Every year billions of dollars are spent on weed killing chemicals, and, in general, they are a pretty effective and relatively immediate short-term weed control fix. Unfortunately, the overall expense to your farm can be dramatically higher than you realize, and that expense is taking it’s toll on your profits, and, ultimately, the future viability and stability of your farm.
Whether you are a farmer or a home gardener, there is something you need to know about weeds: they are telling you something about your soil, and, if you pay attention, what they are telling you will help you to not only get rid of the weeds, but also to encourage better growth from the desirable plants they are competing with.
It pays to listen to your weeds, and, if you’ll give me just a few moments of your time, I’ll provide you with some unique, but incredibly effective methods to take advantage of the situation and begin the process of minimizing your weeds and increasing your yields while lowering your expenses and minimizing your effort.
What Are Your Weeds Telling You?
Well, the message may be a mixed one and it may be a bit muddy. But, that doesn’t mean there is no message at all, and it doesn’t mean that the message can’t still be useful. You just have to use some common sense and wisdom.
There are MANY guides on the internet and within various books that will tell you that the types of weeds that are growing in your yard, garden or crop are telling you what you should be doing to your soil. If this weed is growing there, you need to lime. If you’ve got this weed, you need more organic matter or more moisture or less moisture, etc.
The list goes on and on, and would suggest that soil testing is irrelevant and all you need is a snapshot of your weed population to determine how your soil must be amended for best results. I would submit that, as much as knowing what weeds you’ve got CAN be very helpful, it doesn’t work quite like that.
First let me tell you why it doesn’t work like that and then let me tell you how it DOES work and how valuable this method can be if you keep the right perspective on it.
Some Weeds Will Grow Anywhere
One reason it’s not so cut and dry is because some weeds, although they may prefer certain soil conditions, can still do quite well even if those soil conditions are not present. So, just because a certain weed is present, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the specific soil imbalance that is generally associated with that weed.
Look at the WHOLE Weed Profile
Don’t make any assumptions about your soil profile based only on the presence of one or two weeds. Instead, pay closer attention to the overall picture of your whole weed profile in any given area.
For instance, if you have a large population of a particular weed and if you have significant populations of OTHER weeds that also are all said to like a particular soil profile, there is a much better chance that you DO actually have that particular soil deficiency or imbalance.
For instance, yellow nutsedge, dock, heal-all and beggarticks all like wet soils. So, if you have decent populations of 2 or 3 of these weed species, there’s a pretty good chance your soil conditions are too wet and you may need to provide for better drainage or amend your soil so that it doesn’t hold the water as it does currently.
Similarly, if you see sorrel, crabgrass, annual bluegrass, and plantain all growing together (or even 2 or 3 of them), your soil is likely acidic and could use some lime.
Of course, the absence of these weeds does not mean your soil is NOT acidic. It may still be. But, if numerous of these weed species are all present in good numbers, there’s a good chance you’ve got low pH and should probably make some adjustments.
Consider Partnering with Your Weeds
Believe it or not, weeds are not ALWAYS a bad thing. Many weeds grow well in certain soil conditions because they have the ability to rectify those imbalances. Some weeds send down deep tap roots and draw up nutrients from deep within the soil. Then, when those weeds die, those nutrients are deposited into the top soil, replenishing deficient nutrients.
Some weeds will often grow in nitrogen deficient soils because, like soybeans, they have the ability to fix their own nitrogen in the soil. As such, these types of weeds can rectify nitrogen deficiencies over time and will be a help to the soil. Moreover, as they die, they will deposit other organic material and nutrients into the top-soil.
Other weeds may help correct soil imbalances as a result of specific bacteria or fungi populations they promote within the soil. A shift in the balance of the soil microbiology causes a shift in nutrient balances and/or pH levels, bringing the soil back into a fertile balance that will support other plant growth.
So, if it’s possible, let them grow and die where they are. Often, in the long-run, you’ll be better off, if they’re not really hurting anything.
Decide Whether They are Really a Problem
Take some time to evaluate whether the weeds growing in your garden or crop (or even lawn) are really a problem. Are they going to make it considerably more difficult to bring in a good harvest? Are they going to end up in your grain, causing a significant drop in quality and therefore a loss of premiums? If not, are they really a problem?
Certainly, it is possible that they may sap SOME nutrition from your current crop, maybe requiring some additional fertilization THIS year. However, if left alone, they will die and can then provide additional organic matter and nutrients to the soil which will be used by crops in the following years.
So, in actuality, you’re not really losing any of the fertilizer you apply. You’re just storing it up for a year to be used for next year’s crop. A little patience and a long-term outlook shows the weeds to not be as significant a sap on soil fertility and crop yield after all, and maybe you can save the time, effort and expense of applying chemical herbicide treatments if you can just figure out a way to live with the weeds.
Consider the Unseen Costs of Weed Control
In many cases, keeping weeds in check is done through chemical applications, which are relatively quick and easy. The cost of those applications is often only seen in the cost of the fuel to apply them and the actual chemicals themselves. These costs can be high enough, but what about the unseen costs?
Healthy soil contains HUGE populations of various bacteria, fungi, earthworms and other organisms. It is these organisms that keep the soil in balance, maintain neutral pH levels, break down organic matter and chelate soil nutrients so that they are most available to plants. Without these soil organisms ALL plant growth processes are severely hampered.
Soil becomes compacted, organic matter is not broken down, pH becomes imbalanced and nutrients are locked up. In light of this fact, it seems that anyone trying to grow anything would want do everything they could do to boost the populations of and stimulate the activity of these soil organisms in order to increase yields and improve plant health and quality.
However, every time you apply chemical herbicides to control weeds (or chemicals of any sort, including fertilizers) you are doing the exact opposite. Although there are some soil organisms that can handle the chemicals, many cannot. They are either killed off entirely or migrate out of the soil in search of a more hospitable environment.
Over time, your soil becomes a ghost of it’s former self, requiring more and more effort and more and more fertilizer to get even adequate yield. And, even when yields are “good”, they are “fake”. Plant health and nutritional quality are not what they should be, and anyone eating the fruits of those yields is not getting the nutritional benefit they should be.
How much does this cost you in “unseen” expenses that are never logically tied to their source – dry, poor quality, acidic soils that only perform when massive amounts of expensive chemical fertilizers are repeatedly applied. How much time and money are you throwing away on these chemicals only to guarantee even poorer results in the years to come? What is going to be left to pass on to your children when the land stops producing altogether because everything God intended to be there has been stripped away through continuous chemical application?
Minimizing Weeds & Maximizing Profits
Fortunately, it is possible to significantly improve soil health, increase soil organism activity, reduce your weed populations and, at the same time, improve plant health, increase yields and better the nutritional quality of your harvest. And, it doesn’t have to increase your costs. In fact, certainly over the long-term and possibly even in the short term, it should actually REDUCE your costs, increasing your overall profits even further.
Sound too good to be true? I assure you it’s not. But, a change in your thinking is likely in order. Some people just simply won’t be able to do it. They just won’t be able to turn away from what they THOUGHT they knew about farming and take another path. That’s too bad. But, for those who CAN keep an open mind and consider a somewhat counter-intuitive plan of attack, HUGE rewards are ripe for the picking, so to speak.
Your Absolute Best Plan of Attack
The absolute best thing that you can do to minimize weed problems is to bring your soil back into a natural balance with high levels of organic matter and significant microbial and earthworm activity. Those two things alone will quickly rectify soil problems and create the kind of soil that will support healthy growth from your “money plants” while minimizing the presence of unwanted weeds.
Learning everything you can about getting the fastest initial growth from your crops can also make a big difference. Once weed seeds are sufficiently shaded, they have a hard time germinating, since most need significant sunlight for germination. Cut out the sun, cut out the weeds.
Also, recognize that your soil is full of buried weed seeds. Every time you till, you bring those buried weed seeds to the surface, giving them an opportunity to germinate and spread. And, of course, once they sprout up and go to seed, they can be an even bigger nuisance for the following year.
The absolute best thing you can do for long term soil health and weed control is to NOT till it and lay down an organic soil cover each year. By laying down a good soil cover each year, you cover the weed seeds and prevent them from receiving sunlight to germinate. In addition, you provide a barrier to prevent rapid moisture loss from the soil.
Moreover, if you use the right covering, you actually provide a water retention and delivery medium as well. For instance, wood chips containing leaves, bark and the woody part of the branch, works as a sponge to hold moisture from rainfall or irrigation. It then slowly releases that moisture to the ground AND prevents that moisture from evaporating away. Farmers and gardeners utilizing such a soil covering can often reduce the water needs of their crops by 75% or more.
Lastly, such an organic soil covering will be broken down by earthworms and soil microorganisms (especially if you’re using natural fertilization practices that stimulate their activity). By doing so, that soil covering will be taken into the ground and deposited as soil humus. Soil humus is nutrient dense AND has excellent water retention ability, making your soil (and the plants growing in it) even more tolerant of severe drought conditions.
As these earthworms and microorganisms bring this organic matter down into the soil, they aerate the soil and create a soil structure that is nearly impossible to compact. In so doing, over time they create a soil that you can drive a tractor over without causing any compaction whatsoever, making no-till practices even more viable.
Over time, your soil structure becomes such that plants thrive year after year with very little fertilizer, minimal irrigation, no pesticides and minimal weed problems. Just laying down this organic soil covering year after year and avoiding soil tilling will quickly renovate your soil profile in ways that you cannot even imagine, not only giving you EXTREMELY healthy plants but also allowing you to significantly reduce the weed cover you have to deal with.
And, really, it’s completely intuitive. Crop seeds do not need sun to germinate. They need water, and that’s it. Any person who sprouts seeds at home knows this because they can put the seeds in a jar, moisten them and keep them out of sunlight and they will germinate.
Weed seeds, on the other hand, typically need SUNLIGHT to germinate. So, by planting your seed and then covering the crop with a light layering of organic soil cover, you create the ideal conditions for crop seed to germinate while keeping weed seeds from germinating at all.
How Can You Lose?
Honestly, if you can cut the chemicals, improve soil quality, reduce fertilizer inputs, reduce irrigation inputs, reduce the fuel and energy required to apply these inputs, improve plant health, increase yield AND cut the weeds – all of which improve the long-term stability and viability of your farm or garden, why on earth would you NOT do it (are at least TRY it)?
If you want to see the plan above in action, check out the “Back to Eden” link at the end of this article. After watching it, you may say to yourself, “That’s great for a garden, but how could I possibly implement that large scale on a farm?” To that I would respond that you’re asking the wrong question – or at least with the wrong emphasis. If you’re asking that question with the intent to suggest that it’s impossible because you don’t yet see how you could do it, you’re right, you can’t. Anything that you truly believe is impossible, IS IMPOSSIBLE (at least for you).
However, if you’re asking that question with the intent of truly desiring an answer to the question of HOW, I submit that the answer will come (if you really want an answer). Our God is an AWESOME God, and he did not design this world to be farmed the way we are farming it. And, my intent with that statement is not to point fingers at anyone.
There are alot of very good people who are unknowingly killing their soil and the future viability of their farm, and it doesn’t make them bad people. They are not out to intentionally harm the environment. Many of the individuals farming as they do today are doing so simply because they’ve been told it’s the only way to get the yields they need and the profitability necessary. It’s what they grew up learning about farming because the “smart people” told them it was the only way to do it effectively.
Maybe the “Smart People” Aren’t Always Right
What if we began thinking outside the box just a bit and started looking at things just a bit differently and with a more long-term view? There are alot of things that we now do on this planet that, even 10 years ago, virtually NOBODY thought were possible. But SOMEONE decided it was possible and challenged the nay-sayers. Maybe it’s time that we begin applying free thought and creativity to this problem and begin doing on a larger scale what people have proven can be effectively done on a small scale – with miraculous result (you’ll see what I mean at the “Back to Eden” link further down).
For instance, in the video directly below you’ll hear about studies that are being done at Washington State University that are proving that application of selected soil bacteria are especially effective at controlling certain weed populations without having any negative effect on desirable crop plants. No chemicals. Just selected soil bacteria.
This is fascinating (and extremely promising), and the video itself is from 2011. It’s possible that they may have moved considerably further with their research even since then.
Or what about using goats for weed control? Don’t laugh. It’s being done with tremendous result. Goats seem to be particularly drawn to the very weeds we’re always trying to rid ourselves of and have very little interest in grass and other desirable plants. So, letting goats out into your pastures and hay fields will turn all of those undesirable weeds into fertilizer for your hay grass. In fact, this might even be possible with other crops, depending upon the plant you’re trying to grow.
And, even if all you did was let them eat out in your fields, you’d be saving money AND maintaining the health of your soil while keeping your weeds in check. But, what if you took it a step further? What if you actually sold the goats for meat? Free range goat meat goes for a pretty good price. And goats allowed to free range in your hay fields and pastures will be very healthy goats.
Let them rotationally graze ahead of your horses to get rid of all the undesirable weeds you don’t want your horses eating. Seriously, as crazy as it may sound to some folks this is a VERY viable method of controlling weeds without any chemicals whatsoever. You can actually hire companies that will bring in their goats to do this for you, but, personally, I think there would be much more cost savings in doing it yourself.
Check out the video below for an example of how this is already being done:
What Will Be Your Legacy When You’re Gone?
Who are you? Who do you want to be? What legacy do you want to leave on this planet? What legacy do you want to leave your kids? Whatever that legacy is, don’t let uncertainty keep you from achieving it. Start coming up with new ways to make it happen. Consider new perspectives – even ones that challenge what you currently believe. They won’t all be right, but they are not all wrong simply because it’s not the way we were taught.
Alot of good people have taught me things over the years that turned out to be wrong. That didn’t make them bad people. “We did what we did when we knew what we knew.” But, once we know otherwise, then we are responsible for whatever actions we take that do not affect a positive change. So, what are you going to do with that responsibility now? If you’ve read this article, and/or others on this site, you now know that we’ve screwed this thing up pretty badly, but we can fix it. And, you now have a new responsibility and a choice to make.
The choice you and others like you make now will dramatically affect the next generation and their ability to continue to put food on the table for their and others’ families. I frequently speak with farmers who tell me that for the past few years, no matter what they do to their soil or how much fertilizer they put out they CANNOT achieve the same yields they did just 5 or 10 years ago. That is because the soil has been stripped of everything valuable.
We have been borrowing from the nutrient bank of our fertile soil for decades and now it’s time to pay the bill, with interest. But we can’t pay it – at least not in the traditional way. We have to actually put back what we’ve stripped. The amazing thing is that it’s actually not nearly as hard as some people might think. And, the video below makes that abundantly clear in very simple terms. I highly encourage you to watch it all the way though. Paul is an amazing guy. Watch the video, and I think you’ll agree.