|By now most of you,
like us here at the Institute farm, have your crops pretty well
planted, first-cutting hay is almost done, and it’s time
to get back to the dreaded task of managing weeds.
is up, and everything is lookin’ good. But for how long?
We’ve used both a rotary hoe and a tine weeder on our
crops for “blind cultivation,” and that seems
to have done a decent job. There are some small weeds poking
through that are already too large for the hoe or weeder to
get. That’s where the cultivator comes in.
You really need to be out there checking your crops and monitoring
the weed pressure on a daily basis. Things change quickly
this time of year. A quick look over the fence at my garden
at home clearly points that out. It seems like I went from
no weeds one day to a real mess a few days later. Fortunately
that’s at home, not here at the Institute.
Generally speaking, if you wait until you see weeds, the
first flush has already “beaten you to the punch.”
Rotary hoes and tine weeders work on weeds that are in the
white root stage. This is when you can lightly dig around
in the soil with a pen knife and see those white hair like
seedlings of weeds but before they are well rooted with green
We are just beginning our cultivation of row crops as this
article is being written, so it is far too early to tell you
how it is all going to turn out. But there are some basic
things to keep in mind as you begin your weed management strategy.
First is to realize that cultivating weeds is more art than
science. You can’t just set up the equipment and go
from field to field or crop to crop. Fine tuning the equipment
is very important. Keep in mind that any weeds that escape
each pass have a better and better chance to be there at the
end of the season.
As the season progresses, spend some time assessing the successes
and failures of your strategy, your timing and your equipment
setup. Make some notes for next year—write-‘em
down or you’ll forget. This way, each year you’ll
improve upon the success rate as you gain experience.
Don’t expect perfection but work toward it. You’re
bound to make mistakes. You’ll miss some weeds, tear
out some crop, work in soil that’s too wet or too dry
or maybe invent a mistake I haven’t even thought of
yet. That’s all part of the process of learning. The
goal should be to strive toward perfect weed control but to
be realistic in what we can do.
Replace worn parts. Yes, those shovels that are worn down
to the shank, those spoons on the old rotary hoe, or the discs
that are only 8 inches around instead of 12 inches. You can’t
expect worn-out tools to do a proper job. That’s not
to say that older equipment won’t work, just that you
need to replace those worn parts of the tool that work in
the soil. Sweeps need to be the right width to cover the surface
area or work to the proper depth. This will be money well
spent. I had a fellow tell me that rotary hoes don’t
work on his farm, and when we took a look at what he was using
it was shot. All the spoons were worn down to posts. There
was no way this tool could properly remove weeds. Once the
hoe was rebuilt, he said he didn’t know it could work
And last but not least, don’t be afraid to innovate.
Change your tools. Try different sweeps, switch to a curved
knife, or try a spider wheel where a disc once was used. The
folks I know who are the best cultivators are the ones who
are always trying to improve the equipment and time things
just a little bit better. If the new changes aren’t
working, go back to what did or try another improvement. Check
on what other folks are doing but keep in mind what works
for them may not be the best tool for you. You may have different
soil, different crops, different weeds or even just different
likes. The thing is to be creative and open to trying something
new. But don’t throw out what works in the process.
If you’re like me you’ll end up with more weeds
than you’d like but fewer than you or the crop can tolerate.
June or July is the best time of the year to evaluate your
weed management strategies. Determine what worked and why
or why not, make those notes on paper and file them away for
reading next winter. I hate to make promises I can’t
keep, but I will promise you that, no matter how well you
did this year, next year the weeds will come again.
From One Farm to Another