Farm Scale Study: Weed Management
At the beginning of July 2008 I posted pictures of the farm scale study at Kentucky State University. Here are some pictures of the same study, repeated in 2009. The plot diagram that I posted in 2008 is identical for 2009, except that we have rotated the crops:
- Last year’s soybean rows are this year’s corn.
- Last year’s corn is this year’s sweet potato.
- Last year’s sweet potato is this year’s sweet sorghum.
- Last year’s sweet sorghum is this year’s soybean.
To get the crops off to a good start we are focussing on weed management.
Last year I posted a vibrant picture of a blooming mustard cover crop. This year I’ll post a picture of heritage tomatoes growing among a blooming buckwheat cover crop. As I walk through this field, hoe in hand, I’m surrounded by the buzzing of bees, hard at work in the buckwheat. We planted wide strips of buckwheat between the tomato rows to help prevent cross-pollination between different heritage varieties of tomato that we’re using for seed production. Buckwheat grows vigorously, crowding out weeds.
Our Biointensive and Market Garden scale plots are much more advanced than at this time last year. The following two photos show plots that I photographed on July 7th last year, from the same perspective. Last year the corn was knee-high and the sweet sorghum was barely emerging on July 7th. This year the corn is already tasselling in the biointensive plots. We hand-pollinated corn in the biointensive plots to ensure the ears would fill despite the fact that the larger plots in the vicinity have not yet started producing pollen.
Weeds have been less of a problem in our biointensive and market garden plots in 2009 than in 2008, but more of a problem in our small farm plots. We are using an old Farmall 130 tractor as our main weed management tool in the small farm plots. These little tractors are ubiquitous on Kentucky’s old tobacco farms, they are an appropriate size for small farms, and they feature an offset engine block and belly-mounted colters in front of the driver, helping the operator to get close to the crop row without damaging the crop.
When the tractor is done we come through with a hoe to clean up any weeds in the crop rows. We mostly end up hand-hoeing our sweet potatoes — even in the small farm plots — because their vining growth habit makes them susceptible to damage by the tractor.
There’s plenty of weeding for everybody.
Michael Bomford provides research and extension services related to organic agricultureand small-scale renewable energy production through Kentucky State University’s Land Grant Program. He thanks Tony Silvernail, Benjamin Austin, Brian Geier and John Rodgers for their help with maintaining the organic land at the KSU Research Farm in recent weeks.