Seedbed Preparation and Planting – Organic Weed Control


We always like to get started very early in
the spring to make that initial pass but we’re not even getting close to planting then. In organic field crop production, as with
conventional production, weed management starts early, prior to planting. In this video we’ll hear from several organic
farmers about the steps they take to get ahead of weeds early through tillage passes, seed
bed preparation and careful timing of planting. Most people are out there as soon as the ground
is dry enough they’ll get the plant in but that’s not when you want to be there in organic
crop production because the problem is if you get in too early the weeds are already
going on there and you need to get that first flush and then the second flush of weeds,
you need to take care of those before you get the seeds in the ground because you can
cover them with a field cultivator, you can cover them with the tine weeder and you can
take care of the whole ground there but once you plant in there it limits your ability
to get in there and really work it over. When we look at starting to plant beans we’re
going to look at, we’ll go out and use a Krause disc and we’ll hit our stalks. Generally if we’re going into some corn stalks
we’ll hit them early like about a week before we think we’re going to plant. I like to get a good weed flush, let the weeds
germinate and get that first spring flush. First thing I’ll do is when the ground gets
ready I’ll go out and disc corn stalks down, try and get them mulched down a little bit,
a little finer so that I don’t have too much trash to compete with when planting or doing
harrowing or cultivating and that sort. As far as tillage before the corn, that’s
the year when I, the only year of the three that I do full width tillage and I disc it
as early as fit to try and make sure that I kill all that clover. That gets a flush of weeds started and so
maybe ten days later or so it’s starting to get green so I’ll field cultivate it, kill
all those weeds, that’ll start another flush of weeds and then maybe it’s another ten days
or two weeks before I plant so I’ll hit it again with the field cultivator just before
planting. So I’ve got two really good flushes of weeds
hopefully before I plant that corn and then the tine weeder and row-crop cultivator will
take care of anything that comes up after that, theoretically. We like to have corn follow a small grain
or a clover/alfalfa sodded crop. We use a John Deere Mulch Master to tear up
that sod. We’ve also in the past just used a chisel
plow with sweeps. We don’t like to moldboard plow in this area
because we have some steep hills. We like to tear that clover alfalfa up end
of April first part of May. Start with a fairly clean tilled field. Typically we’ll hit it with the chisel plow
or Mulch Master, disc it and then field cultivate it so we have a fairly black, fairly even
work down seedbed with basically no big weeds ahead of you. You want to start out with a clean field on
a clean base. If we’re coming out of a cover or a plow down,
usually we’ll start with a moldboard plow and then we come back and hit it with a Brillion
cultipacker once to two times and then we plant right into that. While other farmers are planting corn following
alfalfa or clover, Nelson Smith of Brighton plants soybeans after alfalfa. So one of the first jobs of the spring for
him is discing that alfalfa. Well if we’re going for a soybean year we’ve
got alfalfa as our previous crop so we leave it until spring to tear it up. So we’re discing that first thing, as soon
as you can get in there you want to disc that up because you need to tear up that sod and
get that alfalfa torn up. And then, you’ll let it sit for a couple weeks
because that will give you the chance that any weeds that are right there will attempt
to grow so they’re going to sprout. Then you’re going to hit it again with the
field cultivator, which going over that with a field cultivator smooths it out, breaks
up any chunks that you had from the discing, because the discing can, depending on if it’s
too wet or not, can make chunks out there. That field cultivator will smooth it up. Then occasionally depending on your weather,
if it’s raining and you can’t get it in right away, we also like to plant a little later
because that’ll give us a chance to get one more flush of weeds. Eric Madsen farms near Audubon in west-central
Iowa and he and many of the other organic farmers we talked to like to plant later in
the spring because warmer soil temperatures mean corn and soybeans can emerge more quickly,
reducing the amount of time the seed spends in the soil until germinating and giving the
crop a head start on weeds. In our area, we typically don’t even think
about planting until probably the 20th of May. You really want to plant into a warm, dry forecast. In our experience, I guess everybody says
planting date you know May 10th for corn, yeah that’s a goal. But in our experience we’ve had far greater
yield reductions due to weeds versus planting date. Everything seems to be harder if that corn
can’t come out of the ground fast. This past year we had corn that you could
row in four days and that was probably the easiest weed control we’ve ever had. We could get out there I believe I was rotary
hoeing on like day nine and cultivating on like day 20. You really want that corn to shoot out of
the ground fast and get a head start on weeds. You want to delay the planting enough time
so that the crop emerges faster than the weeds. You want the crop up, the sooner you can get
the crop out of the ground the sooner you can start rotary hoeing and cultivating. In this area typically the last week of May,
first week of June on soybeans is a typical time when a lot of beans get put in the ground. In that case you can get the bean out of the
ground in seven to ten days, worst case scenario if not faster. And then the sooner you can get in there you
can start rotary hoeing and then stay ahead of the weeds that way. Another common theme among organic farmers
was avoiding planting right before a rain which can cause weeds to germinate quickly
in the upper soil profile, giving them a jump on the crop. I forget who told me that, but they said,
“If it’s going to be raining, you’re better off just putting the planter in the shed and
waiting until after the rain.” Just because it ends up germinating everything
and so you don’t get that jump on the seed that you’re planting. You want to plant into a warm, dry forecast
versus a cold, wet forecast. Kind of goes against the conventional theory
of plant right before a rain, you know “hurry up and plant before it rains.” It’s kind of the opposite of that. I like to put my seed where the moisture is
and try to keep those weeds from establishing quickly and keeping the topsoil more dry and
light. Ideally you would plant and it wouldn’t rain
for a week or ten days because then that top part of the soil again would stay dry. Your corn or beans coming down from deeper
would have a chance to emerge before the shallow seeded weeds have a chance to get moisture
and start coming. Most organic farmers also make a tillage pass
just before planting to try to set weeds back and give the crop another leg up on the competition. I think it is very important to make a tillage
pass of some sort just before you plant. I know vegetable people and others will do
the stale seedbed approach where they don’t want to plant more weeds just before you plant
the crop. I try and hit it just before planting. Yeah the last cultivation you want to do just
prior to planting because once you run that last cultivation through, you’ve taken care
of all the weeds that are available to get. Then that’s when you want the corn or the
soybeans to get in there and start going because they need to get a jump on those weeds and
you’ve just knocked the weeds back and now you put the corn or the soybeans in there
and that gives them the chance to — and the temperature, the soil temperature and the moisture is all
good at that time or you wouldn’t be planting of course. If I’m going to plow and cultipack, I want
to kind of time that pretty close to when I’m going to plant. Again, keeping our planter right behind finish
pass field work. That gives that soybean or the corn a chance
to jump up and get going and once you can get them up ahead, it’s getting ahead of the
weeds that’ll make the biggest difference on whether you have a weedy patch or whether
you have a good corn or soybean field. You gotta get ahead of it and that gets you
ahead of it by planting right after that second or final cultivation before you plant. You know you’re starting all of your soil
at a level playing field, you know your weeds haven’t gotten a jump on you, and you also
know that your plants are going to start at the same time, if not, get a better start
because you are just planting right after you’ve cultivated. It’s basically the day before you plant I’ll
take a field cultivator out and I’ll field cultivate it. Typically I try to make sure I don’t have
too many weeds that got way too big anyway, the smaller weeds are alright, but if they
get bigger you have a little more issues but I typically go pretty shallow with the field
cultivator just to knock the weeds out and get the roots out on top to dry out. Just before we plant we’ll go over it with
either the field cultivator, but now that we have the tine weeder, which is right behind
me here, we can hit it with the tine weeder which will smooth out the top, will loosen
up any seedlings that have started, the weed seedlings and then we’ll go for the planting
right after that. And after I get done with the field cultivator,
I’ll run my harrow over it. Before planting it’s mostly for leveling the
ground out, breaking clumps up, if you got too big of clumps you want to break your clumps
up. Then I’ll also come back and with the tine
weeder, right after the planting either the day after or two days after at the most go
out and run over it and take the wheel marks out. Because the wheel marks have pressed the soil
back down on those weed seeds and now the weed seed is going to want to sprout so if
we get it loosened up again and air out the top of the ground then we can get weed seeds
that are just starting.

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