November 9, 2006:
You know you're a farm geek when a DVD on cultivation
equipment has you on the edge of your seat.
But that's exactly what happened to a friend and I recently
when we popped "Weed 'Em and Reap" into the player.
In fact (I stand convicted), we watched it twice straight
A two-DVD set released late in 2005 by Oregon State University,
"Weed 'Em and Reap" showcases cultivation tools
(part 1, 36 minutes) and reduced tillage strategies (part
2, 49 minutes) suitable for non-chemical vegetable production.
And as one farm geek to another, I can tell you it's absolutely
terrific—clear, informative and to the point from start
The seed for the project was planted back in 2002, when OSU
horticulture professor Alex Stone attended a Northwest Farmer
to Farmer Exchange gathering focused on cultivation equipment.
Someone in the group observed that video would be a better
way to communicate ideas about new tools, since it was often
difficult to understand the implements' action from verbal
descriptions or even still photos. To the benefit of organic
vegetable producers everywhere, Stone picked up the camera
and ran with it, figuratively speaking. Videographer Michael
Bendixen, who joined the team sometime later, does an outstanding
job with all the field interviews, close-ups, slow-motion
shots and other illustrative effects.
While most of the farmers featured in the video are in Oregon,
Washington, North Carolina and Virginia, the tools and strategies
they describe should be of use to growers throughout North
America and even beyond. Some of the tools require substantial
investment and would only be practicable on medium- to large-scale
farms, but many are simpler and relatively inexpensive. Each
segment is followed by a resources screen listing contact
information for manufacturers and suppliers.
Innovative cultivation tools
The first DVD in the set is divided into four sections: in-row
cultivation, blind cultivation, mulches and flamers. For in-row
cultivation, we hear from Jeff Falen of Persephone Farm in
Lebanon, Oregon, about a cultivation method for young transplanted
squash plants using sweeps and Bezzerides spring hoes mounted
on an Allis-Chalmers G. The key here is to plant the transplants
into furrows running the length of the field (these are field-planted
squash, not on raised beds), which can then be filled in by
the cultivator to bury weed seedlings close to the plants.
Rob Heater of Stahlbush Island Farms in Corvallis, Oregon,
describes a farm-built "retractable blade cultivator"
which makes it possible to run hoe blades right down the crop
row that are lifted up at intervals over the plants with the
help of a pneumatic cylinder. Another tool for the same type
of result is the Reigi weeder, made by Canada-based Univerco.
Essentially a hand-operated Weed Badger, the Reigi is a lightweight
frame mounted on the back of the tractor with a pair of PTO-driven
spinning weeder disks. An operator sitting on the back of
the implement maneuvers the disk in and out around the crop
plants by means of two levers.
In the segment on blind cultivation, Mark Wheeler of Pacific
Botanicals in Grants Pass, Oregon, describes his use of the
Lely tine weeder for cultivating both annuals and perennials
three to four days after a rain, when weeds are small. A few
tips: move fast, and cultivate in the afternoon when crop
plants are more flexible and less likely to break under the
Two more unusual tools for blind cultivation are a hayrake
and the wiggle weeder. These both act perpendicularly to the
rows, the hayrake in a continuous belt action and the wiggle
weeder in a rapid back-and-forth motion. Both are good for
cultivating weeds at the white-root stage in crops that are
well-rooted and can stand up to some impact from the tines.
Flaming technology has come a long way since the homemade
tractor- and backpack-mounted models of 10 years ago. Improvements
have focused on three areas: capturing and concentrating the
heat on the target area of soil, reducing propane consumption,
and improving operator convenience, such as by lowering the
noise level of the burners and offering automatic ignition.
The video features both farmer-built and commercial shielded
flamers, as well as some new European models that use ceramic
plates to provide infrared heat as opposed to an open flame,
reducing fuel consumption by up to 80 percent. As in all the
tool segments, a wealth of practical detail is included, from
groundspeed to weather conditions to operating costs.
Reduced tillage strategies
The second DVD in the "Weed 'Em and Reap" set should
make excellent viewing for anyone concerned about the heavy
reliance on tillage that characterizes some organic farms.
The star of this episode is Ron Morse, professor emeritus
at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia, who (as
many readers of New Farm will already know) has been working
to perfect low- or no-chemical reduced-tillage vegetable cropping
systems for the better part of a long career.
Together with Mark Schonbeck of the Virginia Association
for Biological Farming, Morse describes a variety of high-residue,
no-till vegetable cropping systems based on the use of mixed-species
cover crops to provide nitrogen for fertility and biomass
for weed suppression. "If you get enough tonnage—2
to 3 tons per acre is kind of a minimum—you can suppress
weeds," Morse says. That doesn't mean there will be no
weeds, but you'll get suppression long enough to allow the
crop canopy to close without significant weed competition.
Morse's favorite cover crop combinations include foxtail
millet and forage soybeans for fall brassicas; rye and hairy
vetch for tomatoes, peppers, or pumpkins; and crimson clover
and barley for mid-summer crops like squashes. Schonbeck has
been experimenting with cold-sensitive covers, like black
oats and purple vetch, that winterkill in preparation for
planting early spring crops like onions or early broccoli.
Fear not, there are tools on this DVD, too. Ken Fager and
Robert Walters at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems
in Goldsboro, North Carolina, describe the roller/crimper
they've been working with (somewhat similar to The Rodale
Institute's cover crop
roller), while Morse describes in detail the "sub-surface
tiller-transplanter" he's developed over the years for
transplanting vegetable starts through the thick residues
left by the cover crops. Morse's team has also discovered
that an Alamo flail-mower can be used to flail, roll, or flail
and roll non-viney cover crops like the cereal grains and
The final section of the second DVD focuses on the "living
mulch" system developed by Montana farmer Helen Atthowe.
Inspired by the writings of Masanobu Fukuoka, Atthowe has
been growing tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and broccoli in the
high, dry area around Stevensville, Montana, for the past
11 years. Her system prioritizes minimal labor inputs, low
tillage and generous organic matter inputs using widely spaced
rows, overhead irrigation and regularly mowed cover crops.
One of Atthowe's labor-saving innovations is to grow clovers
in situ for green-matter addition to her compost. In the spring,
the compost is applied to last year's mowed alleyways, which
will then become this year's plastic-mulched raised beds.
Atthowe believes that the high organic matter levels and careful
nutrient cycling that characterize her system help her crop
plants resist disease while flowering earlier and producing
top-quality fruit. The mowed covers provide lots of habitat
for beneficial insects, while the broccoli plants, allowed
to flower post-harvest, provide additional forage.
It's simply not possible for me to summarize in words all
the fascinating insights and tips bundled into these two DVDs.
It's like attending a dozen top-notch field days without having
to stand out in the hot sun—with the added luxury of
being able to rewind if you want to see something a second
time. My recommendation is, put "Weed 'Em and Reap"
on your holiday wish-list, suggest that your local organic
growers' group add it to their lending library, or both. Your
weeds might regret it, but you certainly won't.