Last night I went to an educational/social meeting for farmers. We walked through 15 acres of vegetables and spent two hours discussing weed control. Did you know there is so much to learn about weeds? Next time you talk to your local farmer, ask how the weeding is going. This farm has 6 crew members for 15 acres and they try to weed all 15 acres at least once a week. That’s a lot of weeding! Weeds thrive on moisture, so the recent rains, while good for crops, also help weeds germinate.
There are a few common strategies for controlling weeds. Read on to improve your understanding of agriculture and pick up some new farm lingo to throw around with your farmer.
Herbicide – Let’s get this one out of the way – few organic farmers use herbicides, sprays that kill plants. Think RoundUp. Most are too general – they kill good stuff, too, or they have negative impacts on beneficial insects & soil bacteria.
Plastic mulch – if you drive past a field and see long rows of black plastic, this is plastic mulch. It serves two functions – it warms the soil and suppresses weeds. Very effective, but a pain in the *** to pick up at the end of the season and there is no way to recycle it, so it goes in the landfill. But, it eliminates the need for chemical weed control. It is a trade off. It also requires a tractor and expensive piece of machinery to get it laid correctly.
Cultivating – this practice and the tools to make it easier are as old as agriculture. Tools include the common hoe and a hundred variations. Last night we saw a $20,000 piece of equipment that goes on the tractor designed to cultivate. There are several cultivators that can attach to the tractor and when those don’t work, you can use hand held hoes, stirrup hoes, wheel hoes, glaser hoes (whatever style you fancy for your crop & soil type.) And when all else fails, you hand weed. Yep, sometimes it’s the only way to take care of weeds in a crop such as carrots.
This time of year weed control takes up most of a farmer’s energy. One trick is to get ahead of the weeds – if you remove them before they go to seed, then you have fewer to deal with at the next rain. And then, over several years, fields have fewer and fewer weeds if you’ve kept up with your weeding. This principal can also be applied to the home garden.
So this week, give your farmer a sympathetic ear if he or she starts talking about weeds. Even better, offer to spend a day hand weeding the carrots!