- Grow a healthy forage sod. Up to 95% of weed control can come from a thick, vigorous sod that prevents weed establishment and discourages soil erosion. Soil test, fertilize, clip, aerate and, if possible, irrigate pastures. Manage livestock grazing by not allowing over-grazing and keep animals off wet fields.
- Seed areas around troughs, salt blocks, barnyards and roadsides. Open soil is an open invitation to weeds. New weeds often show up in these places, so keep an eye out for bare patches and seed these areas at least annually.
- Clean your equipment to prevent spreading weeds. Brush or hose down equipment from weed-infested pastures before entering new pastures. Monitor your cleaning areas for new weeds.
- Control weeds spread by flooding. Weed seeds can float on water, so install seed screens on outlet pipes and control weeds near irrigation ditches.
- Quarantine animals new to property or pastures. Animals can deposit weed seeds with their manure and start new infestations. If animals have been grazing in a weed-infested pasture, keep livestock in the barnyard for a few days before moving them to a clean pasture. Be sure to thoroughly compost the manure before spreading it to ensure weed seeds have been killed.
- Buy weed-free seed. A pound of purchased seed can contain hundreds of weed seeds. Ask to see the detailed seed label from your supplier, not just the label that is on the bag. This detailed label will least the weeds present by species. This way you can select weed seeds already on your land and avoid introducing new ones.
- Buy weed-free hay. Grow your own hay, inspect grass stands prior to harvest, buy high quality hay or buy from a reliable source. By following these practices, you will bring less weed-contaminated hay to your property.
- Cooperate with neighbors in controlling weeds. A neighboring field of weeds gone to seed can invade your property. Additionally your weed spray may drift and damage the fruit trees on your neighbor's property. Their problem is your problem and vice versa.
The additional moisture and more moderate temperatures offered by spring and fall make them the optimal seasons for seeding your pastures. In addition, be conscientious about weed management to maximize your fields' productivity.
Using Goats to Control Weeds
Goats are browsers. They actually prefer the taste of shrubs, trees and broadleaf plants like weeds instead of grass. This is especially true later in the summer and fall as the brush and broadleaf weeds tend to hold their nutritional value longer than grasses. Timing is a critical component of targeted grazing. If you want to favor grasses for your other livestock - or your own enjoyment - wait until the grasses are more mature and the goats will focus on broadleaf weeds and shrubs, allowing the grasses to go to seed.
Thorns of plants such as green briars and blackberries pose no problem for goats. Additionally goats are nimble and can stand on their hind legs to access difficult to reach weeds, they produce minimal soil compaction and their droppings quickly decompose and improve soil. However, be aware that too many goats in an area can erode sensitive slopes and banks and goats should not be allowed in or near fish-bearing streams.
Note: if you are milking your does, you will not want to turn them out onto weed patches. The flavors of their forage will be passed through to the milk and tansy ragwort can appear in the milk. Keep your milking does on high quality, controlled feed sources. All goat breeds but Pygmy goats are suitable for clearing land.
Cattle and horses prefer grasses, which promotes the growth of broadleaf plants and shrubs. Sheep prefer broadleaf plants and grasses, which promotes shrub growth. Goats, on the other hand, as browsers, prefer broadleaf and woody plants, which allows grass growth by eliminating competition from shrubs and woody plants.
Some weeds and many landscape plants are harmful to livestock. There are some plants that are poisonous to livestock other than goats, such as yellowstar thistle. Other plants such as tansy ragwort, nightshade and peavine can be browsed in goats in limited quantities generally without problems. However, goats should not be turned out onto fields that consist primarily of these weeds as they will not be able to balance their diets and will consume too much of the weeds, which may cause problems.
Plants such as rhododendrons, azaleas and poison hemlock should be avoided entirely as goats do not inherently know which plants to avoid. However, ash juniper trees, knapweed, oxeye daisy, common tansy, Canadian thistle, scotch thistle are all fine, just be sure there is enough variety in the field to provide a nutritious diet.
Browsing goats can be ideal weed controllers in situations where they are rotated through the same pasture as cattle, horses and other grazing animals. By putting grazing pressure on the weed population, goats give grasses the advantage, allowing them to thrive. However, be prepared to be patient as it can take several years for pastures to improve due to residual seeds. Some seeds such as tansy ragwort, can stay viable for up to 25 years in the soil. Additionally, other considerations for pastures are soil fertility, pH, grass species, stocking rates and grazing by other livestock.
Plants poisonous to goats and care should be taken that they not consume them. These include:
Remember, regardless of whether you own goats for dairy purposes, meat, breeding purposes or simply as companions:
How many goats will you need?
The number of goats you need for your amount of land will depend upon the weeds are trying to eradicate. If a weed seed-bank is present, it may take persistent grazing. Goats will tackle mostly vine and woody-stemmed plants, but will browse on a wide variety of plants. For dense weed infestations, expect to apply an application of goats to a given area for multiple times for a few years before the land is sufficiently cleared.
Easy and Effective Organic Gardening Solutions
The first step in gardening is to ensure you have healthy soil. This involves feeding the soil and then allowing the soil to feed the plants. Soil health is paramount. If your soil is alive with earthworms and microbes, everything else will fall into place. Plants will be healthy and resist diseases and pest attacks.
Any use of chemical, synthetic fertilizers, disease and pest solutions will harm naturally occurring microbes and insects. Therefore anything you add or use in your garden must be organic. Clickhere to learn more about building soil.
Healthy soil is full of life. It has humus, earthworms, beneficial bacteria and beneficial fungus in the soil that helps plant roots uptake necessary nutrients. Many garden soils will need help to reach this optimal state. Modern organic amendments and fertilizers contain the necessary ingredients to help develop this environment.
Soil amendments are not fertilizers. Amendments are designed to improve the soil texture. This will help your soil retain moisture and nutrients, increasing their availability to your plants. Composted amendments are important additions to both sandy and clay soils. Lean how to compost here.
Give the Garden Time to Adjust
It will take a while for things to adjust, so be patient. There will likely be some bugs and fungicides that appear, especially early in the growing season when the ground is still moist. However, try not to become inpatient and intervene with conventional, non-organic solutions. At the same time these bad things are happening, good insects and beneficial fungi will be setting up home. Give them time to get situation and do their job.
Occasionally you may need to help out your garden's environment. That may mean adding more good insects like ladybugs, nenmtodes, green lacewings or praying mantises. In some instances it may also include spraying with a natural pesticide. Don't think that natural pesticides are harmless to everything but what you are trying to eliminate. Follow the directions so you don't harm your good bugs or your plants. To learn more about natural pesticides, click here.
Pairing Plants to Control the Insect Balance in Your Garden
Companion planting is an age old gardening technique of pairing two or more plants to gain some type of benefit: vigorous growth, higher yield, repelling pests or attracting predators of common pests. Some companion plantings work, others disappoint. But the idea of strength in diversity is never truer than in the garden and that’s what companion planting provides. Learn more about companion planting here.
Day to Day
Successful organic gardening is best enabled by observation - and it's also enjoyable. Watch carefully to what is happening and resist the urge to step in too quickly in an attempt to help. Continue to add organic soil amendments and starter fertilizer whenever you plant. Remember, it's impossible to have too much humus in your soil. Vegetable gardens especially take a lot of nutrients out of the soil, so you must replenish it.
Composting is often part of organic gardening, but it is not a requirement. You can have a fully organic garden without composting, but it is very helpful (and healthful) and satisfying to do so. If you have room for a compost pile or bin, consider composting as both a way to benefit your garden and the environment by making productive use of many waste products.
We have been experimenting for a number of years with different ways of preparing the earth for our crops. Historically, tillage was performed to prepare a seedbed and control weeds. In conventional tillage, the earth is turned to a depth of 8 to 12 inches with a plow and then disked twice. No-till farming, on the other hand, is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. The first three steps in conventional cultivation are eliminated and the crop residue is left undisturbed after harvest and the next round of seeds are pushed through it, followed by placing the seeds and closing the trenches or holes. Since 1989, it has become the dominant form of soil management on conventional operations, covering more than 65 percent of cropland. However, no-till planters and herbicides are available to commercially accomplish these tasks and the results have been mixed. In addition, there are large amounts of herbicides that are applied in conjunction with "conventional" no-till. With commitment and experience, no-till can work, but our focus was how to minimize tilling while also minimizing - or altogether eliminating herbicides and pesticides.
Pros and Cons of Each Approach
First, let's revisit why it is desirable to move the soil at all. Conventional wisdom was soil is tilled is to loosen it so oxygen and water can reach the area where roots will grow. However, many passes over a field with equipment and even heavy animals such as oxen or horses, much less heavy equipment, further compacts the layer of soil just beneath that of which was tilled. Additionally, the broken-up soil is very prone to being compacted by rainfall. its ability to create a more natural soil that retains nutrients and water, prevents soil erosion, and compacts less.
Plowing, it is claimed, incorporates fertilizers and crop residues into the soil, making nutrients readily available to the roots of the plants. Turning organic matter under also has the benefit of preventing planters from becoming fouled with surface trash. In no-till farming, crop residues are left on the surface, where the nutrients that result from their decay can leach into the soil. This leaching process is far more thorough than you might imagine. Fertilizers—including anhydrous ammonia, phosphorus, and potassium—are at least as effective on the no-till fields where they've been dispersed as on the plowed plots. These ingredients can be placed directly into the planting trench, where they're most needed, during seeding. As for the potential problem of the planter fouling with residues, it is recommended to cut a slot through surface trash.
Though the soil does stay cooler until a little later in the spring because of the insulating layer of residue, the day/night soil temperature fluctuations are smaller. A no-till field rapidly makes up its deficit in growth rate as the weather turns warm. And if the summer should be really hot and dry, no-till yields will nearly always exceed those of plowed ground. Since soil moisture levels can be more than 10% higher in late July in an unplowed piece of ground, it's not surprising that plants are happier in a field covered with mulch.
One of the significant downsides of plowing is it tills the entire area, where doing so by hand will only create the trench needed for seeding. Both plowing and tilling can be done in a way to help minimize the amount or water runoff, but a big benefit is that no-till soils stay more moist than those in tilled fields. The surface residues trap water and protect the earth below from the evaporative effect of the wind. In areas, where adequate spring moisture depends largely on spring rains and/or snowmelt, the vegetative cover helps keep the snow from blowing away and water runoff. (For more on permaculture practice click here). The advantages don't end there, though. If you grimaced when you read "anhydrous ammonia", consider this: One of the main problems with conventional agriculture's heavy use of nitrogen fertilizers is the leaching of these compounds into surface water during runoff. By retaining rainfall, the untilled field also better holds the chemicals that have been applied to it, thereby decreasing their pollution potential.
Our Findings in the Backyard Garden
When the climate is drier, we strongly prefer a minimal till approach as described on the Building Soil page. This might involve taking a spade and lifting up the soil where the plant will go and perhaps 12 inches of space on all sides. Then as the plant grows, we will hand pick the weeds that grow up around it. This is very desirable and doable during periods of low rain fall because a minimal amount of soil is turned over to release carbon and dust in the to atmosphere, the bacteria and beneficial creatures in the slow are minimally disturbed and the weeds - with some regular diligence, and especially when a drip irrigation system are used - are easily kept under control.
However, we've also found that in optimally rainy conditions, no till seemed like a futile attempt to do the right thing for the environment. Weeds quickly out-paced our ability to pull and pests arrived in droves, often taking advantage of the long stems and leaves of the weeds around the crops to hide themselves and gain advantageous access. Our attempt at minimal tillage in a year like this left us breathless, exhausted and with a minimal yield of crops. One of our take-aways was we needed to over-turn more of the soil around the plants and we needed to weed more often. Unfortunately, tiime is not in endless supply, so here are some other things we learned:
A veterinarian recently distributed a reminder that now that spring has arrived, parasite season is also upon us. Included in the reminder was a reference to a 2006 study noting that 15% of all commercial potting soils contain roundworm eggs; therefore, even pets that are kept 100% indoors are not immune to contracting worms. Roundworm eggs can live for years in the soil and because gardening gloves aren't always worn religiously by all gardeners, there is the possibility of contamination. Roundworms are transmittable to humans and in severe cases can cause blindness.
Gardeners will either buy gardening soils as needed and/or make their own soil via composting. Other than using the precautionary measure of wearing gloves and washing all plants thoroughly before consuming them, it likely doesn't make economical sense for gardeners to allow their purchased soils additional time for curing.
However, when composting to make your own soil, it's important to practice proper composting to prevent the transfer of parasites from our gardens to our bodies. When manure decays it turns into compost just like any other organic matter. The compost decays further into humus. After two years of decay, the manure compost has lost all of its very bad elements such as parasitic worms, and if you use common sense hygiene, it is no different from handling compost made from decaying leaves except that it is a lot richer in nutrients.
Hazards Found in Soil
Bacteria and Fungus
Soil naturally contains many type of bacteria and fungi which can cause diseases such as tetanus, botulism and histoplasmosis. It is extremely critical to avoid contact of soil with any wounds and to prevent soil from making contact with your mouth or nose to prevent entry of parasites. That may sound obvious, but be sure to wash all your produce well and be careful about brushing away pests from your facial area while working in the garden.
Using Animal Waste in Compost
This includes both wild and domesticated animals and include either feces or carcasses. Often pathogens from domesticated animals such as cattle, are often deliberately introduced to a site in raw or improperly composted manure. This could potentially contaminate soil and ground water with both bacterial and/or protozoan pathogens.
Cattle manure is basically made up of digested grass and grain. Cattle dung is high in organic materials and rich in nutrients. It contains about 3 percent nitrogen, 2 percent phosphorous, and 1 percent potassium (3-2-1 npk). However, cattle manure also contains high levels of ammonia and potentially dangerous pathogens. For this reason, it’s usually recommended that it be aged or composted prior to its use as cow manure fertilizer.
Horse manure may be available in some areas. It produces poorer quality compost, but is generally regarded as presenting a lower health risk. However, manure that has been gathered from stalls is often very high in ammonia. Either avoid manure sourced from stalls altogether or be sure it has aged for a minimum of two years or it will burn plants to the point of death. As for hazards in horse manure, a soil bacterium, Rhodococcus equi, found in horse manure, has become of increasing concern as the cause of a severe form of pneumonia in persons having a compromised immune system through AIDS, immuno-suppressive therapy, and other similiar situations. Infection can also occur through inhaling dust contaminated with dried manure.
Recent research also raises concerns about Giardia which occurs in horses. Only certain genetic subgroups of this protozoan parasite have been associated with human disease, and the presence of one of these has been identified in samples of horse manure. Giardia causes bloating, diarrhea and nausea, which can be especially protracted and debilitating in susceptible individuals.
It is generally not recommended to put the feces of meat consuming animals into composting piles because of the additional complexities of potential disease as well as it is quite difficult to decompose for the average backyard composter. Dogs and cats are also among other potential animal sources of human infection with Giardia. Nationally there are approximately 2 million cases of Giardia annually most of which involve contaminated water, but CDC estimates 10% to be food borne.
Other potential sources of contamination include waste from wild animals and birds, especially pigeons and gulls. Reptiles such as lizards, snakes and turtles are a well known source of Salmonella. Just handing the surface of an object these animals have been in contact with is enough to potentially cause contamination.
What can be done to reduce bio-hazards in soil?
One simple precaution relative to manure is that should never be used raw – apart from health concerns, it can burn plant roots. When composted, manure has to reach temperatures above 140ºF for at least 5 days to ensure destruction of bacteria such as the potentially deadlly strain of Escherichia coli (E-coli) which causes severe disease, especially in children and is principally found in cattle manure.
It is imperative that at-home compost piles reach the minimum 140 degree temperature for 5 days to destroy the pathogens found in animal manure. Many other bacterial/protozoan pathogens are present in animal manure. In residential areas composting should be limited to plant and none-meat kitchen waste. Heavy manures, like that of cows and horses, should be mixed with lighter materials such as straw or hay (this is where the manure from around the goat manager works great) in addition to the usual organic substances from kitchen vegetable matter, garden debris, and other plant based sources. Small amounts of lime or ash may also be added.
An important consideration when composting materials is the size of your bin or pile. If it's too small, it won't provide enough heat, which as stated above, is critical to safe composting. Too big of a pile will be difficult to turn and therefore the material may not get enough area. Regardless, frequent turning is a requirement.
Learn more about proper at-home composting on the Life Slice website in the gardening section.
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