Farmer Focus Arable: Andrew Charlton praises hand weeders

Thank goodness for hand weeders – they do what must be the least desirable job in farming, but keep going through rain and mostly sunshine.


My crew this year have been starting at 4am and knocking off at mid-day because the heat by mid afternoon is unbearable. You can certainly see where they’ve been and although the cost is quite high, it’s unavoidable and their services are indispensable.

Like many organic farmers, I wish there was greater understanding of creeping thistle – our number one problem weed. There are fields which were lousy with them last year which are quite clean this year and vice versa.

Wild oats are also more noticeable this year particularly in fields cropped with oats last year when rouging was impossible. The worst field has been treated with a “Beet Surfer” which floats above the crop and lops off the heads of the oats, not a treatment to suit the purist, but better than nothing. Most of the rest of the rouging I can manage myself.

Just 32% of our normal rainfall fell in April, May and June combined which has caused big problems. My previous over optimism about being able to establish clover in such a dry time was mis-founded and a partial re-drilling had to take place in early June. Weeds were then left to grow and provide shelter to the emerging seedlings which looked really scruffy for a while, but protected the crop from flea beetle and weevil which I know from experience can cause 100% crop losses if you are unlucky.

This is the last year I shall sow a single species of legumes, as I believe establishment risks can be reduced through mixtures. A trial established here last year of 13 legume and four grass species has certainly opened my eyes as to what could be achieved and the “winners” from this trial will form the basis of the mixture I’ll be sowing in 2011.

• To read more from Andrew Charlton click here, or to see what our other Farmer Focus Arable writers have to say click here.

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