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Archive | Farm Management

Flame Weeding: Turn up the Heat to Fight Weeds

Flame weeding (also referred to as flaming) has been an apt option for or­ganically ridding row crops and fields of uninvited weeds while also replenishing the soil with nutrients from the result­ing carbon. Wedding the proficiency of flame with the compressed liquid power of propane has served many farmers and food producers well over the past cen­tury. According to the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticide, the first agricultural flame weeder was patented in 1852.

Flaming with propane attacks weeds with no repercussions on crops or fields.

Flame weeding is done by generat­ing intense heat through a chosen de­vice — whether it is a handheld torch or tractor-mounted — that sears the leaves of the weeds, which causes the cell sap to expand, thusly damaging the cell walls. “You’re watching for the color change, depending on the weed and its maturity,” said Charles House of Earth & Sky Solutions. Leaves wilt and dehydrate the plant, leaving the invaders no other option than to die, sometimes up to three days later.

“The key to successful flame weeding is the maturity of the plant you’re trying to eradicate. The smaller, the better,” he explains. The best time is when they’re immature and in the cotyledon stage.

Flame Weeding Background

Flaming gained popularity in the first third of the 20th century and continued through the 1960s until pesticides re­placed industry attentions. Though its use waned over the following 20 years, flame weeding resurfaced and regained popularity in the early 1990s, and con­tinues to be used today. So continues flame weeding’s renaissance. Continue Reading →

Bats for Natural Pest Control

Bats have a bad reputation. In reality, bats can be a farmer’s best friend by providing free and effective pest control services over farm fields and orchards.

A Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida rasiliensis) eating a moth. Courtesy Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat
Conservation International, www.batcon.org.

Most bat species in the United States are generalist insect predators, which means they will consume most medium-sized flying insects. Determining exactly what insects bats eat is often difficult, since bats feed in the sky at night. Until recently, scientists studied the diet of bats by dissecting fecal pellets under a microscope and identifying insect fragments, such as pieces of exoskeletons or legs, that survived the digestive tract of the bat.

With the exception of hard-shelled insects, including some stinkbugs and beetles, this rarely allowed for identification of insects to species level. Scientists could confirm that bats ate moths but could not confirm that bats were consuming specific pests of economic interest.

Modern techniques in the field of genetics now allow scientists to recover DNA from fecal samples and identify the insect remains found in bat feces by sequencing the insects’ DNA. Using these modern techniques, bat researchers across the country have identified to species level almost 200 insects that are consumed by bats, and many of these insects cause substantial economic loss.

Most of the insects consumed in the United States are beetles and moths. While it is generally the larval form of moths that damage crops, bats are benefiting the crops by consuming the adult flying forms, therefore preventing the insects from further reproducing.

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Organic Weed Control: Cultural and Mechanical Methods

Organic weed control methods are often debated and dismissed by large chemical sprayers. But organic weed control methods do work, and work better for your field’s health.

Organic weed control

Weeds happen. Knowing how to work with them can save you a lot of time and effort.

Weeds happen. That is a fact of life for organic farmers, and therefore many of our field operations are designed to make sure that the health and quality of our crops are not jeopardized by the inevitable weed pressure.

Planning an effective weed-control program involves many different aspects of organic crop production. As farmers begin to explore organic possibilities, the first two questions invariably seem to be: “What materials do I buy for soil fertility?” and “What machinery do I buy to control weeds?” We asked these questions when we started organic farming, but we rapidly realized that this is not the best way to understand successful organic farm management.

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Chicken Breed Selection

Chicken breed selection can be a confusing prospect for the modern small farm laying flock. Sex-link birds will give you a great many light brown-shelled eggs of fair size right now, but they won’t build a sustainable and enduring flock.

Locate the purest possible sources of a breed’s genetics. The longer a particular flock’s history is, the better.

Small producers often need to do a better job of presenting their eggs for sale. Even if a flock is made up of all heirloom breeds, a badly mixed-up flock will not produce uniform eggs for sale, produce predictable replacements or foster a positive image. A friend says such flocks look like “grandma’s chicken yard.”

An egg is an egg once the shell is removed and no one will prosper by fostering and spreading old wives’ tales and misinformation. The white-shelled egg deserves the small-scale producer’s consideration every bit as much as the brown-shelled variety.

A good laying flock with a purebred basis is a long-term pursuit. Don’t take up heirloom birds on a whim and then neglect or let them go after a season or two. Such birds seldom make it to another set of caring hands with any sort  of commitment to their preservation as  a breed.

Heirloom breed producers can and should function in a number of different roles. Yet, even with a single focus, be it meat, eggs or seedstock, each flock and producer will have its own unique nature. A part of the task is to know your breed or breeds fully and even more so the birds that make up the actual flocks. A White Wyandotte and Rosecomb White Leghorn have a great many similarities, but all must admit that they were bred and refined for two rather different tasks in life. If you have a good market for light brown eggs in fair numbers and some demand for broilers or roasters, then the White Wyandotte should be your choice of the two breeds. While Leghorn cockerels were my grandmother’s favorite choice of young birds to fry in her day, the Leghorn must be your breed of choice for eggs in greater numbers.

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Mushrooms May Save Bees

A decade ago, honeybee populations around the world began declining at an alarming rate. In the early years of this trend, beekeepers lost 60 percent or more of their hives to a mysterious phenomenon that came to be known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). In each of these cases, worker bees simply disappeared, and it doesn’t take long for a colony to collapse without workers to provide food and to care for the young. Although this trend seems to have leveled off somewhat in recent years, the current average rate of 30 percent annual mortality is still nearly double the average rate reported prior to 2006.

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Soil pH: Making Adjustments to Boost Fertility

Raising soil pH is relatively inexpensive. Lime is the product of choice but there are two basic types of lime: high-calcium and dolomitic.

Soil pH adjustment may seem like a pretty straightforward operation, but there are many things to consider before undertaking such a bold step with soil chemistry. The first step is determine the direction you need to go and the products to use to achieve your goal.

I cannot stress enough the importance of getting a good soil test. I’ve heard people say that based on the type of weeds or the fact that moss is growing means the soil pH needs adjusting. Assuming those statements were true, which direction and how much adjustment should be made? Without a good soil test it is pure and simple guesswork.

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