The Q&A Archives: Turning Pasture into Garden

Question: I live in a rural area on 5 acres where the previous owner raised horses. I would like to turn about a 1/4 of an acre into a vegetable garden and flower cutting garden. I have an area picked out that is shade free and slopes south, however not only has it been pasture, but it is full of annual, biennual, and perennial weeds, the worst being bind weed and crab grass. It also has been fertilized with horse manure, full of weed seeds from Eastern Washington. I don't know where to start.

Answer: It's going to take time and patience to effectively control weeds in your new garden area. One of the best ways of keeping weed seeds from germinating and perennials from sprouting is to eliminate light. This translates into thick mulch over the soil, between the plants, or a woven weed barrier cloth over all areas not planted with crops or flowering plants. Any organic material that is used as mulch can be tilled in at the end of the season, providing additional nutrients to the soil. Since you're tackling a large area, you may want to use inexpensive and easily obtained mulching material. Cardboard, folded newspapers (4-6 pages thick), pine boughs, lawn clippings, or 4"-6" of compost spread over the garden area will provide a barrier to weed growth. Uncover only the areas you plan to broadcast seeds or transplant starts. If you keep weeds pulled or knocked down before they flower and set seeds, you'll stop the next generation from getting a foothold in your garden. The first year or two will be the most labor intensive as you reclaim the pasture area, but you'll be rewarded for your efforts when you begin to harvest those wonderfully fresh homegrown veggies.

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