We use field rotation and cover crops as a way of resting and building our soils' nutrients and tilth. It is also a way to cut down on our weeds. Some plants like "Morning Glory" are invasive species and seeds can be viable for up to fifty years. It has become one of my goals to eradicate them. The Federal Government categorizes Morning Glory as a noxious weed. It has a beautiful flower and we suspect was used around outhouses in the days before modern plumbing because it is so prevalent here. In order to get that flower, the vines of the morning glory wrap around anything that is vertical. The vine climbs and squeezes its host; usually corn, tomatoes, peppers; you get the picture. As the host plant grows so too does the vine until the vine chokes out its host.
Sort of a parasitic relationship when you look at the whole process. Then to have the seeds viable for so long it has become the scourge of our farm. I can be doing something totally unrelated to weeding and see one and it will draw my attention. I'm sure there is something clinical about this behavior but I figure due diligence is a must with this weed.
We use a farm practice that is frowned upon but we do it because it works and we can eliminate run off. The growing ecological trend is to disturb the soil the least amount possible. In order to plant, farmers use what is called a drill press planter. It is referred to as No-Till planting. With No-till practices managing weeds takes on two varied methods. If you are conventional then weeds are sprayed. On the organic side cover crops are used for their ability to be rolled over and flattened and stay flat enough for the planted seed to germinate. This works well along with cover cropping in general.
What we do is till, but we till on flat land so run off doesn't exist. If done incorrectly, tilling soil leads to erosion, run-off, and depletion of nutrients and loss of topsoil. It is one of the factors that created the Great Dust Bowl in the 1930's. The areas that we own that are sloped are put in pasture and cover cropping. Cover cropping is a way to keep weeds down while adding natural nitrogen back to the soil. We have a multi-tiered approach to weed control and yes heat is one aspect (see Are We Done Planting...)
Depending on the use of the land, we will do the following; starting in early spring as soon as the ground temperature reaches forty degrees we will do a deep till then let the land sit. We'll wait for the weeds to come up and fill the tilled area. I'll then do a shallow till between two-three inches deep. It is important to note that you do not want to wait for the weeds to get seed heads. The reason you want the weeds to grow is to expend the seeds in the ground. Letting the weeds mature to seed heads defeats the purpose.
After the shallow till we will plant with grasses and nitrogen-fixing legumes. If the chickens are going on the land we will plant rye and hairy vetch (a legume). Once the seeds have germinated and grass is established we move the chickens on to feast. They eat the bugs, the grasses and leave behind fertilizer. They get moved periodically so that manure is evenly distributed in the field but more importantly for the chickens' health.
The next season’s production gardens are treated differently. First they've been rested for a year with just green manure on them. In the spring of the second year they are tilled and planted as described above. For the spring, summer, fall and winter the chickens stay on them. The difference is after the first six months of the second year the chickens are moved to another production garden and we till the area and plant grasses. The rotation on the next year's production garden is such that we have seeded fields, fields ready to mature and mature fields. That way the chickens always have fresh grass to be moved onto when the current plot has been used up. The chickens are moved every three days onto a new patch of grass and this dance takes place all year long. In the spring of the production year the area is deep tilled and left for weed seeds to grow. It is tilled one last time and planted with production vegetables and cover crops.
This practice is great for the birds, the land and the vegetables that inevitably benefit. The birds are out in the open and get fresh air and grass and clean space. This practice eliminates respiratory ailments, the need for anti-biotic because they are not standing ankle deep in their own waste and cuts down on the spread of a disease. Think about it, the first thing we want to do when cooped up for long periods of time is to get outside and take a deep breath. We all crave it at some point in time. That is one of the underlining factors for us as an ecologically sensitive operation that uses sustainable practices.
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