5 Steps to Eliminating Weed Seedlings in Homemade Compost

Maddy Harland
Monday, 1st December 2014

Maddy is trying to become 100% self-sufficient in compost by composting everything, even tricky weeds that seed easily. Here are the 5 steps she uses to achieve fertile, no dig beds mulched with her own compost.

I have always made compost. Currently, I have a wormery plus a Hotbin chugging away in my greenhouse. These make weed free potting compost and the glorious 'worm wee' that fertilises the greenhouse crops. I also have a stack of three tractor tyres that composts large quantities of organic matter plus four black bins that were sold very cheaply by my council a few years ago. These bins get hot and turn garden waste into compost quickly. I often mix them mid cycle to speed up the process. My leaf mould bins have disintegrated. I need to build another one.

My aim is to compost everything I can and become self-sufficient in fertility in my no dig veggie garden area. I grow a lot of comfrey too and make comfrey tea. And I use green manures but sparingly. I find digging them in a chore and they often don't want to go away.

I am about 60% successful this year and have minimised barrowing loads of composted horse manure with wood shavings from my kind neighbour's stables. But to achieve just 60% self-generated fertility I have to compost almost everything, even the weeds. Tim and I just don't generate enough kitchen waste, wood shavings, grass cuttings etc. That means when I mulch the raised beds with homemade compost I get weed seeds.

I have come up with a cunning cold weather plan. I want my weed seedlings to germinate well before the warm weather starts which is also the time when all my veggies (like garlic and broad beans) are starting to appear. This is what I do. Incidently, I first heard this idea from my friend, Paul Wagland.

I spot weed my beds and make sure they are clean. Then I mulch them with a generous layer of compost. Then I cover the bed with clear plastic sheeting (see first photograph below). Anything will do. Mine came as packaging for an item but you can also use cut open clear sacks. The plastic creates a microclimate in late autumn. The weeds gernimate and then I hoe them. A hard frost will then kill them. If the frost doesn't come I hoe again. Then the bed is ready for planting and the weeds won't smother or get mixed up with the veg.

I tested this out before posting the idea so you can see it works for yourself.

Here is a bed newly mulched with compost and covered with plastic. No weeds yet.


Here is a mulched bed with germinated weeds below the plastic. You will see an area without plastic and without germinated weeds as well.


Here is the detail.


Here is the uncovered bed with weed seedlings. Lots of them!


So now I am hoeing the seedlings. I only hoe the top mulch. The bed below is undisturbed. I will leave this bed empty until I know the seedlings have been eliminated.


Maddy Harland is the editor and co-founder of Permaculture Magazine and Permanent Publications.

She is also author of Fertile Edges and The Biotime Log.

Get started in No Dig gardening? Maddy recommends Charles Dowding and Stephanie Hafferty's No Dig Organic Home and Garden


reblett |
Wed, 19/04/2017 - 20:57
Bizerka |
Sat, 03/02/2018 - 15:08
Hi Maddy, We really love what you do and are doing. I am really torn about using plastic in the garden and on our fragile earth. Any advise?