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Home - Weed Warfare – Summer 2010

hairy galinsoga

Hairy Galinsoga; Illustration by Carrie Graham

The cost of importing the Weed Master may be prohibitive for many small-scale organic farmers — the whole setup runs a little less than $7,000. And in certain situations, hand-powered tools may be a better alternative anyway.

But innovation is more important now than it has ever been. The fact that the number of such farmers is growing points to a need for more effective products and methods. But so does the prospect of climate change. According to Gallandt, an overall rise or fall in temperature won’t make a huge difference, but variability in weather patterns will.

That’s because the window for ideal cultivation conditions is very small — and timing is everything. The weather needs to be moderately dry at the same time the weeds are at their smallest growth stage — called the “white thread” phase — early in the season. An evening rainstorm can take regular weed-killing rates — usually around 80 percent to 85 percent — down to 60 percent. That means more passes with a hoe, which means more time, which means more labor, which means money lost.

“Organic farmers are going to be in trouble,” Gallandt says. “Cultivation is really dependent on the environment and as the weather begins to get more unpredictable, you can see why we’re more interested in some of these tools with high efficiency rates.”

Weeds can tell us a lot about our environment, the weather and the farming practices we employ. Some, such as the edible wood sorrel or the attractive common purslane, are even fairly pleasant. But most of them are as pesky as the poltergeists in Ghostbusters and as hard to bring down as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

Gallandt’s advice to farmers and gardeners? Persevere. And don’t be afraid. He and his team of weed busters will be around to help.

“Over time, as you start managing the seed bank, you start to solve some of your weed problems, but the things that you still see are the things that are slipping through in the unfriendly environment you’ve created. You end up with a new species that has a trait that allows it to thrive in the environment it’s in,” Gallandt says. “They’re basically doing their job, and to think that we’re going to solve this problem and make them go away completely goes against eons of evolutionary strategy.”


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