Seeds and Weeds

So you’ve planted a climate appropriate crop on an appropriate planting date and at an appropriate spacing; now you you get to sit back and wait for the plants to bolt and yield piles of seed like there is no tomorrow … don’t you??? Just like growing vegetables, growing seed means weeding weeding weeding. In fact, seed crops tolerate weeds even less than vegetables.

With that in mind, today we’re going to have a little weeding primer, but first

WHY WEED?

  • Weeds compete in space for nutrients, water, and sun. This competition can stunt seed crops and reduce yield.
  • Weeds that are still green can trap moisture in a seed crop. They slow down the crop drying and create conditions for fungal and bacterial disease.
  • Weed seeds can be the same shape/density as your vegetable seed. If you accidentally mix weed seed into you seed crop as you harvest, it can be a nightmare to seperate them with simple seed cleaning tools.

A WEEDING PRIMER

Good weed control starts with a well prepared seed bed. It is not a good idea to plant/seed into soil where the competition has already germinated and will easily outpace your crop. Take the time to roto-till/disk/cultivate your bed before you plant.

Better yet, make a stale seedbed. This is a preventive strike against the weeds. Prepare your seedbed a few weeks before planting. Every week or so, cultivate with a garden rake or tractor tine weeder to disturb weeds that have germinated. This reduces the amount of weed seeds in the soil surface that could germinate during the season.

Start with a well prepped seedbed

Seven to ten days after you plant your crop, hit the ground and start weeding. You might not be able to see the weeds, but they are there. Run your fingers through the soil and you’ll see a multitude of thin white roots getting ready to colonize your garden. This is the easiest time to intervene – a little nudge and the weedlings are pulled to the soil surface to dry.

Every 7-10 days, weed your whole garden. With this schedule you should hit most weeds shortly after they’ve germinated. Weeding at the white root stage is a job for hand tools (hoes and wheel hoes) or tractor implements rather than hands and knees.

Around your third weeding pass, you’ll start to see the weeds that have managed to establish themselves. With good weeding discipline, technique and weather conditions, there shouldn’t be too many big weeds. If that’s the case in a short season vegetable like lettuce or radishes, no more need to weed that crop.

However, if many weeds have escaped your regular weeding, or in  longer season vegetables and just about all seed crops, you probably need to intervene. Densely seeded crops (carrots, beets, some flowers …) might require getting on your hands and knees to handweed any weeds in the row. But for most crops, walking the row and pulling the occasional weed should do it.


Not too soon to start weeding

As the crop canopy closes so do your weeding possibilities. If you were on top of things up to now, very  few weeds should be left to germinate. You can shift to only pulling weeds peeking through the canopy and ignoring any small weeds lingering beneath the leaves. Now, you can start waiting for your crop to dry down and think about that seed harvest!

As the canopy closes, weeding switches to pulling big or flowering weeds.

A NOTE ON WHOLE FARM SYSTEMS

Of course, weeding always gets tricky when the weather won’t cooperate. It can be hard to keep a regular weeding schedule during a soaking wet summer. This is where you benefit from a history of good farm practices.  Crop rotation to flush out weeds from the soil seed bank and preventing weeds going to seed will reduce the number of weeds on your farm over time.

Anne and Eric Nordell of Beech Grove farm have written extensively in the Small Farmer’s Journal about their crop rotation system and how it has virtually eliminated weeds on their farm. Acres USA has reprinted an article that describes their system: http://www.acresusa.com/toolbox/reprints/June09_Nordells.pdf

Lettuce and spinach intecropped with ryeat the Anne and Eric Nordell's farm. Left and right of the vegetable block are cover crops.

So, to sum up today’s story:

  • weed early
  • weed often
  • weed with appropriate tools
  • and I’ll add: weed quickly

See you soon with a couple more fun seedy activities to bring that seed crop to maturity …

4 responses to “Seeds and Weeds

  1. Very well written Dan! You explained the “false seed bed” technique very well, although you did not call it that. It’s unfortunate that more people don’t know about the weed cycle that you describe how to break. In my garden I use this wheel hoe to quickly do the very shallow (and correctly timed) weedings you described.

  2. Pingback: Highlights from the first 6 months of Going to Seed « Going to Seed

  3. Pingback: Brassica Seed Harvest – Mizuna Time! « Going to Seed

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