News From the Farm | Week of November 11, 2013

When we give farm tours, we are sometimes asked how Full Belly Farm deals with PESTS. People are often thinking of nasty INSECTS when they ask this question, but to the organic farmer, “pests” are a vast group and the weeds are usually the hardest to deal with.

One weed that took off on the farm last year was Johnsongrass, one of the most noxious weeds in the world. In fact, this weed is so bad that several states have legislation requiring landowners to get rid of it if it shows up on their property! Every year, it produces thousands of seeds that scatter all over, but under the ground, even worse than the seeds, it sends out hundreds of feet of rhizomes, nasty ropey roots that choke crops and can reproduce even from a short segment. Johnsongrass goes dormant in the fall, and Full Belly farmers have taken on its challenge and devised a way to get as much of the rhizome biomass out of the fields as possible.

One of the problem fields was our asparagus field where the crowns of the asparagus are maybe 15-inches below the soil surface. To start the process of getting the Johnsongrass out without damaging the asparagus crowns, we used a potato digger to lift the soil above the asparagus, and pull up as many rhizomes as possible. Next, a crew went through the field with rakes, to sift the rhizomes from the soil and pile them up.  Finally, we loaded them onto a trailer to move them out of the field. Phew! A big job. Three different farmers had three different estimates of what proportion of the rhizomes that are in the field have been removed: 50%, 60% and 80%.

Where did they go next?  This is the fun part of the story. We drove several huge trailer loads of them down the road to Riverdog Farm! You may think we were trying to spread this nasty problem?  No of course not.  We fed them to the Riverdog hogs, who really love them, making a happy ending to the weedy story.