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Weed Management - Quiet Creek CSA

Posted: July 21, 2015

An overview of weed management at Quiet Creek CSA, Kutztown PA.
Belly mounted sweeps on John’s Kubota tractor. These sweeps can get very close to crops killing weeds between rows and throwing soil in row burrowing in row weeds.

Belly mounted sweeps on John’s Kubota tractor. These sweeps can get very close to crops killing weeds between rows and throwing soil in row burrowing in row weeds.

John and Aimee Good run Quiet Creek Farm, a certified organic CSA raising vegetables, berries, flowers, and herbs for 270 members. The farm is located on 10 acres of land leased from the Rodale Institute in Kuztown, PA.

Farm Profiles are designed to give new producers ideas and advice from experienced producers. Individual products are mentioned as examples not as an endorsement.

Problem Weeds

At Quiet Creek CSA, like most organic vegetable farms in our area, galinsoga is the number one weed problem. Low growing and quick to seed, it is hard to keep ahead of. Pigweed, lambsquarter, foxtail and ragweed are also important weeds at their farm. These summer annuals are adapted to the organic grains grown on the farm prior to Quiet Creek’s start-up. These large weeds can overwhelm crops quickly and so John and Aimee have an aggressive weed management strategy.

Preventing Weed Problems – Crop Rotation

John and Aimee use crop rotation to protect vulnerable crops and reduce overall weed pressure at the farm. One strategy they use is to follow easy to keep clean crops with hard to cultivate crops. For example, they might follow crops in black plastic with root crops.

Quiet Creek uses fallow periods in the rotation to reduce weed pressure. To do this they only use each bed only once per season. This gives them time to use a ‘green fallow.’ The green fallow is a cover crop, usually buckwheat, that is grown and then tilled in. Buckwheat works well. Seeded at 50 lbs per acre it grows fast, shading out weeds. In three to four weeks it is ready to be tilled in, beating weeds to seed. Tilling in the buckwheat kills weeds that have germinated before they have a chance to go to seed, reducing the weed seed in the soil. Then that area can be planted to a fall over wintering cover crop.

Crop Groups to Keep Management Simple

Crops with similar management are kept together on the farm. This makes it simpler to cultivate, irrigate and manage crops. They have roughly an acre of each of the following: spring greens, spring/ fall roots, plasticulture solanaceae/ cucurbit crops, late cucurbits on bare ground, fall greens/ brassicas, and potatoes.

The Set-up: The Right Tools for the System

The general system at Quiet Creek is beds on five foot centers (43 inch bed tops with 17” between beds). Planting is in one, two or three rows. They don’t use four or five rows per bed primarily because it is hard to cultivate. Three rows per bed spaces crops 15 inches center to center. Two rows per bed spaces crops 30 inches apart.

Roots & Greens are planted three rows per bed. Weed management starts with a stale seed bed. They use a Williams Tools System which has many spring tines. These tines are set to just barely cultivate the bed surface, killing tiny weeds without disturbing the soil below which would bring up more weeds. At the same time they mark rows using three row marking knives that are attached to the tool bar right over where they plan to plant. One to two weeks after seeding or transplanting into the small furrow made by the row markers they cultivate. They use a Kubota tractor that has belly mounted cultivating sweeps. The sweeps cultivate between the rows of the crop. Attached to the rear of the tractor is the Williams Tools System with its full set of spring tines down to cultivate in as well as between rows. But they still have to come back and hoe and hand weed. “This is the number one expenditure of labor on the farm,” John says.

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Williams tool system behind Kubota with belly mounted sweeps. Tines can all be down to kill in row as well as between row weeds or lifted over the row. Photo by Daniel Paashaus.

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Row marking knives are the three straight bars going vertically into the ground. They mark the rows, keeping them straight and parallel. This way even if they are hand planted they can be mechanically cultivated.

Solanaceous Crops are generally planted into black plastic. They use a plastic layer to lay a four foot wide sheet of plastic over the beds. This warms the soil and controls weeds in row. But you still have to control weeds between the plastic and this is “one of the hardest spaces to cultivate on the farm,” John says. They control weeds in this hard to manage area using the outer knives of the Williams Tool System with two track sweeps to clean up under the tractor tires. These knives cut weeds just below the surface, reaching just under the plastic. It will actually lift the plastic up a bit and then the tractor tires pack it back down. This can be tricky and soil moisture has to be just right.

Cucurbits Early cucurbits are planted into black plastic and managed like the solanaceae crops. The later plantings are on bare ground. They also use the Kubota with belly mounted cultivating sweeps and the Williams Tool System for these crops. The first cultivation is about one week after planting. The sweeps on the Kubota get nice and close to the rows and throw some soil into the row, burying in row weeds. In this case all the spring-tines are up on the Williams. They use special thirteen inch pumpkin knives mounted on the William’s tool bar. These knives reach right up to the root ball of the plant under vining crops like cucumbers. Track sweeps clean up the area behind the tractor tires.

Track Sweep

John Good shows field day participants track sweeps. These sweeps are behind tractor tires.

Non-vining crops. A new management strategy for non-vining crops on black plastic (zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant) is to plant a ryegrass mixture between black plastic beds. The ryegrass is planted just after the plastic is laid (and before the holes are made). They mow throughout the season with a high-wheel walk behind string trimmer. This makes a nice pathway for picking, keeps erosion down, and keeps weeds from going to seed.

Advice

John has two pieces of advice for new farmers.

“Go fast and get close.” As the old farmer saying goes, “If you are not every once in a while killing a crop plant you are not going fast enough.”

“Weed control is the biggest issue on organic farms. So have a system in place before you ever put a seed in the ground. This will help you more than anything else.”

For more details this farm profile is available as a video clip.

Farm Profiles are designed to give new producers ideas and advice from experienced producers. Individual products are mentioned as examples not as an endorsement.

Prepared by Tianna DuPont, Sustainable Agriculture Educator, Penn State Extension. Updated July 2015.