One of the first things I’m asked when folks learn that I’m an organic farmer is, “What do you do about the weeds?” It’s a good question, something I even ask myself at times (sometimes phrased more like, “What the %^# am I going to do about these &+%#@$* weeds!?!)—especially this time of year, where ample soil moisture and warm temperatures provide weed seeds with a germination haven.
What I try to avoid is time-consuming hand weeding, though that is still necessary, sometimes. Rather, I aim to hit the weeds earlier, when they are smaller and easier to deal with, by cultivating them. Cultivating is a practice where you disturb only the top layer of soil, uprooting the tiny weed seedlings and leaving them to desiccate in the sun, while leaving the lower soil layers intact so as not to bring new weed seeds to the surface. I have an arsenal of tools for this job: small hand cultivators, long-handled hoes, an old-fashioned tool called a wheel hoe, and our noisy, bone-rattling rototiller. Someday, maybe, we’ll step up to a specialized and dedicated cultivating tractor, and then we’ll know we have arrived.
When cultivation works, it works brilliantly, and today was the perfect day for it—warm, dry, with a little wind—and the weeds were the ideal size. This afternoon the crew and I tacked the section of the field with our tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants (I call it Solanaceae Land), and the five of us covered every square inch of that 20,000 square foot plot. It looks so good right now I could dance a jig, if that was the sort of thing I did.