By: Kristina Phelan
Organic farming is much different than traditional farming. Not only are their different seeds and farming processes, but organic farming often requires farmers to think outside of the box when it comes to weed management. While other farmers spray chemicals on their fields to keep weeds at bay, organic farmers have to use other methods and techniques to keep their crops healthy.
Weeds are not a new villain in the field for farmers. They have always been around and will continue to rear their ugly heads in the future. However, the game has changed as these weeds have often changed their behavior to adapt to current farming technology. Learn more about how you can keep your organic crop weed-free this year as we all work to nature’s villain in the field.
Know the Enemy
Whenever going into battle in the field, you have to know your enemy to find their weak spot. The same rings true for weeds that creep into organic fields.
Do Your Research
Take the time to do your research and learn all that you can about the weeds that appear in your field. Keep an ongoing list of weeds and learn what they need to thrive. Use online technology, such as weed identification websites, that list common weeds in your area and climate. Knowing all about the weed itself is the first step to creating a weed-free organic field this year.
When looking to rent or buy a piece of land, knowing all about weeds can help you make a good decision. Check on the land periodically to find weeds that like to grow in the area. If you see any kind of weed that you know you don’t want to mess with, consider moving onto another piece of land that has fewer weeds or weeds that you already know well.
Learn How Weeds Spread
Some organic farmers make their weed problem worse when disking or hoeing perennial weeds that spread through rhizomes. Cutting the weeds may seem like a good idea, but you can actually help the plant spread as each piece creates a new plant. Don’t give weeds any kind of advantage by knowing how they spread.
Create a Weed Map
Just as you create a field map of where plant varieties are growing, it is essential to also add in a weed map every year. Weeds tend to grow in the same spot year after year and can be pretty predictable. Watch weed growth and learn their patterns. Are they always near the road or wet area? Do they grow in patches or are they evenly spread throughout the field? What time of the year are they worse? Plotting weeds and knowing where they spread can help save you time in the field as you rid organics of these pesky plants.
Know Crop Characteristics
To help diversify crops, and protect yourself against a bad year, many organic farmers grow a few specialty crops like black beans and peas. Using each crop’s characteristics to your advantage can help keep weeds out of the field.
Plant Crops with Similar Management
Taking out weeds when they are young and fragile is the best time to rid your organic field of these energy-sucking plants. Consider planting crops nearby each other that have the same kind of weed management requirements.
Grouping plants together that have the same row spacing can help when using mechanical forms of cultivation. Planting these crops nearby saves time in the field as you won’t need to adjust the machine to run a pass over for weeds. There is no need for adjustment since the rows are all the same spacing.
All in the Same Family
Growing groups of organics in the same family also helps cut down on weed management. It is easy to run a hoe down a line of cabbage thanks to the plant being so self-contained. Planting broccoli or cauliflower nearby can help you continue into those areas and makes weeding easier due to the common characteristics of the plant family.
Know the Right Crop Rotation Plan
Farmers are great at looking forward to the future. Crop rotation is a normal part of farming that can greatly benefit the soil profile of a field as well as the plants themselves. The rotation of crops is a naturally effective way to control weeds.
Rotate Depending on Weed Reduction
Planting slow-growing organic crops after quick growing crops can help reduce weed growth. Faster growing crops can quickly snuff out weeds before they even get a chance to blossom. Planting slow growth crops afterward primes the ground and gives slower crops the advantage to grow weed-free.
The same is true for those fields that are weedy this year. Make sure to plant those crops that have fewer weed issues in a field that is particularly weed prone. Switching back and forth between the two types of organics will help tame weeds overall.
Rotate Due to Differences
Moving crops around helps replenish the soil profile of a field. It also keeps weeds guessing as to what kind of crop will sprout up this year. Just as plants like to grow in certain areas, so do weeds. Planting a field with a diversely different crop than the previous year can naturally reduce weeds.
Rotate with Fallow
For those fields that are especially weedy this year, consider rotating crops so that you can leave the field fallow. Tilling a bare field can help bring up the annual weeds and encourage them to sprout. Follow up the tilling with another shallow pass that will uproot the weeds and cause them to dry out and die. Prone areas may need a few passes to get all of the weed seeds out of the ground.
Rotate with a Cover Crop
There are many advantages to using a cover crop while organic farming. Cover crops help strengthen the soil profile and help keep topsoil in place. Cover crops also grow in a way that doesn’t allow weeds the opportunity to root. Adding a rotation of different cover crops to the fields can do wonders in terms of managing weeds.
Know How to Time It Right
The best weed management is all about timing. Forgetting to get to a field even a few days later than expected can mean disaster for an organic field.
Cultivate Young Weeds
While you may want to go out and pick every tiny weed the minute they appear, it is best to wait until weeds grow large enough to make the job easier. Many mechanical cultivators, and even handheld tools, may not do the job well enough on small weeds. Waiting until the weeds are large enough to easily remove is helpful when keeping an organic field healthy.
Remove Before Going to Seed
This may seem like a no-brainer to many, but waiting to remove a weed until after it has gone to seed is like shooting yourself in the foot. A single mature weed can release thousands upon thousands of seeds into your field. Any mature weed near seed must be pulled no matter how you do it.
Know That Simple Things Work
In our current farming world, technology continues to advance and we are often left with looking towards the next biggest thing in weed management. However, sometimes the tried and true items of yesteryear are the best for organic farming.
Tarping a Field
Although applying a tarp or black plastic to an entire field can be cumbersome, it is a proven method that helps organic crops fight weeds. Covering the ground to reduce the number of weed seeds in the soil, as well as any seeds hoping to land in the field, is a proven technique for organic farming.
All plants, even weeds, need sunlight to germinate. Covering the rows of your organic field with straw is a natural way to discourage weeds. With plenty of nearby ditches and fields to mow, straw is an easy commodity to source for a field. However, straw can easily carry unwanted weed seeds to your field. It is best to find or grow straw yourself where you can ensure that the straw is clean and won’t introduce new weeds to the field.
Fighting weeds on an organic farm can seem like a never-ending battle. However, there are natural ways to minimize the number of weeds that grow in the field. Understanding the weeds that always pop up in your field is key to starting any kind of weed management plant. Planting similar crops together and rotating crops greatly helps diminish the chance for weeds to take hold. Timing your weed management right and using proven techniques of past generations also can help rid your organic farm of weeds.
Ridding your farm of unwanted weeds helps grow your crops as well as your business. For more information about how IGSE can help grow your organic farm, contact us today!