In the Weeds

It has been dry.  We were finally relieved with some pleasant rain showers yesterday afternoon.  Besides the obvious need to water the pants, I am excited because the rain will soften the soil slightly, so I can get out on them with the tractor to cultivate.  I have to be vigilant about when soil conditions are optimal to do so, too dry and the soil will turn to powder and blow away.  Too wet, and the weight of the tractor will compact and deteriorate the soil.

When growing organically, weed control  is a challenge.  I rely largely in mechanical cultivation, dragging blades through the soil to disturb weed seedlings.

Tractor with cultivator set up to weed around two rows

Tractor with cultivator set up to weed around two rows

With this method, timing is essential.  Weeds are opportunistic and vigorous growers.  The younger the weed seedling, the better your chances of actually killing it. Especially if it you have dry weather for a couple days after.  This is true, too in the home garden:  Rustling about with the hoe while the seedlings are just sprouts can save you much work later on.

If the weather is wet for a spell and I cannot get out in to the fields, however, the weeds can quickly grow to the point of shrugging off the cultivator, at least the type I use.  There are other designs for different situations out there.  I have had to at times resort to using a weed whacker or lawn mover if the weeds get too far ahead.

The limitation of the cultivator is that while it eliminates weeds between the rows, the seeds hiding in the row with the crop are untouched.  These must be removed with hand tools or by pulling.

results of tool-bar cultivator with Danish (S) tines

results of tool-bar cultivator with Danish (S) tines

When removing larger weeds by hand, do your best to pull the roots out as well, or they will just re-sprout, often with more branches.  Be sure to completely remove them from the garden.  Tossed into a pile in the corner of the garden or leaving them lie where they were pulled is unwise, for they will easily re-root and resume growing, usually going immediately to seed from the stress.

Regardless of how else your gardening season goes, the best long-term strategy for dealing with weeds is to make it a point to stop all the weeds from going to seed, thus preventing more weed seeds from being added to your soil. Flowers produce seeds eventually, so when weeds flower, get them out of there!

Weeds getting ready to make seeds. Center, ;eft to right: ragweed, grass, campion (white flower), pigweed)

Weeds getting ready to make seeds. Center, left to right: ragweed, grass, campion (white flower), pigweed

You can reduce the current seed load by putting some of your growing space into what’s called a fallow.  This means not growing a crop on the space, but letting the weeds sprout, cultivating them to eliminate, letting another batch sprout, and repeating the process a few times over the course of abut 6 weeks or so to sort of ‘clean out’ your soil.

A rain shower following dry weather is a great time to pull weeds by hand.  Dry weeds have a weaker grip on the soil, and adding moisture allows the roots to easily slip from the dirt. You can achieve the same effect by watering the garden then immediately pulling the weeds.  This is only a grace period, however:  Within hours, those weed roots will drink up the water and attain an iron-like grip. Again, timing is everything:  After yesterday’s rain shower, I pretty much dropped everything and ran out to pull some ragweed that had gotten quite high in the cabbage patch, knowing if I waited until morning it would be rooted in too tight to pull.  Ever.

Chinese cabbage flanked by ragweed

Chinese cabbage flanked by ragweed


Yellow dock

Yellow dock


Docks are another weed with a firm grip that pretty much shrugs off the cultivator.  Burdock is best hoed out as a seedling, and yellow dock is advantageous to pull after a rain.




Get to know the seeds growing in your area and their growth habits, and you can get a fairly good leg up on them with vigilance and persistence.  I don’t ever expect to eliminate every weed from my fields, for a few around are beneficial for biodiversity, water retention, and insect habitat, but I do keep in mind that ever tiny weed left behind has the potential to become a 4’x4’x4′ shrub by season’s end.  So I do my best, knowing that somehow, a few weeds always get left behind.


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. D Joann Birmingham
    Jul 23, 2013 @ 12:41:15

    And occasionally, you have to dig the weed root out with a spade because, it got away from you and not amount of pulling, tugging or just plain rage at it will get it out of the ground! I remember those days well!


  2. D Joann Birmingham
    Jul 23, 2013 @ 12:42:12

    Good talk today ‘Chelle, very informative.


  3. simplyscrumptiousbysarah
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 21:55:23

    Niechelle, this is very interesting!!! I only have a patio garden, so I am very lucky with hardly getting any weeds! 🙂


  4. sunhfarm
    Jun 10, 2014 @ 08:08:57

    Reblogged this on Sunny Hill Farm Blog and commented:

    Reposting since it’s that time again. First round of planting just done, and we are having a few days of really good rain: Not too much at once, and often during the night. The transplants are getting rooted in and seeds will be sprouting with the up-coming Full Moon. Now the watch-and-wait game begins: As soon as the soil dries enough I must get on there with the cultivator to keep ahead of the weeds! Great weed-control info in this post.


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