2/8/2014 7:00 AM
By Sarah L. Hamby Connecticut Correspondent
SOUTH WINDSOR, Conn. — “This was the year of the weed,” UConn’s Jude Boucher told a group of farmers at the recent Connecticut Vegetable & Small Fruit Growers Conference.
After learning how to defend their crops from the spotted wing drosophila, farmers at the Jan. 16 conference spent time learning how to safeguard farmland from weeds.
Farmers had told Boucher horror stories of waist-high weeds, an epidemic he’d seen for himself. It was the year of the weed everywhere, except for in Shelton, where the Jones Family Farm seemed to have found the secret of weed-free fields.
In response to Boucher’s assertion that the Jones Family Farm was weed free, Jamie Jones said, “We have weeds but we are passionate about controlling them if you’re letting them go to seed, you’re making them harder and harder” to get rid of.
Jamie Jones, who is the seventh generation on the farm, opened up the second half of the morning’s conversation by sharing a little of his farm’s history and a few of his best kept secrets for keeping his fields free of fiercely competitive weeds.
Things such as growing straw to mulch in the fields, relying on herbicides such as glyphosate, and incorporating cover crops and having a crop rotation are important. One cover crop he’s used is sorghum-Sudangrass, or Sudax.
“It’s kind of anti-nematodal,” Jones said.
Another point he emphasized was to “not let weeds go to seed. If you eliminate the seed bank that’s in your fields, you will just have less weeds.”
Grasses can be a little easier to control with pumpkins, Jones said. He’s familiar with this issue as his farm is a seasoned pick-your-own pumpkin hot spot.
“It’s a long row to weed, sometimes,” he said.
Jones also suggested the stale seedbed technique, a popular option that allows weed seeds to germinate and die just before planting.
Anecdotally, Jones shared some of the difficulties in trying to maintain weed-free fields and shared a laugh about recent harsh winters that left snow-covered pumpkins in the fields.
“That was a nightmare,” he said.
He credits his father with his successful field-care system.
“All this I really have to give credit to my father,” he said. “I really just fine tuned it.”
While weeds and spotted wing drosophila can attack the area’s fruits and vegetables, protecting strawberries in New England can also be a challenge. Wade Elmer, a plant pathologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, shared some information about cover crops for disease control in strawberries.
In a PowerPoint presentation, Elmer listed nearly a dozen cover crop options including buckwheat, which does not flourish well in low-pH soil; spring oats, which he said was more of a standard planting; and marigolds. Marigolds are a warm-season cover crop, Elmer said, plowed under the ground after 90 days or more, with proper irrigation needed. Elmer said marigolds are used for weed control in Holland, but more information is needed about their usage. Elmer said mustard is also excellent for weed suppression.
For best results in strawberries, Elmer said not to keep fields in strawberries for more than five years and rotate out of berries for as long as possible between plantings. He said to avoid rotating with crops that host strawberry pests and include cover crops in the rotation.
Selecting a cover crop can depend upon several factors, including what crop will follow, the soil pH and fertility, disease control and available tillage equipment.
Of particular interest to Elmer are earthworms. “Eurasians are already ahead of us as far as earthworms are concerned,” he said.
During a recent experiment where earthworms were added to plots or fields of Fusarium crown, root rot of asparagus and Vercillium wilt of eggplant, Elmer said: “Added earthworms made a big difference in both yield and disease control Anything you can do to increase the earthworm population is money in the bank.”
In summary, Elmer suggested producers have a goal in mind, be it nematode control, weed suppression, increasing organic matter in the soil, or a combination of those, and then experiment to customize something for the farm.
“Some cover crops,” he said, “are superior in one area and less desirable in others.” For instance, “buckwheat is great, but might pull insects away from pollinators.”
Finally, he said to consider rotating with nematode-suppressive crops such as sorghum-Sudangrass and oats.
Learn more about the annual Connecticut Vegetable & Small Fruit Growers Conference by visiting www.ipm.uconn.edu.
“Be good to the land and the land will be good to you,” Jamie Jones said. “Six generations. That’s a good start.”