This week has been filled with weeding. The last few weeks have been busy with transplanting and seeding, and I had neglected weeding in parts of the field. It was embarrassing. Imagine an untidy room the size of a football field that you can’t close the door on when guests arrive.
I use several tools to weed, and weeding actually happens in passes. First, I run the wheel hoe between the rows as close as I can to the vegetable plants without damaging them. The wheel hoe is actually an old invention, but it brilliantly translates the strength of your legs, chest, and torso into weeding, whereas most other tools rely mostly on your arms and back. The wheel hoe has different attachments, but I find the stirrup hoe attachment to be the best. It slices the weeds off at the root, so they won’t regrow. But it doesn’t invert the soil, thereby exposing weed seeds to light and water.
Then depending on the crop and its spacing, I then follow with either a wire weeder, a colinear hoe, or a sharp knife I got from Goodwill a while back.
The wire weeder is great for weeding around direct seeded crops and that have tighter spacing. I run the curved end beside the crop plant to reduce the likelihood of chopping out a plant I want to keep in the ground. When you hear me let a cry in the field, it’s usually because I chopped a crop plant.
When there is more spacing between plants I use the colinear hoe. It is like a large razor blade attached to a long handle. It makes quick work of weeds, but the blade is a bit too large to fit close spacing. Because the blade is so sharp, you have less room for error. But it works like a charm between transplants. Growing up I remember using a traditional hoe to help my grandmother in her garden. The motion involves quite a bit of hacking and chopping, but with the colinear hoe one is mostly raking the blade just under the soil surface. It is far easier and there’s even a meditative quality about it. As as has been said by many a farmer, the right tool can make a hard job easier.
Finally, for close weeding of crops like carrots and parsnips that are spaced very tightly I use a sharp knife. This is the most tedious kind of weeding–on your knees, slowing cutting out weeds from the seedlings. Four hundred feet of carrots done this way is a powerful reminder to use the flame weeder next time.
Yes, I said flame weeder. It’s basically a backpack for carrying a tank of propane that has a long hose with a torch connected at the end. After direct seeding a crop, you light the torch and pass over the area a day or two before you expect your crop to emerge. The torch bursts the cells of the weed seedlings that have already germinated. It’s the easiest form of weeding and great for the pyro in me.
Finally, all the tools above that cut weeds are only as good as the edge of their blades. I usually resharpen the blade of the hoe at the end of every row or two. It is a quick break from weeding, so muscles can rest, and the sharpened blade makes subsequent weeding easier.
Weeding always brings up the ironies around the idea of a weed. A weed is just plant we don’t want. Yet, many weeds are actually edible. In fact we use wild sorrel, lambsquarters, and purslane in our mesclun. But for many weeds, either we don’t choose to eat them or the shear abundance of the weed plants means we have to eliminate the plants we won’t be able to harvest.
Having said that, not all weeds are good eating. I found myself weeding out the wild predecessors of a couple of our crops this week. For examples, carrots and erba stella are just more civilized (and tasty) descendents of Queen Anne’s lace and plantain, respectively. Sorting the ancestor and descendent can be tricky. Queen Anne’s lace seedlings look very similar to carrot seedlings. Small differences in hairyness of the leaves and a slight red tint to the base of the leaf stems are what I use to distinguish carrots (less hairyness and no tint) from its wild predecessor.
Besides all the weeding, the summer squash, zucchini, and cucumbers began flowering this week, the garlic is beginning to dry down, and a few early tomatoes are starting to ripen. These herald even more good food to come.
This week at market we will have fennel bulb, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, radishes, head lettuces, garlic scapes, sorrel, cress, arugula, chard, mustard greens, flax chicken treats, cima di rapa, cilantro, basil, parsley, beets, shelling favas, and our braising and salad mixes. If you have time, drop by our booth.
Take care and eat well.