Our veggies are finally taking off with the wet, then hot, weather we’ve been having. So have the weeds. Generally, I take the attitude of ‘do your best with weeds early, then let the crops fend for themselves.’ No more! I have vowed to get them early and often, and may employ some cover crops to help eliminate the problem as much as possible.
We can easily get caught up defining our practices by what we don’t do. When we are dealing with weeds, we don’t use herbicides. That leaves a question, what DO we do about weeds? Since this is our major weed battling season, I feel like it’s a good time to tell you what we do, rather than what we don’t! So, what are the favorite weed control methods, here at Square Peg?
Of course there are different methods that depend on what weeds you are battling and what size they are. For the teeny-tiny weed seedlings that crop up between plants or in walkways, our favorite tool is the stirrup hoe. It’s also called an action hoe or oscillating hoe. It’s great because you can make two strokes as you move the hoe in the soil, back and forth, rather than just back (toward your body) as with a traditional hoe.
Another great method for tiny to medium-sized weeds is the flame weeder, also called a weed burner. It’s really just an attachment on a propane tank that allows you to direct a flame where you need it. Larger farms use models that can be pulled behind a tractor or 4 wheeler. We aren’t there just yet.
The flame weeder is great for large swaths of weeds and areas that have been seeded, where your crop hasn’t emerged yet, but the weeds have. I used it on some beds seeded to onions and carrots which take a long time to sprout.
After just a few moments of flame weeding, the difference is drastic.
For really large areas of weeds, small to medium in size, the tiller is a nice option, as well. We try to use the tiller only when it really makes more sense than flaming or hand hoeing. Using the tiller can bring just as many weed seeds to the surface to germinate as weeds that it tills under. Side-note: pigweed seeds can stay viable in the soil for 10 years OR MORE!
Tillage also brings more of the soil into contact with oxygen, allowing soil organic matter to decompose faster. We want as much organic matter in the soil as possible. Organic matter absorbs moisture allowing crops to access it during dry periods. It also feeds the micro-organisms that are abundant in a healthy soil, among other things.
Tilling is still a good option, because it buys some time for the crop to get established and shade out any weeds.
For larger weeds, weeds growing close to desirable plants, and those with taproots, like dandelion or thistle, pulling them by hand is the only good option. For those with a tap root, a dandelion puller is a necessary tool. Be sure to have some good gloves for this job, to avoid blisters and, ya know, thistle prickles.
If you get really desperate and the weeds get really large and out of control, you just might have to resort to mowing them down. Or using the weed eater. Yes, I’m serious. Yes, we have experience with this. Probably too much experience. When you are pregnant and dog-tired one year, and have a new baby to care for the next year, weeds take a back seat. THAT is why we are getting serious about them from here on out.
What is your favorite method to beat the weeds?