Keeping on top of the weeds and crop spacing This warm weather had been magic for us keeping on top of the weeds. It makes hoeing much more effective, whether you are slicing weeds or displacing the whole plant. The breeze and the dryness of the soil wilt the weeds and prevent them regaining a roothold over night when it is cooler. Hoeing with a dutch hoe (pictured) is most useful with the annual weeds or small-sized perennial weeds. Even if the weeds aren’t killed, they are seriously set back which allows the desired plants to get ahead. Rake up any weeds lying on the surface to compost them. But be sure that any that are flowering or going to seed don’t get to the compost heap.Hoeing again three or four days later is quick to do because you can see the plants you are trying to hoe around. You dislodge loose weeds from the previous hoeing and kill off any newly germinating seeds that have been brought near the surface. It keeps the ground cleaner for longer.Larger weeds including grasses come out more easily using a fork. If the weedy sward is thick, dig it in, burying as much vegetation as possible. Alternatively lay something impervious over the area (so that the light can’t get through). Killing off the vegetation in this way, however, will take months. You can also try skimming off the surface vegetation using a spade held flat: slice off the weeds and compost them. Afterwards, dig or fork over the ground. By now some of the crop plants are getting to be a respectable size and I am on the lookout for mulch materials. There is always a tussle here over the lawn mowings. The compost boss wants them for the compost heap, where they help the composting process because they heat up so readily. The courgette boss wants mulch. Our compost still has too many weed seeds so, unlike the grass, it isn’t useful for weed reduction. But compost certainly helps retain soil moisture. Never mulch with peat: it is extremely damaging to the environment as it destroys habitat and releases lots of carbon dioxide. Adding it does nothing to feed the soil. Man-made fabrics help retain moisture but are even worse for the environment. We use so much plastic in our gardens, much of it disintegrates after a few seasons. Try to find an alternative. Why do I wait till the plants are hand high before mulching? By then they are growing sturdily and not such ready prey for slugs and snails, many of whom also relish a good moist mulch. So keep a close eye on them and be ready to act.The main material we use is wood chippings, brought to us by a local tree surgeon. We use it on ornamentals and top up as it gets drawn down into the soil. Once the autumn leaves have fallen the beds get topped up with chippings which means leaf mould is made in place. Chippings, however, may rob the soil of nitrogen as they decompose (the jury is out on this). The soil beasties need a certain ratio of carbon to nitrogen. They then grow and multiply effectively, breaking down the organic matter more quickly into forms that the plants can take up. Too much carbon (wood chips) can affect the quantity of nitrogen that is available to the plants. To keep that carbon:nitrogen ratio constant when lots of carbon is added, beasties remove nitrogen from the soil and the plants may go short.Fortunately, this soil-robbing doesn’t seem to affect the slower growing plants like shrubs and larger perennials. They grow more slowly and root more deeply. Sprinkle on fish, blood, and bone to make up a shortfall if needed, but not after late July as it delays hardening.Because vegetables are mostly annuals, they need to maintain continuous growth and development without setbacks so as to produce a good harvest. They need a continuous and adequate supply of nitrogen to grow well (but not too much). Therefore, I prefer using grass to mulch them. Leaf mould is a good but low nitrogen alternative. Most of our veg go without a mulch. If you keep on top of the weeds and prevent them flowering and going to seed, your garden will get progressively less weedy from year to year. Granny’s pals used to tell her that ‘one year’s seed means seven years weed’ and there is a lot of truth in that. Very few weed seeds last more than seven years unless they are well buried in the soil. Gardens kept clean have fewer new weeds. You can get quite skilled with the hoe and pick out almost all the weeds without having to get down on your hands and knees to pull them (not till you thin the crop, anyway). You can also sculpt the soil a little and create ridges or barriers so that water goes toward the seedlings and doesn’t run off somewhere less useful. There is a growing school of thought that the less you disturb the soil, the better for the micro-organisms, so no digging or cultivations should be done. More anon after I have read up on this. Thin your vegetables when they are big enough to handle comfortably. If they are still too small, new seeds may germinate with the disturbance, and you will have to thin them again. If they are too large, you risk breaking roots on the plants that are to remain.When thinning, watch out for doubles especially with parsnips, beets and carrots. These little plants growing from the same spot can be hard to see. It helps to hold the one which is to remain in place while pulling out its near neighbours. Water to settle them once you have finished. You can transplant lettuces and other fibrous rooted plants carefully, but if a plant has a taproot and it is broken then it will grow new anchoring and more fibrous roots out to the side. The plant may survive, but you won’t get a single taproot, ie the carrot. Nor can you transplant beets. But you can move chard. They are close relatives, but we eat the tops of chard so the shape of the roots doesn’t matter. If you are growing crops on raised beds you may be able to reduce the ultimate spacing. The soil is deeper and probably softer and allows them to access more nutrients. Use your judgement, and with the following technique nothing will go to waste.Start by thinning the carrots to 5 cm apart, water well and keep them weeded. When they fill that space remove every other one to leave a 10 cm spacing between plants. The thinnings are usually of an edible size and incredibly sweet. Water well afterwards. Keep up timely thinning until the recommended spacing is reached. This only works well if you can keep a close eye on their progress. But if you forget the second or third round of thinning, you may end up with lots of very small and possibly useless carrots. Other crops, such as cabbages, can be grown at closer spacings which will result in smaller cabbages. You may not want them large. Be sure they don’t go hungry or thirsty. Carrot fly is the ultimate pest. Cut up and sprinkle strong-smelling plants such as marjoram around them to disguise the scent even when carrots are small. Cover with sturdy fleece or enviromesh. Be sure to secure the corners and sides well as the carrot flies travel low and will get in if they find a gap. Growing vegetables is time consuming but very rewarding, both mindful and productive. The more you garden, the more you see, and that accumulated knowledge and learning adds to the fun.