Q. At some point, at least with some crops – vines not growing vertically come immediately to mind – you have to stop weeding, because your close-planted plants are going to take over the pathways. Winter squash and pumpkins especially will overgrow an entire planting area. And while you may be able to pull the occasional weed as it rears its ugly head up out of the vines before the seeds form, you ain’t never going to get them all, at least in my experience – and I have been planting these guys two plants to a hill 4 feet apart in a row with rows 6 feet apart for years – which is a lot spacier than a single plant 14″ apart in the row, with 3.5′ between rows………..??? Am I correct in assuming you just let ’em go?
A. We get almost all weeds when they first emerge, with a rake and two-way hoe. And we do it two or three times if necessary, so the beds are clean. After this, because the plants are close together, they shade the ground completely, and even hardy weeds can’t grow in complete shade. Therefore, later in the season when plants are large, weeds are not a problem.
The aisles may also need weeding, but if they are treated the same as the beds, with weeds eliminated as soon as they emerge, very quickly the aisles will be clear also. And since no water (or food!) is applied to the aisles the weeds will grow slowly, if at all.
On the other hand, traditional gardening methods plant farther apart as described in the question, thus leaving ample sunlight for weeds to prosper. And the problem is made much worse if watering is done by sprinkling or flooding! Both methods water the aisles, and flood irrigating most often also deposits new weed seeds everywhere, to grow in the newly watered soil.
In response to the spacing of plants such as winter squash and pumpkins, we plant them between 14″ and 21″ apart on one side of a bed, and we leave the adjacent bed vacant, so the plants have 10′ to run. This gives similar spacing to traditional methods, but greatly minimizes weeding, watering, and feeding.