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The great weed debate: Mechanical vs. chemical

My husband and I are at odds over crop management practices on the smallest scale — the farm garden.

April 2, 2021

2 Min Read
garden tiller
DIGGING IN: Spring means lush, green grass and weeds. When you are trying to renovate a pasture to become a garden spot, it takes removal of both. My husband’s tool of choice is a garden tiller. Mindy Ward

It is Day 1 of spring planting prep, and already my husband and I are at odds over crop management practices.

“We need to put down a herbicide to kill all these weeds,” I shout over the noise from the garden tiller.

“We are killing weeds,” he yells back. “It’s called mechanical weed control.”

I often wonder if this how the conventional versus minimum tillage versus no-till debate started — on a small scale, in a farmer’s backyard.

Long road back

It’s been 17 years since we planted a garden. Our last one was in Minnesota, and that black dirt had the best water-holding capacity and soil organic matter. We grew amazing corn, potatoes and my girls’ favorite — gigantic pumpkins. But two kids later, a move to red dirt and pastures full of sheep limited our time and resources.

With the kids and sheep gone, I decided this was the year for a garden. It would be a way for me to manage stress. Well, we are not off on the right foot.

My husband’s version of “keeping it clean” by farmer standards is mechanical control and hand weeding. I’m on the other side — spray it until it dies. However, you may recall that I lost my spray rights about four years ago, when I killed the grass in my yard. So far, we remain on opposite sides of this crop management fence.

Perhaps there is a solution. I’ve covered enough agriculture to know that you can test any theory through on-farm trials. I suggested we each have part of the garden — it’s plenty big enough — where my husband can use his production practices, and I can use mine. He raised an eyebrow.

I knew what that meant; he didn’t trust I would keep my spraying only on my side. In his defense, he is likely right; he’s seen me yield the spray wand.

Finding common ground

To keep my anxiety down, we’ve agreed on the following:

  • mechanical tillage between rows

  • hand weeding in the rows

  • hills and black plastic for weed control on a few rows

  • spray or dusting for pests (You guessed it; I get the dusting.)

Despite our rocky start, I’m looking forward to this new adventure. After a busy winter, I need a little sunshine and outdoor work to reinvigorate me.

As my friend and colleague at Wisconsin Agriculturalist Fran O’Leary says, “There is just something about playing in the dirt. It renews the soul.”

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