Thursday, July 2, 2009

Field of weeds

I've been working some hours at the farm where we are getting our CSA share this summer. (For those who are unfamiliar with the term, a CSA is where you purchase a share in a farm and then you receive a box of produce every week.) This morning, I "weeded" a row of potatoes.

When the farmer took me out to the field, she asked if I knew what a potato plant looked like. When I said "no," she showed me a plant and described in great detail all its features. It was pretty obvious which were the potatoes as they were about 18" high and the scraggly weeds were only about 8". I wondered why she was going on and on about the looks of the plant until I realized that the row I was looking at was already weeded. The other rows were a tangled mess of weeds about 18" high covering 12" high potato plants.

My job was to extricate the plants from their tangled prisons so that they could see the sun. Without sunlight, some of the plants had already died and others were stunted. I worked 1-1/2 hours and I only got through one row. I think I now understand why some farmers use roundup-ready veggies, much as I detest the practice. I've never seen such a crop of weeds in my life as are in the fields at this farm.

Last week I spent my farm morning washing mixed greens. There were 3-4 of us working for 3 hours and we only got through 3 boxes of the greens because we had to spend so much time picking out the weeds and grasses that had been harvested along with the salad mix.

The farm is organic so no weed-killer allowed, but I wonder. Isn't there a better way? Wouldn't it be more efficient to weed the rows of potatoes when the weeds were little? Isn't it easier to weed the mixed greens before you harvest them? This is this particular farmer's first year so it seems to me that she's learning some things the hard way, but what do I know. Has anybody out there run a sizeable organic farm and can you tell me if farming organically is really supposed to be this much work?


Joyce said...

Hoeing between the rows when the weeds are small would work, as would putting down mulch. Then all you ave to weed are the ones that come up right next to the plant. Sounds like they really let it get out of hand!

kale for sale said...

Everything I've ever grown has offered a learning experience and the farm is likely some of that times whatever number of acres times three hundred. I bet the potatoes you get this year are going to taste ridiculously good after your hard work though. And I have to say I'm envious of your time on the farm (I realize I'm saying that from the comfort of my kitchen chair.)

Donna said...

Joyce: That's my impression, too. I know of another organic CSA farm in the area and I might drop by there sometime and see what their fields look like.

kale: Yes, I bet the potatoes taste good, too. When I was weeding, I was imagining that I was rescuing the poor plants from their prison.

No, you're right to wish you could do the same. It's great to spend a little time working on a farm when it's not your farm and your income doesn't depend on it. I enjoy my time out in the fields. But there are so many weeds causing problems that I also find myself trying to figure out how to do it better. No wonder so many farmers are always inventing labor-saving devices!

dogear6 said...

Having a garden of my own made me think about the appropriate use of chemicals. It's hard to be organic when the squash vine borers are decimating the squash and the slugs are eating holes into everything.

I think you are right to question the methods being used. Hopefully it is a learning curve for the CSA and next year will be more figured out.

What did you find out at the other farm?