The perfect vegetable garden is also the perfect place for weeds to grow. Weeds are a problem because they compete with your plants for nutrients, water, light and air. They can also harbor pests and diseases which will later transfer to plants, causing other problems. The simplest definition of a weed is ‘a plant which is growing in a undesired location’, so if you’re growing a raised bed with salad crops and a nearby flower border has seeded poppies for example, then these growing in your raised bed will be classed as weeds. The best approach for dealing with any weeds is to keep on top of their removal throughout the growing season.It is much easier for you, and better for your plants, as removing weeds once they are established can disturb plant roots, and the adage ‘One year’s seeding mean 7 years’ weeding’ highlights that the seeds from weeds can remain in the soil for many years For vegetable growers, there are some common weed culprits and they are grouped into 2 main categories. Knowing which category a weed is part of helps you to choose the most effective way of treating it. Annual weeds, such as chickweed, grow, flower, seed and die in one year. They germinate earlier and more quickly than vegetable crops, which is why they’re so quick to appear in the spring. Once the weed has flowered and produced seed, the seed remains in the soil until the next growing season when the process repeats, so it’s important not to let these weeds produce seeds. Annual weeds are best dealt with while they still young. A sharp hoeing in dry weather will dislodge them, and they can be left on the surface of the soil where they will soon shrivel.They are more difficult remove once they’re established, especially if your vegetables are still small. Here you can carefully pull them out by hand, or use a small weeding tool or even scissors around the most delicate of crops. Check over your plot regularly, inspecting under growing crops and in those harder-to-reach places and pull by hand or hoe any weeds. You can add annual weeds to your compost heap as long as they haven’t set seed. You can also mulch between your plants when they’re more established, which will smother annual weeds and will improve the structure of your soil over time. Use a quality source of well-rotted manure, bark chippings, dried grass clippings, or compost. Perennial weeds such as dandelion, creeping buttercup, couch grass, nettles, ground elder and bindweed, also grow, flower and seed in one year, but they don’t die.They build up reserves throughout the growing season so they can survive the winter and burst back into life next year. They are more difficult to remove, as often they have root systems which creep and spread. Perennial weeds are best dealt with before you plant your crops. If your plot is very weedy, for example with a new plot, cut down the top growth and cover with black plastic or sheets of cardboard to exclude light, overlapping the materials so weeds don’t grow through, and securing it firmly.Leave this in place for at least one growing season. In an established plot you can dig out perennial weeds with a fork, ensuring all of the root is removed, because for weeds such as bindweed and couch grass, even the tiniest bit left in the soil will grow back into a whole new plant. For others such as nettles, docks and brambles, as long as the main root is severed the plant will likely die.Whether a single weed or small clumps, you can remove these using a hand fork or other tool designed for removing weeds. It’s best to do this as soon as they appear, before they produce leaves as the plant will use up the energy stored in its roots, and eventually die. Never put the roots or seed heads of perennial weeds onto the compost heap, as there is a risk that when you use the compost you’ll spread the weeds and roots all over your plot, undoing all of your hard work. Most people growing plants for food will prefer not to use chemicals to treat weeds, and by removing them regularly and using these organic principles, you won’t have to, because the weeds won’t get a chance to take hold.