Hi, We've recently moved into a new (old) rental and together with the owner are wanting to turn the backyard, which is currently in a totaly state of disrepair and full of weeds, into a food-producing oasis! We will do chooks, vegies and fruit trees, and are mostly interested in an organic permaculture method but have MUCH to learn. Our first problem is the massive weed infestation. I THINK its stinging nettle and yellow dock and it's OUT OF CONTROL and spreading rapidly. I really really don't want to spray, because I'm worried about the impact of the sprays on the food and eggs we will eat, but my husband really really doesn't want to spend weeks of backbreaking labour digging out the weeds! He's rung some gardening centres today and been advised repeatedly to spray with Weed 'n Feed or Bin-die and told that it mostly goes on the leaves and that hardly any of it goes into the soil anyway. I'm not convinced but the alternatives don't sound easy. Any helpful ideas or information?

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Karen said:
I'm wondering if the rest of the green matter from the weeds could be turned into hot compost?
I really don't know how to do this. I read somewhere about how someone simply piled up the weeds where they were going to put the veggie beds, so they would compost right where they were needed. But I really don't know how to go about this.

Hot composting will break down more things than cold composting, but not everything... I'm afraid I know nothing about the plant you're having problems with, and what it will grow back from, so can't advise you there. Some plants grow back from the smallest bits, and you don't want a compost pile full of weeds. Digging large quantities of green material into the soil where you plan to grow is not a great idea, though, as it's likely to be a hot and hostile environment for the plants as the green stuff decays. (There are exceptions to this principle, but give the hot composting a go...)

Hot composting isn't that scary. What you need is a big pile of stuff (at least 1 cubic metre, more is much better), Create alternate layers of carbon and nitrogen materials (broadly, browns and greens), and in every layer or second layer put in handfuls of activators like blood and bone, coffee grounds, handfuls of comfrey leaves. The carbon layers can be paper (newsprint, not office paper, as most toners are plastic based), and the nitrogen layers grass clippings, hedge trimmings, coffee grounds from the local cafe, and other weeds. (Yeah I know the coffee is brown, but it's a nitrogen source). It's not an exact science but having a bit of structure is what's called for. Wet it as you're building the pile, and check it every week after it's built to make sure it isn't drying out. I cover mine with a black tarp so it gets good and hot - although it should quickly cook up to around 60 deg just on the power of decomposition alone.

After about 4-6 weeks depending on how hot it has been, you may want to turn it and build another pile. It will have packed down by then - my heaps start well over a metre high and pack down to about half a metre over time. Building a simple multi-bay compost frame will help this process (and contains the heap nicely while it's cooking). I rest the pile after turning and use it within another month or so, but basically as soon as it's got a nice composty feel it goes in the garden.
I think we're going to take all the weed remnants to the tip. It's a noxious weed that spreads voraciously. The recommendation I've had is to actually BURN the roots, so I'm thinking it might be best to avoid adding any of it to the compost) although some already has been previously!

We still have a lot more weed removal to do (it's a fairly large area and we're doing mechanical removal) - who needs a gym!!? :)

I'm really looking forward to doing some actual PLANTING!!! We are hoping to get started on a no-dig bed soon. It runs along the western wall of the house so will get lots of sun. We want to help insulate the house by planting an evergreen vine, plus we'd like to plant some other things in the bed too. Do you think it would be too hot to plant tomatoes on a west-facing wall? There are some seeds in the latest Don Burke magazine for some winter-producing tomatoes!

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