I've been reading some info online about using vinegar on weeds. Anyone tried this? It's apparently useful for organic garden, although it does cause some soil acidity. Or some people use vinegar, salt & detergent together. Or vinegar and lemon. Anyone got any helpful info about this?
"perhaps I should pass on the wonderful old wool carpet I got on Freecycle?"
I think you can use it to smother the weeds and thus weaken them before, or after, cutting them, if you're not going to sow the whole area straight after cutting the weeds. When you're planting out, just take away the carpet so that it doesn't suffocate the soil. I wouldn't leave it in place for more than 3 months, as it is far better for soil life that something, even weeds, grow in the soil.
"I'm beginning to wonder if the best bet is to slash the weeds (not even sure what kind of implement to use to do this!) and use it for compost (hot compost?), then mow down the stubble and do a no dig garden?"
"So..... I'm thinking we could at least plan SOMETHING now - even just our passionfruit vine which is currently sitting in a pot, just to get the feeling of "we can do this" started!!! "
Sounds like bright ideas to me! My approach would be:
1) Make a full permaculture design, taking into account flows in/out of the yard (water, sun, wind, compost material, "waste", food, enjoyable spaces/people....), previous use of the soil (possible contamination, extra fertile or compacted spots) and existing microclimates (northfacing walls, shady corners, wetter/drier areas).
2) Deciding on what goes together among the perennials you wish to grow, and where to place them (according to previous design), then looking at spaces and organisation of annuals (simply interplanting is or crop rotation more suitable? how much to grow, how big space, how much time? what varieties work well for other people in the area?)
3) Make an implementation plan, organising what needs to be done in what season (planting trees in winter, create beds in time for spring planting, build shadehouse before staring to raising seedlings, making loads of compost before building raised beds etc.)
4) Start with things easy to grow, that are ok with heavy soil and local conditions, and grow them close to your backdoor, using waste water, making compost / wormfarm. The idea is to get a feel for what it is like to grow food, and to not get exhausted by it, and to nurture the soil life. If you're interested in biodynamics, start to use the preparations on appropriate dates on the whole section. Also build structures and define where you want your paths to be.
5) Start to open up the soil by double digging and laying out permanent paths, to create no-dig, no-tread beds. Work slowly, step by step, moving outwards from the back door in concentric circles, always keeping a "weedbarrier" planted around the outer border, and the whole area planted and paths covered (sawdust, old leaves, pebbles, shells... anything that weeds won't invade too easily). If you're going to have fruit trees or other "early implementation" features in the far end of the garden, just clear the area around where you're going to place them. Keep a deck or a small piece of lawn close by your door, sufficiant for a group of people to gather and enjoy the view of the rest getting more and more beautiful!
6) Cut weeds on the rest of the section regularly, either withh a scythe, sickle, hedge scissors etc or, once they're reasonably low, with a strimmer. See to that they don't have the time to go to seed, as far as possible.
7) Try and evaluate how big an area you can cope with opening per year, and move on from there. If the rest of the section is cut low (and maybe sown with some beautiful wildflowers in between weeds?) it won't look too nasty. There's nothing worse than biting off more than you can chew, and end up having weeds constantly re-invade your newly opened, compost enriched, recently planted, soil!!! All your hard work opening, double digging, undone in 2 weeks by perennial weeds!!! So move slowly, but keep moving.
Bill Mollisons "Permaculture" is, as you know, the "bible" in the domain. I can send you, if you wish, the worksheets I use when designing. I could also help you do the design, communicating by email & skype, (to a modest price), but if you've got some permaculture designers in your area it would be far more useful to contact them!
Wishing you the best of luck!