June 19-22, 2017
We have a weed management strategy at Elmwood Stock Farm that encompasses numerous forms of weed killers, ‘herbi-cides’ if you will. None of our plans involve mixing toxic synthetic chemicals with water and spraying it around the farm. However, they do regard understanding biological principles and using ‘herbi-vores’ and cutting tools to restrict the weeds’ over-reaching desire to proliferate.
The war on weeds takes place on three basic fronts: pasture and hay land, crop fields, and farmsteads. As always, it’s all about the biology. We know the enemy well, as we knew their grandparents and their grandparents-grandparents. They come around about the same time every year, consummate opportunists. They show up in all manner of ways, in all shapes and sizes, ready to reproduce. We can predict what we are up against, so we can make sure to have the tools to combat them.
Herbivores are tool number one. Cattle, and sheep, will consume, even seek out particular weeds, as part of their grazing behavior. When young and tender, most all species are palatable to livestock including poultry. Knowing all plant species have unique nutritional components, the animals have access to a richer diet than grass and clover alone. Because of the rotational grazing system, many of the weeds get past the cute little phase and erupt into full-fledged plants. Cattle and sheep will still eat the leaves, generally from the top down, with a few exceptions like thistles. If the plants make it all the way to flowering and seed formation, some flowers get eaten, and ripe seeds are stripped off. For anything that gets by the livestock, we can come behind with a bush-hog and decapitate. So the animals do their part, and we do ours, but there is always a next generation.
In crop fields, the perennials are incorporated into the soil, giving every weed known to our area an open invitation to grow up and reproduce. After deep plowing and a couple of diskings, our seeds or transplants go out with all the competition temporarily destroyed. The crop plants get established before the weed seeds germinate, triggered to do so by the cultivation itself. Depending on plant vigor, size, soil conditions, the weather forecast, etc., we now have an arsenal of steel tools and implements to physically rip them up by the roots, or bury them forever. This year we have had timely rains for the crops, and timely dry spells to tractor cultivate between the crop rows. Some places are a little hairy because the timing was a bit off; others have been chopped out with a hoe along the row and between the plants, with the heavy artillery to come out the next time it dries out. Cultivating a weed like Johnson Grass can actually cause it to spread, because if you break the clumps up, each little piece starts a new plant, so we try to lift the pieces to the surface so each piece gets desiccated by the sun.
Then there are the farmsteads, homesteads, greenhouses, and barns to keep from being overrun. By consistently keeping these areas mowed with a zero-turn mower and a string weed eater, the weeds are still there, they have just been trained to stay small and hide among the bluegrass and fescue.
So, we have the tools we need to co-exist with all sorts of plants that are in the wrong place, collectively called weeds. Some are unsightly, but provide habitat for beneficial insects, or nesting sites for birds, or nutrition for the livestock. We do not have a total weed elimination plan, as that would be insanity. We do have a safe process using multiple tools to keep the weeds at bay, without the use of synthetic chemicals. As a result all the critters from microbes to insects to birds to wildlife, and even you, thank us for it. —Mac Stone
In Your Share