I love getting my hands in the dirt.
There’s something about the sensation of the dirt between my fingers that’s soothing, yet primal. I can feel the texture and moisture of the soil, and I can see the earthworms close up and personal as they do their magic. I’m also less likely to accidentally pull up a newly sprouted seed that I planted. Therefore, I never weed with a hoe or other "stand-up" tool. Instead, I put on my grubbies, grab my favorite hand tools, and plop myself down on the ground. Sometimes I even put on gloves. But, in no time at all, I’m pulling them off so I can really feel the dirt.
My favorite tools are the weeding claw and hand-weeder, shown in this picture:
Here’s the method I use:
Push the weeding claw into the ground as far as it will go and pull toward you.
Many weeds will dislodge by themselves, leaving weeds with long taproots and grasses that have mats of roots.
Grab underneath the grass mats with your hand and pull up, just like a carpet.
For long taproots, push the forked end of the hand-weeder deep into the ground right next to the root and pull the top of the handle toward you. This will cause the forked end to move away from you to loosen the root. For some weeds, you can simply grab the weed in your hand, right at the base of the weed, and wiggle the root until it dislodges.
Remove as much dirt as possible from the roots by shaking, rubbing the dirt between your fingers or hands, or hitting the dirt-laden weed against the ground or your other hand.
Turn the weed upside down, exposing its roots to the sun, and put it in a pile to dry out.
I usually leave the pile of weeds there to dry.
Once the weeds are thoroughly dried out, I can spread them out as mulch.
I can hear the gasps now, as you think, "But won't that just propagate more weeds?"
The ideal time to weed is before seeds are produced. If the weed has matured and seeds have already been scattered about, then it makes no difference. The only time you need to worry about the seeds is when the weed has matured, and the seeds have matured, and the seeds have not scattered yet.
In any case, leaving the weeds (and potential seeds) above ground as mulch is at least no worse than leaving the weeds in place.
Note that I do NOT till the dried out weeds into the ground. That would just be asking for trouble. They are just lying on top of the dirt, helping to conserve moisture.
That’s it, except for my 3 rules of weeding:
1. Only weed as long as you feel like it. Whenever weeding becomes a chore, when your back starts to tense up, when you get hot and sweaty, just stop. Sometimes that’s in 15 minutes, sometimes it’s an hour or even two.
2. Only weed when the soil has the right moisture content. Weeding when the dirt is dry and hard will only bring frustration and pain. You can’t dig the dirt with a hand tool, and the dirt is like concrete grabbing the roots of the weeds. Mud is also impossible. The weeds may come out easily, but you’ll end up with giant globs of gunk that will dry to a hard concrete-like mass.
For easy weeding, you should be able to sink the weeding claw into the dirt up to where the claws turn toward the handle. When pulling the claw through the dirt, the resulting dirt should be loose. When you pick some dirt up and squeeze it, it should form a ball that can easily be broken. If you need to, water thoroughly the day before. Depending on the temperature, the moisture will be perfect the next day.
3. Don’t try to get it perfect the first time. There is nothing more discouraging than spending an entire hour weeding and only finish a spot as big as your laptop. So give yourself a break by using one of these methods:
• Target just one kind of weed (you can get the others next time).
• Pick just weeds of a certain size (there’s an optimum size. If they are too small, they are hard to grasp. If they are too large, the roots go very deep).
• Don’t agonize over getting the entire root (I know, that goes against all conventional wisdom, and it’s true that if you don’t get the entire root, it will grow back. But you can get a lot of satisfaction in getting that weed-free look, and you can get the weeds with stubborn roots one at a time later).