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Book of the Week: Hands-on Agronomy

By Neal Kinsey and Charles Walters

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from an Acres U.S.A. original book, Hands-On Agronomy, by Neal Kinsey and Charles Walters. Copyright 2013, 1993. Soft cover, 391 pages. $35.00 regularly priced. SALE PRICE $22.50.

Hands-on Agronomy, by Neal Kinsey and Charles Walters

No one used the term killer agriculture or knowledgeable mining when I was a youngster growing up on a farm in southeast Missouri. We raised corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans and a little hay. We also finished a few cattle. Now, a more mature sense of values brings the reality of our farming operation into focus. Sir Albert Howard identified the horns of the modern farming dilemma: partial and imbalanced fertilization, and toxic rescue chemistry.

Neither I nor my father heard or understood that dictum then, then being the 1950s and 1960s. All we knew was that the crops faltered—not occasionally, but year after year. My father had five sons and he concluded, “I hope you won’t even think about going into agriculture because it costs too much and I am not going to be able to help you get started. I hope you will go into business and be an accountant or something like that.”

Accordingly, I went to college with the intention of becoming an accountant. There was a problem with that. I couldn’t stand being inside four walls all the time. So I changed my direction while I was at the University of Missouri where I met William A. Albrecht, the legendary professor who contributed so much to what Acres U.S.A. calls eco-agriculture. Albrecht gave the Department of Soils its well-deserved reputation, but by the time I arrived, he had been retired—forcibly, I am told—in the wake of a great grant from a fossil fuel company. In any case, his classroom days were over, for which reason I was able to get more of his ear than might have been possible as classroom fare. He taught a private study course for Brookside Laboratory, and I decided to avail myself of this extra-curricular opportunity. He changed my entire way of thinking. Continue Reading →

Meet the Vibrating Weeding Broom: DIY Weed Control Tool

In 2016, after a long period of trial and error, I quite by chance tried out a “vibrating weeding broom” for weed control that uses a rake with thin, spring steel wires and was able to carry out continuous (down the row) early interplant weeding without damaging the crop.The weeding was successful using the vibrating weeding broom (VWB), and I named it hawking, after the Japanese-style broom called a hawki.

Takao Furuno with his homemade Interplant
weeding broom.

Crops (rice, wheat and other cereal grains, soybeans, maize and vegetables) are often planted in rows. The space between the rows is known as inter-row space. The spaces in between the crop plants in a row are called interplant spaces (see Figure 1).

Inter-row weeding is known as intertillage weeding. Since there are no crops growing in this space, weeding can be carried out quickly by moving forward or backward continuously with a hoe or other hand tool, or a machine.

On the other hand, in the interplant spaces the weeds and the crops are close to one another, so it would seem to be difficult to eliminate only the weeds by moving forward continuously with a machine without harming the crop.

For nearly 40 years as an organic farmer I was convinced that mechanization of interplant space weeding cannot be easily done and continued to weed between the plants using my hands or a triangular hoe. There are probably many farmers around the world who think and do the same. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Weeds — Control without Poisons by Charles Walters

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. original book, Weeds — Control without Poisons, written by Acres U.S.A. founder Charles Walters. Copyright 1999. #4005. Softcover. 352 pages. $25.00 regularly priced.

By Charles Walters

Andre Voisin, the great French farmer and scientist who wrote Soil, Grass and Cancer and Grass Productivity, once declared that most of what he knew came not from the university, but from observing his cows at grass. And so it is with much of what we know about weeds. Walking the fields with the late C.J. Fenzau in areas as separate as Indiana, Iowa and Idaho, I was able to take note of what weeds were trying to tell us during the early days of the Acres U.S.A. publication. Admittedly, this knowledge has been fleshed out since then. And recent findings build on, rather than tear down, those field observations.

Weeds – Control without Poisons

Weeds are an index of what is wrong — and sometimes what is right — with the soil, or at least with the fertility program. In every field on every farm, there are different soil types, and each has a potential for producing certain weeds, depending on how a farmer works the soil. Fall tillage, spring tillage, tillage early or late, if it takes place when the soil is dry or wet, all these things determine the kinds of weeds that will grow that season. As far back as the Dust Bowl days, it became transparently obvious to my Dad — after viewing rainbelt territory near Conway, Missouri — that dryland weeds generally don’t grow in territory that has rain pelting the soil with a steady squall. Thus the pres­ence of salt grass, iron weed, tumbleweed and all the wild sages in soils where flocculation is gone, and wind wafts dust skyward. There are soil conditions that almost always have restricted amounts of water, and consequently they do not require and cannot grow weeds that thrive when there is plenty of water. Continue Reading →

Natural Weed Control

There are many ways for growers to implement non-toxic weed control methods on their farms. The most obvious is to take the chemical farming approach and find an organically-approved material to do the killing. Very strong vinegar has been the most marketed material. The important factor in vinegar formulas is to include a surfactant to strip away any waxy protective coating on the plant surface to allow the desiccation (drying out) of the plant. Salt provides the same mode of action and may be included in the formula.

Natural weed control

The primary condition that promotes broadleaf weeds is the ratio of available phosphorus to available potassium, as shown by a LaMotte soil test. The further you deviate from a 1:1 ratio, the stronger the broadleaf pressure.

Other modern mechanical approaches to weed control include flaming, cultivating, and smothering. Cultivators are a modern version of hoeing or hand pulling. Rotary hoes or spiked harrows are special adaptations of the cultivation approach. Using plastic films, whether biodegradable or not, is a form of smothering that is similar to mulching with any material. The cover denies sunlight to prevent growth.

Repeated cuttings of a perennial weed in a fallow field may weaken a plant over time by using up its stored energy. Farmers should also make every attempt to prevent the reseeding of an offending species. Treating isolated patches is worth the effort to keep them from spreading. If a field is overwhelmed to a point of not having an economic crop worth harvesting, be sure to take the whole field down before the weeds go to seed. Keep in mind that there are seeds in your fields that may have been there for years. Just lime or activate the calcium in your soil and watch clover appear in uncultivated ground, even if you haven’t seeded it since you bought the farm.

Continue Reading →

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.

flame weeding with propane

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 →

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.

Continue Reading →