Friday, May 29, 2009

Not more about weeding, please...

I’m going to mention one more thing about weed control that was discussed at the CRAFT on Wednesday. You should probably get used to here me talking about weeding, because we do a lot of it, and it is central to running a good farm. When you really distill the essence of this enterprise, it comes down to just a few basic principles, each a world unto itself. There is planting, putting the plants you want into the soil, and weeding, which is getting rid of the ones you don’t. There is land and soil management, which comes down to keeping things fertile. Those, to my mind, are the biggest basic areas of operation in farming, but going on there are other things like harvesting, marketing, grounds and tool maintenance and personnel management.

Anyway, back to weeding. When we talk of weed control, we are not just talking about physically removing or killing the weeds that are growing in our crops. In a pristine, beautiful, freshly plowed field without a green thing in sight, there are often millions upon millions of little weed seeds lying there in the soil, just waiting for the right moment to germinate (in Spring, that would be NOW). So weed control has many different dimensions. In the shortest term, the farmer wants to remove the weed from the crop so that it doesn’t crowd out the desirable plants. Also, the farmer should remove it before it goes to seed and broadcasts more seeds into the land. Taking a slightly longer perspective, the farmer may want to organize his planting schedule so that the weed problem is minimized, such as starting a plant in the greenhouse so that when it is planted in its bed it has a head start on any weeds, and in an ideal situation may even shade out the weeds.

Taking the long view, a good farmer will want to take the time and manage his land so that he can eventually remove most of the bank of weed seeds existing in the soil, and thus save immense amounts of time and effort in the future, even if it takes some extra thought and energy right now. One interesting concept I heard about at the CRAFT that seems logical and effective addressing both long and short-term weed problems is the stale bed. In essence, the farmer plows, discs and prepares the bed for planting. Then, he waits a period of time, a couple-few days, maybe. Soon enough, he’ll see uncountable little green propeller blades in the soil, just half a centimeter tall, maybe, attached to a short, slender white thread of root. Now, before planting, he runs over the bed with a cultivator, either by hand with a hoe or a tractor, or something, turning up the weeds into the air and the sun where they will hopefully die (on a wet, cloudy, day the weeds will often just re-root, so this is best done when the soil is a bit dry and the sun is shining). NOW, the bed is ready for planting. If you made an effort to do this to all your beds, repeatedly, and also removed the weeds that got by this effort (many will, count on it) before they got to the seed stage, you would in theory keep reducing the seed bank in the soil and weed control would get easier over time.

We do a kind of stale bed process at Appleton, usually by waiting a bit of time between the basic plowing and the final bed preparation, which we often do with a tractor tool called the Perfecta.

Anyway, I think it’s interesting. I also think that weeds themselves are kind of interesting, and often quite attractive (and even tasty and nutritious) plants, but of course I am happy to get rid of them to make way for even tastier things like carrots, beets and radishes, to say nothing of tomatoes, corn and watermelons.

Peace and love to all.

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