Rotary Hoes – Organic Weed Control

February 25, 2020

I think of my rotary hoe as or more
important than my cultivator because it allows me to start fresh with look with
a good timing of that when you do it at just the right time those have been my
successes and I’ve done it poorly or not at all those have been my failures in
the rotary hoe. The rotary hoe is an important light
tillage tool for killing very small weeds at the white thread or white hair
stage when weeds have just emerged and are barely visible. The goal with the
rotary hoe is you kind of disturb the top half inch or so of the soil. You want
to break up that especially if it’s happened to have rain since you’ve
planted you know a rotary hoe will not take out a two or three
inch tall weed. Sometimes people say: “If you can see the
weed and rotary hoe won’t get it.” maybe, maybe not but you know if the weed is just emerging or in
that white hair stage and typically that top inch or so you just
want to use the rotary hoe to really stir that crust or break that crust, flip
things up, stir that soil, rip out those weeds Like I said at the white hair
stage, the weeds you can barely even see or maybe can’t see and just break up
that those very freshly emerged or germinated weeds After planting soybeans,
many organic farmers hold the crop both before and after emergence I try to rotary hoe twice before the crop comes
up you know weather depending and the reason for that
is somebody actually had done some research on this in
terms of growing degree days to find out exactly when the weeds were at exactly the
right stage to be controlled by the rotary hoe and based on that, the average
temperatures in the spring it works out to every three or four days that you’ve
got a flush of weeds that are just right so I try plant the beans,
three days later rotary hoe, three days later rotary hoe again and then let the
beans come up because at that cotyledon stage you have to be really careful
about hoeing then and then hopefully hoe one more time and then I start
cultivating right away when the beans are three or four inches tall. On the soybeans we kind of like to rotary hoe you know as soon as they get up and get
their first trifoliate leaf. You have to be careful on rotary hoeing very little
small soybeans as they’re just hooking through because if you break that hook
and the cotyledons off, that plant will die. So you kind of have a time period in
there where you have to stay away from them. They say in soybeans that once that
crook comes up and that first two leaves are coming out you don’t want a rotary
hoe but I’ve talked to some guys to say they have rotary hoed then and it hasn’t
been a problem but it is very delicate then and if you hit it just wrong you
could break that crook and once you break that crook off of the soybean then
your first two leaves aren’t going to be doing it any good and die right then so
a lot of times rotary hoes they’ll wait for that little bit of time when it’s
sprouting and breaking through the surface until those first two leaves
come out after the first two leaves come up then they’ll go ahead and rotary hoe again. But we like to
aggressively rotary hoe you know once the beans are say 2 inches to 3 inches
tall as soon as they’re unfolded and start growing their first trifoliates
we like to rotary hoe them fairly hard fairly aggressively and on soybeans we
like to plant thick 100,000; 70,000; 80,000 plus maybe even just so you have lots of
them out there because again we get pretty aggressive with the rotary hoe
and if you’re not breaking any beans off or plucking any beans out you’re not
killing any weeds so we just plan on losing some. You go out there and you’re
pulling way too many out, it’s not the time to do it. But if you got one here,
one there that’s pretty typical. There’s been times where you don’t drive by the
field for a few days after your rotary hoe because you think “Oh my god I killed
half of them and there’s nothing left.” but you know it’s amazing you know
they’ll kind of fill it back in and like I said usually turn out pretty good For corn, Eric says he tries to get out into the field with the rotary hoe as
soon as he can make out the rows. The old addage just kind of I use is: if you can
row it, hoe it. It’s kind of a crude way of saying but typically you know if
you’re out there if you can fairly easily be able to row it, you can hoe
it. We try and keep the same three to four days after planting with our corn
and yeah two to three times. We try to
rotary hoe twice ideally a lot of times weather doesn’t cooperate with that but
ideally we like to rotary hoe twice and cultivate twice. We’ll rotary hoe once before emerges and once after and then generally that corn
plant is too tall to go through again. Usually I just say it corn maybe an inch
to an inch and a half it could be a little bit smaller
the thing with rotary hoeing is you just got to go out and try it and if you’re
pulling too many corn plants out then obviously it’s not the right time to be
doing it And of course it has to be dry enough if it’s too wet are you gonna do
is poke holes in the ground and that’s a problem you won’t get
any weed control there. All you’re doing is doing some compaction out there. When the
crop gets up once it’s sprouted and come up, you may have to slow down a little
bit because you don’t want to throw it out. If you’re out there just when that
corn or soybeans has really emerged with a rotary hoe you really kind of got to
be careful not to get going too fast because you can bury those small tiny
plants and kill the crop as well as the weeds so you kind of got to go by
the seat of your pants and actually look at what you’re doing you know and it may
be sometimes going five or six miles an hour with it, sometimes you may be going seven,
eight as fast as you can go. And those rotary hoes poking in there
with that spoon on there which is actually what does the tear up of the
ground, when that spoon goes in and flips that dirt out that’s where you can have
a problem if it’s really early on that sprouted crop whether it’s corn or
soybeans you could actually flip them out pretty easily because they don’t
have a root system established very well so you have to slow down a little and
probably you need to lift it up too a little bit so you’re not digging in
deep If it hasn’t rained since you planted and that soil still real loose from the field cultivator then sometimes you have to carry the weight of the tool
bar with your three-point or go slower so what those wheels don’t dig in
quite as deep If you don’t want to dig down into the root system
of the crop that you want You want to keep it on the top so it’s loosening up the top, drying
out and killing the weeds. You know if the soil has a hard crust
on it and you have a hard time breaking through that crust then you need to rock
the whole rotary hoe back farther and drive a little faster to get it to
penetrate. The rotary hoe it’s basically just you know you tilt it back
with your upper link to get it in the ground get a little more down pressure. Once the crop gets two to three inches tall then you can really fly with it and you
can rock the top link back to put more spring pressure on, lower your
three-point arms, If the hoe was a big hoe with gauge wheels as the crop gets
bigger you can raise those gauge wheels to in turn lower the tool bar
which will put more pressure on those springs and make those wheels dig a
little bit harder. Our rotary hoe tends to work well when you get a good crust so
if you can break that crust up it’ll actually kind of invigorate your corn. If you have a good crust
on the surface of the soil then a rotary hoe will do a
really really good job. Oftentimes if you get a crust on your soil with corn when you go out with a rotary hoe, it’ll break up that soil and aerate it and
it’ll cause your corn to – if it’s looking a little yellow it’ll brighten
right up and just shoot – It’ll just grow overnight a lot of times. Yeah you’re trying to break the clumps up. Makes it easier to cultivate too. Gets some
air down in the soil and things tend to flow, dirt flows a little better with the
cultivator if you get the crust broken up Oftentimes when we’re planting so late
with our corn because we’ll plant a lot later than all of our neighbors for corn. We
may not make a third pass rotary hoeing just because it grows so fast. Generally by the time the corn
is a certain height your weeds are probably too big for your
rotary hoe it’s kind of a balance between whether your weeds are still
small enough to work with a rotary hoe and if your
corn is getting torn up Because rotary hoes were once used on nearly
every farm in Iowa, there are lots of used ones available but ensuring they’ll
still perform their job is important. 90 percent of rotary hoes
you find are gonna be junk. They’ve been sitting in the weeds, they’re 30 years old you need to look at
the spoons on the rotary hoe and they really need to be about the size or
diameter of a dime. If that spoon or that bowl is more smooth
where it’s just a straight spike, it’s very hard to get that hoe to do enough action of stirring and lifting that soil or crust And then also rotary hoe wheel bearings are
very important if they’ve been sitting outside at all those bearings get rough,
they get loose, they get wobbly which causes lots of trouble. Those bearings
are very very hard to replace and very time-consuming so finding a good rotary
hoe is important with good bearings, good spoons. So with the rotary hoe generally
we’re checking to make sure the bearings are rolling freely, that you
don’t have any stuck bearings, that you’ve got good spring pressure on the
control arm, checking to make sure your spoons aren’t worn out make sure you
have some spoon left not just a flat piece of metal. Each arm needs to be free
and move fairly easily if they’ve been sitting outside sometimes the arms get
frozen to the shaft and if you go back and try to lift up on the arm if it’s
solid they can be a real bear to get broke loose. The whole thing needs to
just turn freely and be able to each wheel and arm needs to be able to move
freely, independently because if they’re rusted solid there’s gonna be no
flex to it and you can take out a lot of crop or weeds or a lot of crop in a
hurry if it doesn’t have the ability to float or flex as the terrain

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