22. Controlling weeds without chemicals.
The Cultivar, 9, No. 2, 1991. pp. 1-3
Herbicides make up 69% of the 700 million pounds of pesticides applied each year in the U.S. Thus, finding alternative methods for controlling weeds is critical to decreasing the use of synthetic chemicals in farming systems.
Weeds can be controlled in small-scale vegetable row crop systems without the use of herbicides and with a minimum of hand hoeing by using an integrated approach. This includes well-managed ground preparation and planting techniques, and timely cultivations. Planting and cultivation techniques that large-scale growers have used successfully for many years can be easily adapted to small- and medium-scale systems for effective weed control.
Small-scale vegetable growers - especially those who are producing for direct-market, roadside, or specialty markets - often must produce a variety of products over a period of time to maintain a customer base and maintain diversity.
One of the best ways to deal with multiple crops on a small scale is to develop a system where all crops are planted on the same row width. The same planting and cultivating units can then be used for all crops without a loss in time due to change-over. A common technique, which can be traced back to the horse cultivar, is to plant cultivate on a single line per bed with beds spaced 30 to 38 inches center to center. This technique allows for the greatest crop diversity and ease of mechanical weed management in a ridge-tilled system. If beds are formed, pre-irrigated and then cultivated prior to planting, weed pressure can be minimized and planting and cultivation simplified.
Vegetable crops most suited to between-row spacings of 30 to 38 inches include sweet corn, beans, potatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. With the proper planting equipment, sweet corn, beans and peas can be easily direct-seeded to moisture by knocking down the beds at planting time (this entails pushing dirt off of the top of the bed to reach moist soil; seeds planted into moist soil don't require irrigation for germination). Peppers, tomatoes and the brassicas mentioned above are ideally suited to transplanting, provided quality transplants are used. Tomatoes, which require a wider spacing, can be grown on every other bed and the same cultivation equipment used. If perennial weeds are not a serious problem, and with proper management, these crops can all be produced in a relatively weed-free system with minimal hand labour and no herbicides.
One of the most effective tools for post-irrigation bed preparation and post-emergence crop cultivation in a ridge-tilled system is the ground-driven rotary cultivator, also known as a lilliston cultivator.
For the initial cultivation, while the crop is still small, reversed disc-hillers can be used to cut soil away from the plants, and sweeps and knives can be used to cut weeds off just below the soil surface.
Timing in terms of weed size and soil moisture are critical at this stage for optimum weed suppression: ideally, weeds should be small and the soil dry enough to that weeds don't re-germinate, but moist enough to avoid crusting.
The following practices are the most important factors to include in a non-chemical weed control strategy:
- Allow an initial fallow period with repeated discing during summer months to bring perennial weed populations to manageable levels.
By adhering to and integrating the above-mentioned agronomic practices, and by using rotary ground-driven cultivators in a single-line system, weeds in vegetable crops can be controlled effectively and economically without the use of herbicides.
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Review, book, weed management, ecological approaches
ALTIERI, M.A. and M. LIEBMANN
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