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soil disturbance: deadheading annual weeds vs pulling by roots?  RSS feed

 
Mike Musialowski
Posts: 5
Location: Taos, New Mexico at 7000 ft. - Zone 5
forest garden solar
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Hey y'all. The wife and I have a difference of opinion. I read permie theory voraciously, but she has more experience in ornamental gardens. We're growing a food forest. I proposed that it's better to cut annual weeds even if you have to do it twice in a season because there's no soil disturbance. We've put in quite a bit of energy into supporting fungal soils for our trees by inoculation, chop'n'drop, wood chip mulch, etc. Wife says that if you clip flowering structures off, it'll just stimulate the plant to send up another flower head. I personally find it easier to cut a weed with a tool than pull it using my back. Maybe it doesn't really make much of a difference? Perhaps we can just work our own different ways and this is not a big deal at all. Ideas?

Mike
 
Greg Coffey
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Location: Rhode Island
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Hey Mike,

So, like with most opinions, you're both right in your thinking... which in wedded life means that a compromise will be needed to maintain civility
Basically, those plants have just one chance to pass on their genome, so if the flower is cut you can bet your bottom dollar that it's going to try to produce another flower and get those seeds made before its annual life is over. Problem with pulling is that (as you know) it means work, and disturbs the structure of the soil you're trying to cultivate. So the two things that need to be addressed are preventing these plants from seeding the next generation of weeds, and preventing you from doing a bunch of back-breaking labor.
Perhaps you two could use bags (paper/mesh) and affix them over the blooms so that the plant sets seed and is satisfied in so doing, but you collect them all to be destroyed (fire...) at the end of the grow season, preventing soil damage, serious pulling, and another generation next year.

Hope this idea helps!
~Greg
 
Tracy Wandling
master steward
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Location: Cortes Island, British Columbia. Zone: 8ish Lat: 50; Rainfall: 50" ish; sand and rocks; well water
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You might also mention the fact that cutting the weed plant back, instead of pulling it, does two things: 1) it leaves the roots in the soil to rot and feed the soil food web, and 2) you can use the clippings as mulch, to also feed the soil food web, conserve water, and help to shade out other weeds. And disturbing the soil also brings more weed seeds into the light of day, and may cause more weed pressure. So, cutting them down before they flower or set seed may be something you have to do a couple of times a season, but like you said, it's easier to hack them off than it is to pull them out; and all that mulch material will continue to feed the soil, and your food forest! (I live with an ex-landscaper, so I have the same issues. Seems it's more important that it looks all neat and tidy, than be productive and ecologically viable. It's a process . . . )

Good luck!

Cheers
Tracy
 
Galadriel Freden
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Location: West Yorkshire, UK
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For me personally, my form of weeding is like chop and drop: I pull on a handful of weeds, trying to get as much as the plants as possible, then drop them back on the ground as mulch. If I pull the roots, fine. If I don't, fine: the plant will regrow and make more biomass for another round of mulch.

I don't think there's much soil disturbance at all in pulling by hand(as opposed to by machine, like tilling or even digging). I'm certainly comfortable with that amount of soil disturbance--and work.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Some annual weeds can be killed by cutting them at the soil surface. In my experience, usually if I cut them higher, they just regrow flowering branches. Some especially persistent weeds need to be cut below the crown, leaving only the root in the soil. Thistle is an example of this.

 
Michael Bushman
Posts: 144
Location: Sacramento, CA
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I am lazy, kill a weed you are done, pull off just the top and you just doubled your work load.

If pulling a weeds roots disturbed the soil enough to matter, wouldn't any field of root crops wither and die the next year?

But lets get real, the amount of soil disturbance pulling a weeds roots is utterly insignificant.

As for disturbing the seed bed and exposing more weed seeds, if your bed is so full of weed seeds, you need to sheet mulch.

Buy a small hoe and use that along with mulch, its fast, weed early before their tap roots are deep enough to matter and voila, you soon have a weed free bed.
 
Mike Musialowski
Posts: 5
Location: Taos, New Mexico at 7000 ft. - Zone 5
forest garden solar
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Cool, thanks all, and especially for being so quick! I like how there's quite a diversity of opinions, very permaculture-like. I definitely prefer to leave the biomass of any weeds on the ground to help build soil. So with annuals that have already gone to seed (we have a baby and are perpetually behind on everything!) this is challenging because I have to transport the seed heads out of the garden and leave the rest behind. I think I've come up with a tool-oriented solution: with a hardware store coupon I bought a tool sleeve for 5 gal buckets. I put my most-used weeding and other tools in the pockets and leave the inside for collecting seed heads that gotta go. Sheet mulch was mentioned. Well... this is a permie zone 3 kinda orchard, 1/8 of an acre, sloped, and every tree basin is bermed to catch... you're not gonna believe this, gravity-fed flood irrigation water. So a) the terrain to cover is large and super bumpy, and b) new seed will always arrive in water from the ditch. I know... it's nuts to have this much water available in NM but it's part of our gig in the Taos area with a long history of acequias. So back to weeds, I definitely pull easy items like sunflowers, but prickly lettuce is well.. prickly and well rooted. The bagging seed heads is another idea. Hmmm! OK, I'll play with a few things and see how efficient it feels. I heard loud and clear one argument that doing things twice is not efficient. k, thanks all!
 
Tobias Ber
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Location: Northern Germany (Zone 8a)
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hm... what about growing mulch-plants like comfrey? when you hit/cut the weeds, them chop n drop some comfrey on top of it.

what about filling the space, the weeds now like to grow in, with some usefull plants? have you looked into the 7 layers of a food-forest? maybe it would make sense to fill the space with herbs, shrubs and groundcover (maybe sweet potatoe or something)?
 
Michael Bushman
Posts: 144
Location: Sacramento, CA
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Okay, more information helps.

The poster above mentioned planting other things in there, which is a great idea. Comfrey is a useful plant but plant it sparingly as once you put it in a spot you will always have it in the spot. That said, on a place that large and watering as you do, you are never going to be done weeding, especially with bare ground. The joy of having bare ground is you can plant good stuff in there, put in some cover crops, tall ones in your case to shade out the weeds, mulch in late winter to cover last years seed deliveries and after anytime you flood. Another method would be to set up some zones or paddocks and run chickens through, they will eat everything green.

Also, hoeing a large area with young sprouts is fast, hoeing gets progressively slower the bigger things get. Buy a Hula Hoe like this one $20 Hula Hoe and hoe stuff when it is small, these are very easy to use and fast.

Also, no matter which hoe you use, keep them sharpened. Doesn't need to be razor sharp but more like a dull knife blade, they come from the factory almost round and the ease of using one rapidly increases the sharper you get it.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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My position is that whomever is doing the actual weeding gets to decide how it is done... If you ain't actually in the garden doing the work, then you don't get any say in how the work is accomplished. In my world, boots on the ground always trumps thoughts in the cyberspace.

In my garden, the main purposes of weeding are to reduce competition and to prevent the formation of propagules. Seems to me that is better accomplished by cutting the plant off below ground than by mowing above ground. No matter how many times I mow my lawn, there are still wildflowers blooming in it. (That's like 20 cuttings in a season.) I can chop off 50 weed seedlings with a hoe in the same time it takes me to pull one by hand. And I can use a hoe while standing up!!! Therefore, the pragmatic, boots on the ground farmer that I am, is almost always going to weed with a hoe.



 
Michael Bushman
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Location: Sacramento, CA
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Then men have spoken, we all prefer hoes...
 
Todd Parr
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Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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I agree with cutting them just below ground level with a sharp hoe. Easy Digging has really great tools. I am in no way associated with them, just enjoy working with good tools.
 
Mike Musialowski
Posts: 5
Location: Taos, New Mexico at 7000 ft. - Zone 5
forest garden solar
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OK, thanks all. I've got plenty of good perspectives on this. Ease, autonomy, getting organic material back on the ground seemed to be the consensus. and numerous ways to get there... the earlier the better. Thanks!
 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
http://richsoil.com/pdc
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