By N. R. Mallery
I love to garden, and grow about 80% of what I eat. But I am also a very busy person, and I find it very difficult to keep my garden weeded. I have tried many ways to make weeding easier. The garden claw tool is an awesome tool for getting to the roots, but weeds still come back. I tried covering the rows between and around the plants with the grass clippings I catch with my electric (charged with solar) lawnmower, but the grass seeds make more weeds when they sprout. What to do? Covering my organic soil with plastic that breaks down into it is not ok. I have even replaced my hoses with PVC-free and lead-free hoses, for goodness sake.
Last spring I heard about a local company called GardenMats. A friend had been using them for years and marveled about his lack of weeding chores. He is very particular about growing organically, too, so he had my attention.
GardenMats claim to provide natural weed control while letting in air and water to help retain moisture, prevent erosion, increase yields by 10%-20% as an environmentally friendly, low-impact weed control solution that can last up to 10 years. In addition, they are made in Worcester, Vermont – local to my home base.
I called the founder and owner, Peter Comart, who explained their sales policy, saying, “[We] manufacture and sell direct, giving us total quality control and no middle men. This enables us to sell a premium product and keep our prices affordable. Some people think we are in the business of making mats, but we are not. We are really in the business of helping people meet their food supply needs. The number one problem preventing or inhibiting people from doing that is maintaining a garden. GardenMats take out 95% of the labor. So now you can go on vacation and not return to a jungle of weeds.”
Peter promised they would cut my weeding time down immensely – to just a few hours all season. I knew Green Energy Times readers would like to know about such things, and so I agreed to test the product for review. The mats would be used in only half of my own garden, for comparison.
I had three concerns about them:
1. I plant intensively, so the pre-cut holes might not fit in with the way I generally plant.
2. Voles. In the past, row-cover over my sweet potato bed created a vole haven, so this was a concern for me. Peter said he has heard about this issue, but has not experienced it himself.
3. I was concerned about keeping my soil moist. I live on top of a mountain with a sandy loam soil that drains too fast, despite all amendments to hold in moisture. It is a struggle to keep it watered. A 275 gallon rain catchment barely helps.
The GardenMats website video explains how to use the eight pre-cut patterns. It requires some planning for sure.
GardenMats work perfectly for sweet potato slips helping the soil to warm ahead of planting. This is ideal to meet the need for a longer growing season than northern Vermont usually has. They worked well for bean rows, corn, and beets, as well as broccoli, tomatoes, cabbages, cantaloupes, and more. I did not use the mats on my asparagus, parsnips and garlic because of the holes.
At the end of the season, I had my answer. They actually do help the soil hold moisture, without the sun baking the soil dry. Weeds were non-existent except for the few that came up in the pre-cut holes. The reduced time for weeding the garden was tremendous. The crops grew well because I mulch well in the fall and worked it into the top layer before laying down the GardenMats.
At the end of the season, the mats were removed after the harvest was done. Manure and leaves for mulch were then applied for the next growing season, as the mats were hosed off, air-dried, and stored for reuse in spring. Nine more years of freedom from weeding chores to go!
I did have one problem: the voles and the sweet potatoes! The vines and potatoes grew extremely well. But the voles loved living under them and only left me one, the biggest I ever grew! Help, I need to get rid of the voles. Please contact me if you have a solution besides my cats or snakes. They aren’t doing the trick.
The covered beds actually performed as they claim. My time spent weeding was reduced tremendously — on the beds that I used them on. The only problem was on the uncovered portion of the garden, and that I am planning to remedy this year, with more mats to cover as much of the garden as possible. The neighbors were all jealous of my freedom from weeding last year, but just wait until they see me out sipping sumac lemonade and just watching everything grow! I have many plans way beyond the veggie garden, too. It’s time to take my summer back!
Learn more at gardenmats.com or call Peter Comart at 802-498-3314.