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Can a polyculture be weeded with a hoe? SHOULD a polyculture be weeded with a hoe?

 
dan long
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Let me play devils advocate for a second. Gardening is done traditionally in rows because it makes weeding so easy. I've done both hand weeding and hoe weeding and it takes about 6 volunteers with gloves and weeding knives to do what one employee with a sharp hoe can do. When i'm thinking how much land i can work, the biggest thing i'm considering is how long it will take to weed. Please don't kick me out of the clubhouse, but monocultures are easier to hoe!

I'll try to draw a diagram to illustrate my point. black circles are plants and red lines are the direction i run the hoe in. The first picture is a monoculture in nice, neat, cookie cutter rows that a Marine drill sergeant would approve of (happy farmer). The second is a guild with three plants that have different spacing requirements (tired farmer). The third is a polyculture with lots of plants with lots of different spacing requirements and is near impossible to hoe without damaging crops.

Despite the numerous benefits of polyculture, it cannot (correct me if i'm wrong) be ho'ed. That leaves us with either hand weeding or no till wood chip gardening. (still playing devils advocate here. dont shoot!)

Hand weeding is unrealistic for anyone who really wants to feed their family with the garden. It just takes too long. Besdies that, the more diversity in the plot one is weeding, the longer it takes since you need to really focus on not pulling up "good" plants.

I can't think of anything bad to say about wood chip gardening. Maybe ya'll can help me out here.

Done playing devils advocate but i don't think i need to explicitly explain on this forum of all places the problem with monocultures. How can one man work an entire acre without resorting to neat, monocultured rows?
 
Landon Sunrich
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Dan, I'll take a stab at this one but my experience is also doing field work and I think you're either underestimating your employee or getting way better volunteers than most people do.

I think the goal in designing a good poly culture is so that you don't have weeds. Every nitch is filled and in such proportions (plant a to b to c) that everything has enough room to thrive according to its needs. I think there is probable expected some reduction in something like piece size with the expectation that the gross production per given area goes up. Ie (and to use a real world example) If you or I had 200 feet of tilled bed and we planted it in lettuce with 12 inches between them at 5 rows wide we'd have something like 1000 head of lettuce. Now once person (or two one on each path if you really want to fly through in the time it takes to whistle a Minor Threat tune) could keep the field immaculate and harvest damn near 1000 head of damn flash lettuce off of that row. OR we could get swamped somewhere else after the first pass of the week, get bogged down (literally) in planing out onions and come back to find the chickweed fun rampid and god forbid the pig weed getting ready to set seed. "Catastrophe!" or We end up harvesting 850 head of pretty nice lettuce and loose some to being torn up and out competed by the weeds, but harvest that and feed our chickens for a week. Now, in this calculation we better have a lot of damn chickens because 150 heads of lettuce at market is a good 300-450 $ and that's a lot of money for the quarter hour it would have taken for a couple people to hit the bed a few more times.... But in this example - as a poly culture it didn't need to be hoed - or at the very least only once right after your seed/transplant - to obtain the yield. Now I love a nice neat field. I really do. But I think permaculture is more about an excersize about how to stack as many things into as limited a space as possible with the net result being - there are no weeds - its about efficiency in long term time and effort not about quick turn over and fast yields. I'm sure theirs plenty of room in between though where industrial agriculture becomes intelligent agriculture (with proper co-plantings and rotations) before turning into true permaculture, which as I understand it has a fair degree of reliance on perennials in polyculture and the self-selecting and self seeding of plants.

Anyway. I may have lost you're question a bit - Let's wait for someone with extensive experience in polyculture to chime in.
 
Alder Burns
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I often find myself hoeing a polyculture. I garden in beds, with one or two lines of drip irrigation down each. Using drip irrigation is the main reason for beds or rows for me, even more so than weeding. In these beds I can polyculture by simply alternating rows, or alternating plants in the rows, or even more frequently by tucking in additional plants or seeds of something else in among plants already there, or where some plants of an initial planting failed. In any case the pathways get hoed, unless they have new sheetmulch on them, and the beds too, until they get mulch, if they do (I don't believe in permanent mulch in annual gardens.....it makes small seedlings and early or winter gardening difficult.
The solution on the long term, of course, is to reduce dependence on annuals altogether. But even a lot of my perennials will still be in rows and beds because in my climate they must be irrigated in any case......
 
Paul Cereghino
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I suspect that there are a wide diversity of things that fit under the title "polyculture". I have an intensive clean cultivated vege garden... somewhere in between Solomon and Jeavons style. Most of my polycultures come with selective weeding within the row. Maybe I leave self seeding stuff, or pull a patch of early beet greens to make room for the lambs quarters.

It might be useful to differentiate between sowing/planting in a row/transplanting, as much as polyculture/monocrop

Another setting is with large plants transplanted in into heavy mulched systems. For example, winter squash seedlings transplanted into a young food forest to be temporary understory. These are also polyculture.

Another polyculture is allowing some plants to grow among an overwintering garlic crop.

Another might be a smother crop of a semi-wild mustard like kale, and then going through once to do a chop and drop, and then letting it go feral until the chickens finish it off.

However if I am growing a spinach crop or some other little fussy thing... I'd say clean cultivation.

There are some really good discussions about intercropping/polyculture in Elliot Coleman's later books... He calls a unfilled niche the 'hidden farm'. He is working limited space and is always thinking about how to squeeze another crop out of a bed.
 
Cj Sloane
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dan long wrote:How can one man work an entire acre without resorting to neat, monocultured rows?


You plant perennials, then you don't have to hoe.

Annuals are mulched or chopped & dropped which is a little like hoeing but without exposing the soil. Generally, in a permaculture system you don't want to expose the soil which hoeing would do.
 
Jordan Lowery
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i have a high intensity polyculture market garden. i use my hands to weed, a steak knife, a hoe, and mulch grown in the polyculture. sometimes animals too.

the other thing is as over time you weed out and stop letting weeds go to seed, but your plants do go to seed. eventually the weeds become plants you want. this happens over a period of years but its well worth it. im about 75% of the way. i started out with crabgrass, foxtail, star thistle, and milk thistle. now poppies, clovers, dandelions, lettuces, radishes, and all kinds of wildflower and useful plants self seed.
 
Irene Kightley
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Keep at it !

I don't owe a hoe and after 14 years, gradually increasing the size of my food garden to a hectare (2.4 acres, which also incorporates a mini food forest a lot of ponds) I rarely weed. My chickens help me enormously.

I feed a lot of people over the year, (Probably an average of seven families) make an huge amount of conserves for us, for gifts etc. and rarely buy vegetables or fruit.

Just keep adding mulch, plant lots of perennial plants, mulch between them and fill spaces with annuals - flowers, lettuce, tomatoes, rocket, in fact anything that's good to eat or pretty !

As your garden matures, there will be very little need to weed and when you see a little weed or a plant you don't recognise, (I use a lot of hay in the garden !) you'll rush to the computer to see what it is, how you can use it to help other plants, eat it, feed to the chickens or whatever and if it's truly a "weed" that I don't want in the garden, the next time I'm out, I pull it up.









 
George Meljon
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Maybe look at some different type of hoes that can maneuver well:

http://www.roguehoe.com/scufflehoes/scufflehoes.html




This one is quite small, sharp and efficient. We have one and plan on putting it to full use this year. It was sharp enough to cut back dry cattail the other day. You can get them in the 2" range.


 
Paul Cereghino
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Irene -- how much mulch do you bring into your hectare site over a year? Do you have portions of you site dedicated to producing mulch? Do you have slug or snail populations? Do you have patches within the matrix where you focus on annual leaf and root vegetables, do you pull back the mulch and direct sow or transplant?

I have struggled to haul in enough mulch to keep up with permanent mulching even in small areas, and struggle with perennial rhizomatous grasses that make starting vegetables in semi wild perennial systems difficult. I think I could use chickens better than I do, and am starting work on chicken forage yards with deeper mulch, (but am still looking for easy mulch where I don't spend my whole day loading and unloading the truck.)
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Dan, if you feel that you have to use a hoe, then you might want to try the ho mi digger (I think that's how it's spelled--I'll check and re-post). It's a small hoe, that has been used in Korea since the bronze age. It's got near perfect curve with a sharp point for accurate shallow cultivation. You can get it with various handle lengths. I have several of the shortest ones, and they are quite effective in tight spaces, on beds that I do cultivate intensively. It's available at Lee Valley centers. Not sure where else. Pretty cheap too.

As was mentioned, polyculture can and does mean a lot of different things to different people, but there was some good advice given already concerning methods, and reasoning.

I will add a few things, though, that the more you work into your soil with tools, the more apt you are to unearth dormant weed seeds, perpetuating your problems in the bare soil you just created. And believe me there are lots of dormant weed seeds in your soil. It's the job of the weed to cover bare earth. This is the way the earth initially heals her exposed wound. If you minimize hoe work, to begin with, you will come out ahead a lot quicker. If you cut your weeds down with a steak knife (as was mentioned), or similar tool, and use the tops as mulch (not near the weed's seeding time!!) or chicken feed, then you are gaining. If you are using the hoe, and you have a bucket or wheelbarrow full of mulch with you when you weed, then you can fill in the holes between plants as you make them, nourishing your crops, protecting the bare earth, covering those dormant weeds seeds from exposure to sunlight, and many other benefits.

I hope that is helpful.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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The Ho-Mi digger (pronounced Hoe-Mee and meaning "little ground spear" in Korean) was first made in Korea during the Bronze Age. The tool has been a standard for 5000 years.

Strong, yet light, it is hand forged from steel with a sturdy tang well fixed in the handle. Two handle sizes are available: a short 5" handle for single-handed use and a long 5' ash handle for use while standing (the long-handled digger is 63" overall).

The miniature plowshare design makes it perfect for opening the soil for seeding or setting out transplants, for weeding and for planting bulbs. The unique shape allows you to do many tasks (hilling, digging, weeding, and planting) with only one tool.

Blade is 6-1/2" long. Made in Korea.

google it for more.
 
John Polk
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I have one of the short handled ho-mi tools. Wonderful tool for annual beds.
It's like having a hand powered 3" x 7" plow share.

On my knees, I reach out to arms length and draw it to my knee, creating a mini furrow. Drop in seeds, and then push the tool back filling in the trench. A few taps with the back side of the blade, and I have good soil contact. I can do about 3 feet of row in a few seconds, then move to the next section.

Now I want one of the longer handled ones. Great for larger seeds like corn. With a flick of the wrist, you create a divot. Drop a corn kernel in, and use the back of the blade to push the soil back in and tap for soil contact. Take a step forward, and repeat. You could plant a family sized corn patch in a matter of minutes.

I bought mine at a Japanese gardening store, complete with Japanese labeling. Great little tool. Mine isn't sharpened for hoeing, but a few licks with a file would solve that.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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John Polk wrote:Great for larger seeds like corn. With a flick of the wrist, you create a divot. Drop a corn kernel in, and use the back of the blade to push the soil back in and tap for soil contact. Take a step forward, and repeat. You could plant a family sized corn patch in a matter of minutes.

I bought mine at a Japanese gardening store, complete with Japanese labeling. Great little tool. Mine isn't sharpened for hoeing, but a few licks with a file would solve that.


What sort of spacing (between plants and rows) are you planting your corn, John?

Yes, I forgot to mention that the tool is a bit blunt, and is made of wrought iron, so yeah, if you want a weed slicer/chopper, then a good sharpening is in order, thanks for mentioning that John.
 
Alex Ames
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I think the ho mi tool is very useful. I like the half moon hoe for sliding along the ground
to clip weeds at the soil line. I find I am able to work through mulch and leave it in place.
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John Polk
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What sort of spacing (between plants and rows) are you planting your corn, John?


I don't have a long handled ho-mi yet, but I see it as a very useful tool...
...like my short handled version, but easier on the back/knees !

Spacing would vary depending on if it was a 3 Sisters, a polyculture, or even a monoculture for just expanding my seed bank.
For a seed bank plot, I might try 2 rows about 10-12 inches apart, then +/- 20" walking space before the next 2 rows.
That would give ample space to tend each individual plant, while keeping the entire plot compact.

 
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