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 through.
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 to finish.
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
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
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 tines.
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
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
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 some legumes.
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
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.