Tag Archives: herbicides

Farmer Goes Organic: Shares His Thoughts

This isn’t a small scale farm.  This isn’t a new farmer.  He is 3rd generation and he owns and works 1400 acres of farmland. His name is Klaas Martens. His story is courtesy of EcoWatch.

Why would anyone want to change the only way they had ever known to farm, the way their fathers and grandfathers before them farmed?

Organic family farms

This is the organic family farm across from my house.

After spending an entire day spraying chemicals on his fields and despite his protective suit and mask, Martens lost the use of his right arm and had muscle spasms on his right side.

Eventually, he recovered the use of his arm and body but he just couldn’t bring himself to go back to growing with chemicals. “Going organic was the only decision we could morally make,” he said. “…it just would have been wrong to hire others to do work that I couldn’t do because it made me sick.

After chucking everything he knew about managing the land, Martens had to learn to farm all over again.  Without chemicals and herbicides, he didn’t really know how to grow and protect his crops.

So, how did he learn new methods to handle threats to his crops? The old-fashioned way; he did research.  One day, he read a quote by a German agricultural researcher that changed his way of thinking:

“Cultural practices form the basis of all weed control. Various other means should be regarded as auxiliary only,” wrote Bernard Rademacher, an early researcher in weed management.

Instead of trying to control the weeds, Martens realized he should be looking at why the weeds were there – what practice was he using that made his farm a good habitat for weeds?

Martens’ answer? Don’t fight the weeds; understand them. Completely and fully, within the context of everything else around them.

Converting his farm wasn’t easy for Martens but he and his wife learned a lot in the process and shared a lot in a two part article for Rodale Institute.  Part 2 of the Farms R Us article has a nice list of resources for anyone who would like to take a deeper dive into converting to organic farming.

It was risky and a bit scary to make the switch but the couple has enjoyed growing organically, finding markets for their crops and knowing that they no longer add poisons to the earth or the water.

If a man farming 1400 acres can go organic, every backyard gardener should be able to do the same.  If you are an organic gardener, you already know that weeds can tell you volumes about the health of your soil and your gardening practices.

Take a note from Martens, listen to your weeds. Once you get a handle on why they are happy to grow in your garden, you have two choices:

  1. Find out what organic methods you can use to get your soil back on track and move the weeds to your neighbors’ gardens.
  2. Grow and eat them! Dandelions, purslane and chickweed are free greens and I enjoy them as much as I do my kale, spinach and leaf lettuce!

Going organic isn’t hard; it;s just different.  And the conversion takes a bit of research and a bit of thought.  What better month than January to do both?

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Grow So Easy – Gardening without Weeds! Really!!

Weeding is one thing that any gardener swiftly grows to hate.  And the older you get, the less fun it is to land on your knees, bend over and dig the little blighters out.  But not weeding can lead to a whole lot more pain than a sore back or a knee with twinges.

Weeds grow fast and set seeds even faster.  If you see one weed, you can bet that it’s invited about 500 of its closest relatives to join it in the ultimate comfort of your garden.

Deadly Rain
I want to kill weeds too.  And I want to do it quickly and painlessly.  But I won’t do what a lot of other backyard gardeners do.  I won’t reach for the handy spray bottle of herbicide conveniently sold at my local, big box, home improvement store.

Herbicides are fast and deadly.  But they don’t just kill weeds.

Research is beginning to unravel the reasons behind the death of millions of honey bees, worldwide and it looks like the root of the problem are products containing neo-nicotinoids – weed-killing products readily available in this country and in Europe.

The debate over cause and effect is in full swing right now but I’m old enough to remember a similar debate about two weed-killing agents – 2-4-D and 2-4-5T.  Supposedly so safe that as little children, we were given the job of filling weed wands with this chemical, adding water and running through our very big yard, barefoot, killing weeds.

So far, both my brothers have succumbed to brain tumors and my older sister survived ovarian cancer and is now battling kidney cancer.  So that’s one reason why I don’t recommend using any herbicides in any form.

I also live in the country.  Everyone has wells.  Do you really want to poison your neighbors, downstream?  There are days when I consider it (joking) but polluting the water supply just doesn’t seem like a nice thing to do.

The Queen of No Weed Gardening
What do I do to get rid of weeds?

I confess that in the early days of my organic gardening life, when I was still gainfully employed, I bought a flame thrower.  No, really, I bought a flame thrower and used it to burn weeds out. That’s how desperate I was.

But it was expensive, the propane tank was heavy, bulky and an added cost.  And frankly, I never really killed the weeds, just singed them enough to make them angry and hardy!  And I lit my house on fire…but that’s a story for another day.

When I found the method developed by Ruth Stout, a pioneer in organic gardening and, even more importantly, a pioneer in making it so easy, I jumped on board with both feet.  Here’s how she described her system in an interview done by Mother Earth News.

“My no-work gardening method is simply to keep a thick mulch of any vegetable matter that rots on both my vegetable and flower garden all year round. As it decays and enriches the soil, I add more. The labor-saving part of my system is that I never plow, spade, sow a cover crop, harrow, hoe, cultivate, weed, water or spray.  I use just one fertilizer (cottonseed or soybean meal), and I don’t go through that tortuous business of building a compost pile.” 

You can read the full article on Mother Earth News.  Or you can read her book aptly titled Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy & the Indolent

She has been my gardening guru for years and this book tells you how to suppress weeds but it also contains other organic gardening tips and lots of practical information and ideas that still work in the 21st century.

The Oxymoron of No Kill Weed Killing
Stout’s method may sound ridiculously simple but it works. I spend 4 hours in the fall mulching and about 10 hours in the spring and summer weeding. And my patch is pretty big – 20 feet wide and about 75 feet long.

It can’t get much easier than this.  Every fall I cover my entire garden with wet newspaper and straw – about 8 inches of it piled up on top of the paper.  Weeds (and all their seeds) are buried alive and prepping the garden for the next spring and summer is done.

And guess what?  While you are killing weeds and saving your back and knees, you are also feeding your soil.  All that mulch breaks down and enriches the dirt beneath it.

Sure, some weeds might poke their beady little heads up from time to time but they are few and far between.  All I have to do is just put more mulch on top of them and…they die.  But sometimes, I actually welcome the chance to break out my other secret weapon.

It’s the Fiskar’s Big Grip Garden Knife – the single, best tool I have ever bought and used in my garden.  No weed gets away and because of its design, it’s easy on my hands.  Made of aluminium, this knife comes with a lifetime guarantee and does the job efficiently and effectively.

What an amazing system – very few weeds and enriched soil served with a side order of revenge…and a back that doesn’t ache!

Next week I want to start talking about mid-season and fall planting and all the ways you can extend your garden crop!