Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Stranger’s Hill Organics And The War On Weeds

Fighting weeds is probably the biggest challenge for organic farmers. Rachel Beyer and Ben Smith of Stranger's Hill Organics give some tips.

Strangers Hill Organics

Photo: Annie Corrigan/WFIU

Stranger's Hill Organics is located seven miles outside of downtown Bloomington, Indiana.

Three Organic Ways To Fight Weeds

Stranger’s Hill Organics is the oldest continually Certified Organic farm in Indiana, so they’ve been fighting the good fight for a long time: the war against weeds. According to Farm Manager Rachel Beyer, weeds — more politely called non-crop competitors — are probably the biggest challenge to organic farmers.

She talks about three ways to remove weeds:

  • Cultivate manually with a hoe, or pull the weeds by hand.
  • Black plastic mulch. She says some organic farmers have a problem using this because it’s a petroleum-based product that gets thrown away at the end of the season. “But it’s a major savings in terms of labor, which otherwise you would be spending a lot of money on.”
  • Deep mulching with cardboard and wood chips. That stuff will break down in the soil and you don’t have to worry about removing it before you till. Also, you’re adding organic matter while controlling the weeds at the same time. Of the three options, this is the most labor-intensive.

Rachel Beyer of Stranger's Hill Organics

Photo: Annie Corrigan/WFIU

25-year-old Rachel Beyer is the Farm Manager of Stranger's Hill Organics.

Naming The Enemies

The parsley and thyme patches are being overrun by ragweed and a variety of grasses. The worst weed of all, however, is vine weed. This especially pernicious weed wraps itself around the plants, suffocates them and takes their nutrients. Ben Smith, the CSA Manager at Stranger’s Hill, advises gardeners to make sure to remove the root or else it will just grow back.

Luckily, the benefits of removing the weeds from the beds are obvious. The plants that have had their non-crop competitor neighbors removed are a darker shade of green and are more lush. “They probably taste better, too, because they have all the nutrients they need,” says Smith.

For The Love Of Organic Farming

“Sometimes you find yourself doing the funniest things for organic farming,” says Smith, like getting on your hands and knees and pulling weeds one at a time. “On conventional farms, you could just spray some Round Up on everything and it’ll take care of the problem,” but the organic mindset is to do what’s best for the entire environment.

He explains that spraying chemicals kills not only the bad plants but also the beneficial organisms that live in various parts of the ecosystem. “Even weeds in a way can be good,” he adds.

For instance, the farm has a colony of bees. If they were to remove all the plants they didn’t specifically put into the ground, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of pollen to gather for those bees.

The same goes for butterflies. “You don’t see butterflies on a monocultured cornfield,” he says, “because that’s not a diverse ecosystem.”

The Cycle Of A Vegetable’s Life

After the weeds are removed, organic material will be applied to the land to create rich topsoil that is ideal for plant growth.

After the deep mulching procedure Beyer explained, they will apply compost made from vegetables that have rotted in the fields or were not able to be sold at market.

Smith is hopeful that after all this work, the parsley and thyme will bounce back.

“It’s going to be the best tasting thyme and parsley you’ve ever had.”

Ben Smith Of Stranger's Hill Organics

Photo: Annie Corrigan/WFIU

Ben Smith pulls weeds in the parsley and thyme patches at Stranger's Hill Organics.

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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