Last Friday, we attended a Small Farm Cultivation Equipment Workshop at Honeyhill Farm near Livonia, New York. This workshop was sponsored by Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York. The workshop agenda covered the basic principles of mechanical weed control complete with on-farm demonstrations.
The highlight of the event was the presentation by Dr. Charles Mohler a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Crop and Soil Science at Cornell. Dr. Mohler has spent a large part of his career conducting research and developing resources to increase farmers’ success managing weeds. His approach integrates knowledge of weed biology, rotations, and cover crops in a multi-year approach to weed management. To summarize the workshop lesson, when it comes to mechanical weed control, cultivate weeds early (preferably while they are white-string-stage weeds just below the surface) and often using the right tool. For example, we can bury them using big duck-foot shaped sweeps to throw soil into the crop row, dismember them using side knives cutting parallel to the soil surface or desiccate them by shaking the soil off the roots using a gang of spring S-tines. And, the soil conditions and weed growth stage determine what to do when. A key point was to try to maintain a loose and crumbly soil surface so that it drys out quickly and keeps those weed seeds from germinating in that top soil layer. A real highlight was his demonstration of how to do flame weeding, a thermal weed control, using propane gas burner to produce a directed flame that briefly passes over weeds, searing the weed leaves and causing the weed to wilt and die.
Fred Forsburg explained the various processes used at the Honeyhill Farm for weed control in the garlic fields, in the fresh vegetable market gardens and in the high tunnels. His demonstrations run the gamut to cover a wide range of equipment from the hand-held collinear hoe and the broadfork to a Swiss-style (low wheel) walk behind cultivator with a stirrup blade to the Tuff-Built cultivating tractor. And most noteworthy to me was seeing and hearing about the ongoing development of his garlic planting platform.
In summary, we got helpful insights for choosing the right the cultivation equipment for the weeding task at hand. And, we saw the use of the various equipment to demonstrate the theories discussed. You might say that it helped the small diversified organic vegetable farmers like us to get our duck-foot sweeps in a row.