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Off-Season Update: Compost Beds & Flameweeding

In 2020 we were quite pleased with the results of our vegetable trials and market garden “practice year” overall, however we also noted a good number of areas we could improve efficiency and time management. One of the most time consuming areas of our market farm is weeding. It didn’t help that we had an incessantly rainy spring and summer that constantly germinated new weeds, but regardless, this is an area we could really improve.

This was one of the main challenges that motivated us to transition to compost topped beds. Aside from the additional benefits of soil building, water retention, prevention of erosion, beneficial ecosystems and nutrient support we learned about along the way, compost naturally heated to 50 °C during decomposition is an adequate temperature to inactivate weed seeds. Topping beds with 6” of quality compost as a mulch dramatically slows emergence of weeds. Interestingly, soil never wants to be bare as it becomes vulnerable to erosion and soil loss, and weeds are merely natures way of healing and protecting the soil. By recognizing this and working with the natural systems, we hope to lessen the amount of weeds present from the beginning.

Unavoidably however, there will be weeds. Chemical weed killers clearly aren’t an option for us and transitioning to no-till practices is a priority (more on that later), and so options for planting into a weed-free (“stale”) bed become limited. This is where flame-weeders can be a great option if used early enough, on “thready” weeds. We recently purchased a secondhand 5-flame 30” flame-weeder to flame our beds before seeding. This quickly and efficiently eliminates tiny weeds, without heating the soil beneath the surface and damaging the soil microbiome. Then after planting, by tracking soil and germination temperatures, we can predict when our seedlings are due to emerge and flame the bed again a day before they arrive. This allows us to eliminate weeds without disturbing the seed bed, giving them a great start without early weed pressure. With 100 – 30 in x 30 ft beds planned for the upcoming season, eliminating even 1 – 2 weeding's can be an immense time saver and we are excited to see what a difference compost and flame-weeding will make in 2021.

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