MOVIE REVIEW: Weed 'Em and Reap
Start thinking now about next season's weeds
New video set from Oregon State University illustrates effective weed management strategies for organic vegetable producers.

Reviewed by Laura Sayre

Details:

"Weed 'Em and Reap" is available from Oregon State University for $37.95 (+ $4 s & h) for the two-DVD set, or $19.95 (+ $4 s & h) for Part 1 or 2 alone.

For more information or to order, visit:

http://oregonstate.edu/dept/
hort/ faculty/stone/Weed
EmandReap/index.html

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 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 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 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 some legumes.

"Living mulch"

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.