5 organic ways to weed without spraying
Get rid of weeds using everything from a rabbit to a steam gun (but not together).
Words: Ben Gaia
One of the typical things I get asked is a variation on this question. “I am trying not to have to use poisons/chemicals on our weeds, so what would be your advice on stuff to use?”
People are always looking for an easy way out, a spray to save them actually weeding. There are indeed organic sprays which use strong oils and natural chemical action without dangerous residues, but there is no substitute for some hard graft with a hoe or a weedeater. Physical methods are usually more permanent too.
For example, a farmer neighbour tried aerial spraying his ragwort, then topping it by mower. Neither of the methods worked, and both consolidated the roots of the plants, making them stronger each year. Last year he spent two weeks digging out the large established ragwort bushes and the following season there was a marked reduction in numbers.
MY FIVE SUGGESTIONS
1. Buy a steam gun, or a flame gun but note these will melt plastic on tunnel houses and can cause scrub fires!
2. Hoeing is the old true way. When you’re working on gravel drives or digging gardens, this is easy. Grubbing out tiny gorse seedlings with a hoe is much less work than digging out the roots of a three year old gorse bush. Timing is everything with organic weed control.
3. Mulching using big bits of industrial plastic begged from factories – try a forklift driver as they use large plastic sheets to slide loads off trucks – kills weeds better than herbicide, it just takes a few weeks.
4. Tweaking your soil chemistry can affect some weeds. For example, applying lime to an area of buttercup will reduce its numbers as it thrives only in acidic soil. Weeds like deep-rooting dandelions will indicate mineral deficiencies such as magnesium which can be corrected by addition of rock dusts like dolomite lime.
5. Use sheep, a miniature horse or a mobile rabbit hutch to graze a specific area for a short time. You could try a goat, but in my experience it will escape*.
*Goats ALWAYS escape. They will then climb your fruit trees and eat them from the top down. Ever wondered how the Sahara Desert got so big? Goats overgraze it preventing trees from regenerating. Goats do worse damage than weeds in my book. Do not get one for weed control.
The minimum weed maintenance in an orchard is to pull the long grass and weeds from around the tree bases and then use it as mulch around the trees to conserve moisture, provide compost and reduce grass competition. Add mulch from mown grass for added suppression of weed regrowth.
Many fruit trees like a regular, heavy mulch, particularly subtropicals like feijoas, tamarillos, and citrus. The decaying weeds add trace elements, and you can also add seaweed, compost, manure.
Grazing birds such as geese and ducks will trim and maintain the orchard sward, if it is already short, but if it’s not you will need to mow it, then let the geese in to keep it down. Three geese eat about the same as one sheep. Young trees and low hanging fruit will need protection, and the geese will also need access to fresh water.
Most importantly, do not expect the kind of computer-generated perfection you find on a chemicalised golf course. I use all these methods combined. I have few weeds, great insect and bird life, poison-free soil, organic eggs, healthy trees and great fruit production.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ben Gaia grows trees in the extreme climate of the West Coast of the South Island and runs a mail order nursery for organic fruit and forestry trees, www.dialatree.co.nz