|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.
Our corn 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 tops.
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 so well.
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
From One Farm to Another