is now about 12 metres by 4 metres. You can read my general plans for the plot here.
It's all very well removing the weeds, but you also need to stop them coming back. There'll always be seeds blowing in that need hoeing from the beds before they interfere with the growth of your crops. Hoeing seedlings that appear is straightforward enough, but a more annoying problem is the more pernicious weeds that spread horizontally and invade your plot from all sides, gradually encroaching from the edges.
In particular, many allotment sites have grass paths between the individual plots. Grass generally, and couch grass in particular, spreads rampantly in all directions. There are other options for paths, but whatever they're made from you can't eliminate weeds from the entire site (or if you did, you'd have no time left to grow any edibles). And other species like creeping buttercup and nettles also need to be prevented from nudging their way in between your carrots, beans, raspberries or potatoes. 
My solution is to edge my allotment plot with wooden boards. It's a bit like building a raised bed, except that it doesn't need to be constructed to the same level of precision and robustness. In my case,  this is just as well because:
1. I don't even have a GCSE in woodworking.
2. I don't want to spend any money on materials.
3. The materials I'm using are all reclaimed bits of wood that I've found lying around the site.
The objective is not to retain the soil and compost but simply to act as a physical barrier to the worst of the weeds trying to grow through it. Here's what I did:


How to keep weeds out of your allotment or vegetable patch

First I marked the line of the edge of the plot, and then dug this with a spade to give a clear edge to the (in this case) grass. Then I used a trowel to dig a shallow trench along the edge, about the same depth as the width of the lengths of wood I was using. My wood was probably old lap boards from a fence or possibly an old wooden crate or compost bin. Discarded planks of any kind would do, such as pallets, decking or even old skirting board.
Shallow trench at the plot edge How to keep weeds out of your allotment 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Dig a shallow trench along the edge using a trowel
Next I put the first piece of wood into the trench, butting one end up against the top edge of the plot. I pushed it into the ground, and scraped the earth around it until it was firmly settled, upright, and roughly level, at the right height to act as an edge to the grass behind it. 
Length of wood in trench How to keep weeds out of your allotment 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Insert the board into the trench
Next I took some tree branches that had been cut down from one end of the site and sawed them into 6 inch (15cm) lengths. They are about 3-4cm diameter. These were used as the pegs to hold the boards in position.
Short pegs sawn from logs How to keep weeds out of your allotment 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Cut some short pegs from logs
Using a rubber mallet, I hammered these pegs in front of each end of the wooden board so that they press the board against the edge I'd cut earlier with the spade.
Using a mallet to hammer in the pegs to the ground How to keep weeds out of your allotment 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Hammer in the pegs against the boards
Any space left behind the board was backfilled with soil to firm the board into position. Weeds and grass will eventually fill this area, but will be much easier to remove by cutting or pulling up, before they get round and over the board and encroach on to the beds.
How to keep weeds out of your allotment 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
One board in, with a peg at each end
Once I had the first board in place, I put a second one in the same way, slightly overlapping them behind a peg, so that one peg keeps both of them in position.
How to keep weeds out of your allotment 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Overlap a pair of boards behind each peg
Then I repeated the process for each subsequent board. Each one overlaps with its neighbour, held against the earth behind it by the pegs.
How to keep weeds out of your allotment 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
This natural weed resisting barrier now surrounds my plot
I put this in place around some of my allotment last year, and it's been quite successful, with the weeds much less likely to make it on to the beds. The grass needs ripping up occasionally when it's growing strongly, but it's easy to do and it can go on the compost heap. The parts of the path covered in wood chips from the trees that were felled nearby, have been fairly clear of weeds. The wood chips suppress them very well, but need topping up with chips every now and then.
This week I used my 80 minutes to finish edging the rest of the plot, apart from the bottom end which is still overgrown and not being used yet. When I've expanded the plot down as far as I can then I'll enclose the whole thing with boards like this.


Other 80 Minute Allotment jobs this week

As well as finishing the edging, I harvested the last of our parsnips, and raked the ground I dug last week, removing one or two more weeds and breaking up the soil even more.
Fresh parsnip from the 80 Minute Allotment Green FIngered Blog
My biggest parsnip yet!
I also spread some manure on some of the beds so that it can work into the soil before I plant in it in spring. Some beds had manure put on them last autumn and this is already being well worked in by the worms and other soil life. This didn't include part of the bed I'm using for alliums this year, as at the time it had parsnips and beetroot still growing there. Now they've been harvested, I added manure to this area this week.
Fresh manure doesn't do onions any good, so this area will be for later plantings of onions, and the leeks, which won't go into the ground until at least April. The earlier ones will go in the part of the bed just recently weeded, since this is fresh ground I reckon it doesn't need anything added to it anyway. 
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