Weeding Jujutsu

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK  

Perennial weeds come in all shapes and sizes. Some are more controllable than others. In sub-segment size areas under 500 sq. ft. you can take try the Terminator approach to eradicate them completely to keep the plot in production.

Larger areas take more finesse because it is harder to know what you are dealing with. For instance, I’ve worked plots for years without any sign of weeds, and then one season they just start showing up. Many SPIN farmers are presented with offers for larger size  plots, in the 1/4 to half-acre range, that are too good to refuse. They clean them up so they look like a field of dreams and then bindweed starts sprouting everywhere. In these situations eradication will take time and effort you don’t have, and it might not even be possible.

Instead, fight one aggressive plant with another. If you put in widely spaced crops that grow relatively quickly, such as winter squash, they can duke it out with the weed once they start vining out. In essence they are acting as a weed suppressant in their own right.

SF photo fb weed jujutsu squash

Potatoes are also a good option, since once you hill them, you can easily aggressively weed around them. Green beans and broad beans are other options and are ones I will be using this year in a perennial grass problem area.

SF photo fb weed jujutsu

So when it comes to weeds know there is another approach besides hasta la vista. Instead use appropriate crop selection and technique to win your battle with weeds.

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Speed Weeding

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

Just did a first weeding at my peri-urban onion plot. Weeding seems to be a big challenge for farmers, but on SPIN-scale farms it is easily managed. I use a Gardena draw hoe which allows you to weed standing up.

SF photo weeding hoe

I’ve had it for at least 10 years. It’s light, easy to use and versatile. Good for walkway and in-bed weeding. This segment (1,000 square feet) took about a half hour. Because of SPIN’s standard size bed, all parts are within easy reach.

SPIN photo Wally weeding inrow

Here it is is in action in a small urban plot. The trick is to get weeds at the micro stage, before they look like much. Just a light pull between the rows takes care of the first weed flush, and it helps if conditions are dry. You don’t have to eradicate weeds. You just need to control them enough so they don’t interfere with your crops.SPIN uses four weeding strategies, corresponding to each of the different areas of the farm. Use the right tool for each one, and you might even start looking forward to taking some weeds for a spin.

Have a look at some other SPIN production techniques here.

 

 

Quick easy money: Potting up volunteer plants

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

In early spring when your cash flow is still not developed,  your sales can get a boost from a source many growers overlook or toss out: volunteer plants from around your property. Typical plants that do well in pots are catmint, chives, horseradish, mint, rhubarb,  sunflowers and  violets, but you can try just about anything. So instead of weeding them out out, look at them as an early season cash crop.

Once potted up these plants  can be sold within a couple of weeks, after they have established themselves in the container. Typical price points for containers can be SPIN’s usual mix and match pricing scheme of  $3.00 per container, or  2 for $5.00, or even $5.00 or $10.00 each. I know for a fact people will pay $10 for potted up rhubarb. Mint is a big seller of mine, too. Containers can be the typical clay pot or  recycled deli containers.

Money does not grow on trees, but sometimes  it can be found under your feet.

SF photo easy money 1

Volunteers around the garden can be potted up. Basically, just about anything works. This is catnip.

SF photo easy money 2

Here is catnip on its way to market. Mint and rhubarb are easy sells, too.

Dealing witn Weed Pressures

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK

I have to deal with weed pressure with some of my crops, but I find simplest is best. With squash, I find weekly hoeings or tillings between squash plants, once they are showing, keeps the weeds at bay until plants develop. At a certain point the leaves of the plant are pretty good at suppressing weed growth. I am also finding a certain amount of weeds are okay, as squash plants use them to anchor and support the vines as they spread out.

I know some people use intercropping for weed control and pest management, but I’ve found that is more trouble than it is worth, and it can actually cause different problems. Again, simplest is usually best. I’m expecting a great crop of heirloom squash and pumpkin this year, even in zone 3. Here’s what my squash crop looks like now.

SPIN photo squash plot

SPIN photo squash plot 2

Clover for Pathways, Broadfork for No-till

Courtesy of Courtney T., Cornercopia Student Organic Farm, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN

One of the systems I’ve set up on our farm is to have semi- permanent beds with white Dutch clover pathways between the beds. The beds are 2.5′ wide and the pathways are 2.5′ wide. The way we set them up is to till the whole area once. Then using bamboo poles we lay out the corners of the beds and pathways (we use 20′ beds so they are 50 sq. ft., but any size would work), then we plant the beds with crops.

About 2 weeks later we come through and stirrup hoe the pathways and spread clover seed. This knocks out the first and second rounds of weed seeds in the pathways. As the clover establishes you can walk on it, mow it any time the weeds get taller than it. And man does it look pretty after its been mowed. I realize that 2.5′ pathways are way wider than the standard SPIN bed, but we are a farm with lots of volunteers and tours, and it makes it easy to know where to walk.

In between crops throughout the season we can easily broad fork the beds – no tilling needed. In the second season at the beginning of the season you can often also just broad fork beds. During the second season the clover did get very tall in the spring, but it was easy to mow. We also had to use a hoe to pull the clover out of the beds and back into the pathways and then mowed it and it fell back into place. Word of warning with last fall’s drought and early cold winter a lot of my clover pathways died out in MN. Easy solution – restart the system. All those roots tilled into the soil – free fertilizer-flip the beds and pathways. My interns and volunteers love out broad fork – they fight over who gets to use it.

Flame Weeding Works Well

Courtesy of James W, Kelowna BC
Flaming is an excellent weeding tool, particularly if one is using the stale bed method prior to seeding. We spent $60 on a tiger torch for a propane tank. Small, reasonable portable and very effective. It has worked very well for our farm.