Farmers Employ Cardboard to Clamp Down on Weeds

Nina Berryman, Weavers Way Farm Manager

Farmers think about weeds. A lot.

As we continue on our no-till journey at our farms, we have turned more and more to mulching as a way to get ahead of them. It might not seem like rocket science, but when tilling is the norm in agriculture, it can take some time to switch your approach and your systems.

Tilling and disturbing the soil in any way stirs up more seeds that are deeper in the soil, so it can often be counterproductive in the long run when you are trying to get ahead of the weeds. We’ve adopted an approach that involved disturbing the soil as little as possible, and covering the surface with any mulching material we can get our hands on.

Often this material is leaves. Sometimes it is landscape fabric or the debris of the previous crop that has since been cut down. We’ll even sometimes use old burlap coffee bags covered with salt hay.

One of my favorite quotes from orchardist Michael Phillips is “Diversity above the soil creates diversity below the soil.” He preaches this as it pertains both to plants and mulch material.

With the delays in recycling in Philadelphia this summer, we found ourselves with a growing mountain of cardboard at our disposal. Much of it is generated from the local products that we purchase to sell at our Henry Got Crops farm market. While many of our vendors are extremely environmentally conscientious, it is hard to escape the need to package a quantity of product in some sort of lightweight, disposable container like cardboard.

Rather than letting this material get dumped in the landfill, we have been using it in our orchard for mulching material. We first remove tape and stickers and then weigh it down with wood chips. So far it’s been working splendidly, and we plan on using the same techniques in some of our major weed problem areas in the vegetable fields as well, such as along the borders of our fences and beds.

Many of you have helped with this endeavor during cooperator shifts and volunteer days. Thanks for your efforts — there’s much more to come!