Given that this time of year is a critical period in terms of weed management, I would love to dive into the subject together.
As humans, are we blessed and cursed with a super-computer brain. Give it a problem and it will find a solution. Give it a question, it will find an answer. If you think that organic farming just means that you have a lot of weeds, that there’s no way to win against the weeds…. then this is the question for which you are finding an answer. As in ‘How do I make this farm work despite the crazy weeds?’
So, the first step is the rearrange the way we think of weed in order to shift the outcomes that we come to expect. It is possible to have weed free vegetable fields! It is possible to manage weeds systematically on your farm in such a way that they are not an issue. It is possible to manage the weeds using very little hand weeding.
Jonathan’s 5 pillars of systematic weed management:
- Reduce the biological necessity of weeds by systematically using green manures in your cropping systems and having a balanced fertility regiment.
- Weeds are nature’s way to protecting and healing the soil. Make sure you are using green manures! (Humm..sounds like a good subject for a future blog post!)
- Eliminate the introduction of weed seed into your soil.
- Never let weeds go to seed… in a well weeded field it’s quick to just go through and pull the couple of weeds that were missed.
- Always use weed free, properly composted compost that has heated sufficiently to kill the weed seeds.
- Always use weed free inputs (straw mulch, vegetable and cover crop seed, etc)
- Kill the weeds when they are most vulnerable using scale appropriate equipment.
- The time to cultivate is when the weeds are at the white thread or cotyledon stage. At this stage they are easy to destroy using shallow cultivation.
- Scale appropriate equipment = Hoes, wheel hoes, cultivating tractors, tine weeders (tractor mounted and handheld), flame weeders, hilling discs (tractor and wheel hoe mounted), Finger weeders, Basket weeders, plastic and straw mulch) … just to name the main ones.
- Remember that there are 3 ways to kill weeds: Pull it out, cut it off from it’s root, or bury it! Many crops can be hilled which is a great way of getting the weed growing on the row
- Plant your crops into weed free beds!
- Stale seedbed: Prepare the beds far in advance and reduce the number of viable seeds in the top inch of soil by using shallow tillage to destroy emerging weeds when they are no larger that’s the cotyledon stage (approx. every 10 days.)
- Always eradicate perennial weeds prior to planting your crops
- Weed next year’s crop this year.
- Set aside a certain % of your fields to reduce the weed pressure for the following year (ideally for all your crops, but especially for the crops that are the hardest to weed.)
- After doing your deep tillage, mark out the beds and stale seedbed them (see above) during the time of year that you anticipate next years crop to be in the establishment phase (may/june for early crops, june/july for late crops)
- From this point on, do not till the soil deeply before your next crop so as to not bring up more weed seeds from deeper down. Ideally you can establish a green manure after the fallow period but make sure you are equipped to handle the residue without tilling too deep.
- Alternately this can be accomplished very effectively using silage tarps to occultate the beds on a bio-intensive production scale.
‘Weed the Soil, Not the Crop!’ (Eric and Anne Nordell, Trout Run Farm).. what a great read!
Ok! To sum up this somewhat long winded discussion of weeds, here are the take always for this time of year:
Ok! To sum up this somewhat long winded discussion of weeds, here are the take always for this time of year
- What are your beliefs regarding weeds? Write them all down on a scrap of paper… the good, the bad and the ugly! Take a good square look at these beliefs. Are they useful to you? If so, great, keep them. If not.. get rid of them! How can you re-frame the weeds question in a way that you would LOVE you super-computer brain to be working on solving
- Are you preparing next year’s fields right now? Now is the time to make sure that your are reducing the weed pressure in the beds where the most sensitive crops will be planted next year. I know this is easy to overlook at this time of year, but part of being a successful farmer is to be able to juggle both urgent and important but not urgent tasks simultaneously.
- Keep up the weeding! Within a couple of weeks the weeds will be slowing down thankfully… but now is not the time to slow down. If necessary, consider hiring temporary labor or calling a weeding party in order to stay on top of the weeds.
Go make a ruckus!!