Vegetable Growing using Weed Suppressing Membrane / Mypex

Discussion in 'Edible Gardening' started by Kristen, Jul 18, 2014.

  1. Kristen

    Kristen Under gardener

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    I thought I would start a new thread, although it has been discussed in other threads a few times.

    I got half way through the planting season before committing to doing this, so mine is half-and-half this year.

    IMG_4356_VegetablePatchMypex.jpg

    The issues I have:

    Prepare bed. Make planting holes (in my case using a bulb planter), fill with water, wait to drain, add chicken manure pellets.

    Unroll membrane, align "slits" with planting holes

    Plant plants through the membrane (into the planting holes below)

    Getting the planting holes to line up with the "slits" requires some care. I use a long (8' - 10'-ish) batten [which has saw-marks on it at 6" / 12" intervals on one side and 4" / 8" / 12" on the other] which enables me to get accurate planting hole spacing, but I do need to get the rows to match too!

    I use 4' wide raised beds, so all my plant spacing is organised around that, so its basically 2, 3 or 4 (or more - Leeks & Onions / Garlic etc) rows.

    First time I needed to cut the Slits in the plastic to match. Quite a lot of Faff, but I am thinking of the pay-back :)

    So Make holes, Lay membrane, Plant is not really any longer than my normal planting time. Slightly more fiddly planting through the membrane (but that is REALLY splitting hairs!) however if the planting hole is too deep sorting the plant height out is definitely a bit more hassle; but I know what I am doing with the planting tool, so my holes are pretty much "right".

    Note: If the plants are small they don't poke-through the membrane very well, so if it lifts / moves a bit, in the wind, the plant is then under the membrane.

    I placed bricks down the length of it, to hold the sides in place. Where I have hoops (to hold protective netting) I made holes at the edge of the membrane and pushed the hoops through those, so that holds the membrane in place. (I put the hoops an inch or two in-bound of the edge of the raised bed so that they netting had somewhere to "sit" as it comes past each hoop)

    The near perimeter of my veg patch, as you will see from the photo, is not "square", so the beds had different length, and I have cut the membrane to the longest bed, to allow for crop rotation.

    Having said that, I think it might be better to have a piece of membrane for each "crop" rather than the "bed". I have planted (since the photo) the near end of the bed, and not the middle [yet] so making slits and fitting plants into that will be more tricky. It would be easier if it was a separate "piece" of membrane. So I might, yet, cut mine up into "individual crops". For example my Leaf Beat is 24 plants this year, sometimes I do 32 plants, so I could cut a piece of membrane right-size, and with appropriate plant-spacing of slits, for 32 plants.

    Watering is a bit of a problem. When first planted the plants are slightly depressed, so I can water through the slits and the water runs neatly into and around the plant. As the plant gets bigger the water tends to run away from the plant along the membrane - and solutions to that? I am thinking of putting leaky-hose along the rows of plants, under the membrane. Seems a bit wasteful to water the whole row, rather than just each individual plant-station though - but drippers are way too expensive for vegetable crops.

    Granular fertiliser is another problem. I can chuck it on the membrane, and wait for rain, but it tends to run down any "hill" on the membrane and then all clump in the valleys. Liquid feed solves that, but its a lot more work to apply. Any ideas?
     
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    • Scrungee

      Scrungee Well known for it

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      This year I'm growing Runner Beans, French Beans, Sweetcorn, Tomatoes, Courgettes, Marrows, Butternut Squash, Leeks, Garlic, Lettuces and Strawberries though Mypex. Besides veg. I'm growing Sunflowers and Sweet Peas through it.

      It virtually eliminates weeding (apart what gets through the planting hole), reduces watering and everything seems to grow better when planted through it.

      I rotovate, add compost/manure/etc., rotovate that in, rake level, lay the sheets tightly stretched out and peg them down with using fencing straining wire. For 70mm pots I use a bulb planter pushed through X shaped cuts cut with scissors after the membrane has been laid, but use a narrow trowel for stuff in cellular trays, for leeks & garlic I stab twice with a rope knife to get a smaller x then use a dibber. Any soil laying on the surface is best brushed off as weeds will grow in it and get their roots down through the weave of the membrane and they're a PITA to remove.

      New Mypex sometimes sheds quite a bit of water, but it will become more porous and let all the rain through. In the meantime I use (also with heavy duty polythene) a watering guide made from a upturned plastic bottle with the bottom cut off and fixed to a 1200mm length of batten and place the neck in the X and pour from a watering can into the cut off end.

      Chicken pellets get put by the handful into watering cans containing a small amount of water, left to soften, then sloshed around, topped up and poured into the X cuts. Well rotten horse manure is applied using the same method.

      Sheets with holes cut for say tomatoes at closer centres than required for courgettes can be simply planted at every other hole. Square pieces of heavy duty plastic sheet can be pushed through the unused holes and spread out underneath to blank them off.

      The only problem I get is when ants construct a nest underneath and it makes it a bit more tricky to apply powder or pour boiling water (and my other method of building a fire on top is out of the question). Using a strimmer next to Mypex can make a real mess of it if you catch it, but this can be avoided by using timber edging boards to separate them.



      I'll sort out some pics of stuff growing through Mypex.
       
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      • Kristen

        Kristen Under gardener

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        :goodpost:

        That's good to hear, thanks.

        That's priceless, but I'll Google Asbestos Mypex for you if you like? :heehee:
         
      • Scrungee

        Scrungee Well known for it

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        Growing garlic through Mypex

        Last Autumn I planted 2 identical side by side beds with the same amount of garlic (Music, Germidour & Elephant) in each . One bed was left open and the other was planted through Mypex, but the latter was 2 or 3 weeks later and a rabbit chewed off quite a few of the shoots from the garlic growing through it, delaying them even further whilst they re-sprouted. The open bed has needed weeding and watering but the Mypex covered bed has received no attention whatsoever.

        Today I harvested the Germidour garlic from both beds and I immediately saw one drawback - it was in the middle of the strip, so required 2/3 to be lifted to get at the stuff in the middle, and once it's pulled over the plants it's impossible to get back. Next year it will be in separate pieces for each variety rather than all of them in one continuous strip or large sheet.

        From the open bed I lifted 34 garlic weighing 1.125Kg, av weight 33g and largest 50g and from the Mypex covered bed I got 30 bulbs weighing 1.030Kg, av 34g and largest 70g, so the garlic grown through Mypex performed better despite the setbacks and lack of care. This Autumn the majority of my garlic will be planted through Mypex (subject to getting similar results when lift the Music & Elephant Garlic which will be in the next couple of days).

        Cost of the Mypex (@50p/m2) was about £2, it probably saved me nearly 2hrs of weeding (some manure I was given and used in the beds had loads of weed seeds in it) & watering, but it took approx. 30 mins to lay/cut. It should last a few years, so well worth it. If I had some cell tray grow lettuces ready, I could re-lay the sheet and get another crop from it before planting more garlic in the Autumn.

        mypexgarlic1.jpg

        mypexgarlic2.jpg
         
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        • Kristen

          Kristen Under gardener

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          Thanks for the info on Garlic, particularly "separate Mypex pieces for each variety". Perhaps grow two varieties per sheet? (my total cloves doesn't vary much each year, but I might vary the amount of one variety vs. the other) then the sheet can be lifted/harvest from one side or the other. Large sheet of Mypex = less fraying at the end, over the years?

          What do you think about Courgettes?

          I figure that my courgettes are usually in 2L pots by the time I plant them out. That's tricky to do through Mypex, so I think a piece with slits-to-the-side so I can put it on after planting would be best. I know from experience, though, that slits-to-the-side need holding down with bricks, weeds grow through, they catch the wind ..blah! blah! blah!
           
        • Kristen

          Kristen Under gardener

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          P.S. If you had to take the Mypex off the whole garlic bed, when you harvested the first variety, would you only be a couple of weeks until the last variety was ready? and would that matter? (Would taking it off damage the plants that were still maturing?)
           
        • Scrungee

          Scrungee Well known for it

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          It only caused minor damage to my Music garlic, but as that's nearly 5 foot high the most damage was to the Mypex sheet, tearing at the sheet and enlarging the holes. If the Music was growing through it's own separate sheet, when it's ready to lift I could cut the stems to a shorter length before removing the Mypex to eliminate any damage.

          My first garlic was lifted on 28th of June and if the last is lifted next week that's nearly 4 weeks lost when I could be re-using the bed & Mypex sheet for successional planting of lettuces. All it would involve to use separate sheets is a few more wire holding down clips and a small amount of sheeting lost to overlap of bottom sheet and folding top sheet double at joins.

          P.S. I don't do single varietal garlic beds due to concerns about spreading white rot, so I try and divide every bed between every variety I'm growing to try and avoid a whole variety being wiped out and not having my own cloves to re-plant
           
        • Scrungee

          Scrungee Well known for it

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          Courgettes grow much better through Mypex than in open ground (and butternut squashes because they like warm soil). For planting larger pots make larger X cuts and place an old car tyre (available FOC from any friendly tyre garage) around the plant to protect against wind and hold the sheeting down. That's what I do with Pumpkins and Marrows.

          To help get water directly to plants' roots, push a cane into the ground beside the plant in the X cut area, cut the bottom off a 2 to 3 litre plastic pop/cider bottom, invert and slide down the cane so the neck's in contact with the ground. Leaving the cane projecting above the bottle helps to locate the watering point when they get a bit overgrown.
           
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          • Scrungee

            Scrungee Well known for it

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            Sowing seeds in drills through Mypex

            I haven't tried this yet, but it's on my list of new stuff to try. The idea is to cut some parallel slits in a sheet of Mypex, then seam the edges. A 12.5mm turnover would produce rows of 25mm wide slits which could be pulled apart to prepare drills, sow and cover seeds, then the edges could be drawn back and held in place with wire clip pushed through the Mypex into the soil. No more weeding between rows of seeds!

            mypex slit sheet.jpg

            It would need some patches at the end of the slits to prevent them from extending any further
             
          • Scrungee

            Scrungee Well known for it

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            Also available in white

            I did have an ebay seller of this on my watch list who did smaller rolls for about £30 delivered, but they seem to have disappeared and I can now only find it here
            http://www.plantcarelimited.co.uk/products/white_gcover.html

            [​IMG]

            The stuff on ebay was like this, white with bluelines, but I can't find any trace of it now

            [​IMG]

            http://thumbs1.ebaystatic.com/d/l225/m/mIPV_tj0mAWZ2wLexcadeEw.jpg
             
          • Kristen

            Kristen Under gardener

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            Cracking idea @Scrungee thanks :)

            Yes, I do the same (but its another cracking idea :) ). I'm actually thinking about irrigation piping instead. I figure to use some 1/2" black "main backbone pipe" between each plant, and then a circle (or two?) of leaky hose, joined with a straight-connector, so that it provides water all around the plant. Then plug the hose in for X minutes to irrigate the plants (put a shallow container under the leaky pipe the first time to see how long it takes to get X litres).

            I don't know how important it is to get irrigation water a) right near the plant and b) evenly distributed near the plant. Commercial agriculture seems to use "leaky tubing" rather than "leaky hose". That tubing has pressure compensating drippers every X" or X'. Clearly they are not all going to be right next to a plant, so presumably it has been found that "somewhere near the plant" is good enough. That doesn't strike me as logical? hence I am aiming to get better distribution, plus I don't really want to use leaky hose all along a row when the plants are several feet apart.

            I was thinking that this automated irrigation would buy me some time - instead of standing there doing hand watering. I was naively assuming I could use the time for hand weeding?, but of course there won't be any post-Mypex :heehee:. I could sit in a deck chair and read a book, but I don't have any of those anymore, so I'm going to have to dig a trench all the way to the vegetable patch to install CAT-5 and power so that I have Wifi to download books to my Kindle, and power to recharge it :heehee: :heehee: :heehee:

            What sort of crop? I'm thinking for, say, Carrots and instead of sowing a drill, and thinning (as I do now) I would station-sow, and thus could have X-slits at appropriate intervals. Not sure how well a seed will germinate if the sheeting happens to be an inch, or several!, above the emerging seed at that point, so perhaps I could cut a 3" diameter circle, and then once the seedlings are a reasonable size have an insert that I put in that makes a more snug fit with the growing plant(s). Bit like a collar for a Brassica to protect from root-fly.

            When you say "seam" what method are you planning? Sowing? or heat-melt-treatment?
             
          • Kristen

            Kristen Under gardener

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            How about:

            Cut an X slit as normal, at each station-sowing point. Make a 4-sided box, with open end, out of a piece of cardboard. Insert into the X-slit (so I suppose it is diamond shaped, if that makes sense?) to hold the flat bits of the X-slit away from the emerging seeds, and provide the seeds with a little shelter to germinate into, with a clear view of the sun :) Could even leave the box-thingie in-situ "semi-permanently" during the lifetime of the crop.
             
          • shiney

            shiney President, Grumpy Old Men's Club Staff Member

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            We are nowhere near as organised as you two and don't grow as wide a range. Runner beans, French beans, courgettes, marrows, butternut squash, tomatoes, sweetcorn and, years ago, potatoes. We also grow sweetpeas and sunflowers (occasionally).

            From a labour saving point of view (my main object) it's fantastic. In the autumn the membrane gets rolled back and soil dug, composted and manured with the very few weeds removed (mainly just a few poorly looking bindweed). Then the membrane is pegged down.

            I don't have the membrane in rows but it covers the whole of the area. This means that when I'm walking through the plot to tend the plants, or harvest them, I'm always on clean membrane - no more muddy shoes when going out to pick food for dinner. This, of course, means using more membrane than necessary but the cost is minimal and the cleanliness and saving of labour for the upkeep of the paths more than compensates for it. The areas that I walk on, the same each year, don't get dug or composted.

            We have no problem with lining holes up as we don't rotate crops much at all and all the crops require the use of either every hole or every other hole. So planting is done directly through the hole - although I really like the idea of using tyres to support the courgettes.
            148_4875.JPG

            From an economy point of view: I don't know how long ago I bought the membrane but it's over 10 years. The picture above was taken in 2005 (when I had my first digital camera) and the picture below was taken this month. There has been no damage to the membrane and it looks as though it has many years of life left.

            P1210044.JPG

            I don't have the problem that either of you two have with watering because I'm slightly profligate with the water. As I'm unable to carry watering cans I use a hose. When the plants are young I use the hose with a shower setting on the nozzle and just water into the holes. Once the plants are larger and need a lot more water I use a sprinkler. The sprinkler water goes straight into the holes and also permeates through the membrane quite easily. Even in the hot weather they don't need as much water as they would if they weren't under the membrane where the condensation keeps the ground moist.

            Onions and garlic are grown elsewhere except for some very large onions we occasionally grow. These are planted into some of the spare holes, usually near the runner beans, and they help to keep the aphids away. They're spaced in holes about 12" apart so that I can get to the beans for picking. Garlic is planted in circles in flower beds between clumps of perennials.
             
          • Kristen

            Kristen Under gardener

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            Why do you dig at all? I would have thought (provided you don't want to plant where the soil was compressed for "paths") that you could take a no-dig approach? Perhaps you walk / compress everywhere when picking beans?

            Interesting to hear your method, thanks @shiney. Mine is different in the sense that I have raised beds and a crop rotation. But in effect I could roll up the Mypex from one bed, and then unroll it on the adjacent bed as part of the rotation.

            In practice I think my Mypex will be "per crop", so I think I need to label each one with the crop it will service. No sure how to do that in a way that the label does not get separated from the Mypex! Ideas welcome :)
             
          • Kristen

            Kristen Under gardener

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            P.S. I am assuming that I will have the beds uncovered, and carrying a green-manure crop, over winter. I then need to chop (and maybe incorporate) the green manure crop in the Spring, and cover so that no weeds grow and the soil warms ready for the crop being planted.
             
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