I'm commonly asked how we control weeds if we don't use pesticides. The rototiller and hand weeding between plants are the main tasks once the plants are up. For other veggies, like peppers & tomatoes, we put down a thin layer of black plastic, called mulch, and then make small holes to put the transplants in. The black plastic absorbs the sun's warmth, heating the soil surrounding the roots up more quickly, but since light doesn't pass through, weeds don't grow underneath it. The past two season Dan and I have put it down by hand, stretching it tight and straight before heaping dirt along all sides so it won't blow away in the wind. This year we wanted longer rows, and frankly, putting it down can be a real pain, especially if even a tiny bit of wind kicks up.
Shortly before the farm went on hiatus, Dan and his family purchased a piece of horse drawn equipment called a plastic mulch layer. It holds a large roll of plastic as well as a roll of drip tape, which goes underneath to provide irrigation. There is a seat and a foot pedal which can be used to turn the wheels in case the horses step aside, since it's pretty important to keep the row of plastic as straight as possible. There are also two discs in the back to cover the sides of the plastic as you go along so it won't blow away. It had only been used a year or two, and besides the cobwebs from being stored in the barn, is practically new.
The trickiest part was remembering how to thread everything through the rollers, but once that was finished the job went very quickly. I've been wanting to learn to operate more of the equipment this year, so I got to drive. Once Dan covered the end of the plastic with some garden soil for a little tension, we put it in gear and away we went! Overall, it was fairly straight...good enough that we didn't have to pull it up and do it over! Although I'm getting much better at driving the team, this was absolutely my first time steering with my feet and hands at the same time, and it took a bit to get used to the feeling! The plastic and drip line were cut, we turned around, centered the freshly tilled row, and Dan again covered the end. Getting the hang of it a bit more, it was much straighter this time. I was excited to learn about a new piece of our equipment, and was wishing just a bit that we needed to put down more than two rows. I know it's pretty unusual for a non-Amish family to farm with horses, even more so for young farmers. Also, few teamsters (originally the word referred to those working horses, not driving trucks) are women, so I'm both excited and proud to be one of those few.
The view from the driver's seat is pretty neat, don't you think?