The Zen of Hand Weeding

For most organic farmers, having to hand weed your field (as opposed to flame weeding, wheel hoeing, or hand hoeing) is the most inefficient way to weed, and is the result of not managing to stay on top of the weeds. On average this season, I’ve probably hand weeded about 2 hours a day, 4-5 days a week, and still have some beds that need some hours of hand weeding put in. I managed to wheel hoe for a couple days back in mid-June, and after that, the weeds have been too big to deal with that way.

Surprisingly, having to spend so much time hand weeding hasn’t really bothered me. In fact, I quite enjoy it (so far anyway!). The feel of a weed being pulled up by its roots is so very satisfying…especially when it’s a sapling-sized lamb’s quarters or pig weed (amaranth) or when I manage to pull up some alfalfa with all its roots intact.

I think part of the reason why I’m not cursing at the weeds is because their very presence in my field this year means I’ve got soil fertility! Last year’s barren field seemed to mock me with the fact that even weeds wouldn’t grow there. And now, the kinds of weeds that are present in my fields will help me to diagnose any mineral imbalances. I’ve just started to read ‘Weeds and Why They Grow’ by Jay McCaman (I picked up my copy from Everdale today). Just reading the first few pages so far has been fascinating…such as learning that dandelions help remediate soil by bringing calcium back to the soil surface to become available as the dandelion decays. That’s just the tip of the iceberg as there is much to learn about weeds and what they can tell me about my land and what it needs and if its fertility is improving with the addition of compost and growing and plowing down of green cover crops. There’s just so much to learn from just observing what grows in the soil!

When I hand weed, I am reminded of how I feel while swimming laps. Then I’m concentrated on the feel of my muscles as I stroke through the water, controlling my breathing through each motion and not actually thinking about anything in particular. But my subconscious mind chugs through these moments and presents me with ideas or strings together new thoughts that pop into my conscious mind when I least expect them. Hand weeding acts like a form of meditation or prayer for me…a good opportunity to let my mind wander where it will, undisturbed by too much external stimuli. I’m hoping to extract the great Canadian novel one day, which I’m convinced is lurking in the far corners of my subconscious mind ;P

This is the story of my journey into sustainable agriculture. From the streets of downtown Toronto, to the farm land of southern Ontario, I hope to discover the techniques and practices that work for me in both mind and heart.

2 thoughts on “The Zen of Hand Weeding”

  1. I've always wanted to try one of those flame weeders 🙂 Here is the wheel hoe we use instead 🙁

    I recently heard that pulling big weeds that are close to the crop plants does more harm than good by damaging the intermixed root of the crop. They said to just slice or snip the weed stems instead. Any thoughts on that?

  2. Yes, I do think pulling some big weeds might do more harm then good. You just have to see what's around it and how much the weed itself is disrupting plants by its presence, and therefore, how necessary it is to pull it right out. I've mostly been weeding the paths between my beds, and in some cases, like beets, didn't weed until the beets were big enough not to be completely pulled out with the weeds. I haven't hand weeded my carrots to avoid pulling them up in the process ;P

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