Los Sembradores Irrigation & Weed Control Workshop

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Steven Jaramillo demonstrated how to use a propane tank with torch for weed and pest suppression -Photo taken by Serafina Lombardi

By Donne Gonzales, Farm Training Coordinator

On the morning of July 19, 2017, the New Mexico Acequia Association at the Chicoyole Farm site hosted our 3rd Sembradores workshop. We had a group of 15 people with some new faces participating in our group. We covered a huge array of topics that are very important to traditional and organic farming.

We always start our day with a blessing and introductions. Nicanor Ortega, a Sembrador Apprentice led the group in a very beautiful prayer. Everyone shared who they are and where they come from, as well as what they are looking forward to learning. We had a lengthy agenda but our main points being covered were weed control, pest control, and different types of irrigation methods.

Fighting the weeds is always a huge task as the summer sun and monsoon rains come our way. Of course our vegetables love it just as much as the thriving weeds. The pesky bindweed is good at being a creepy crawler and taking over a lot of the field, while choking out those beloved plants we worked so hard to plant in spring. The first weeding’s the most delicate; as you want to make sure the plant is a good healthy size. You don’t want to disturb the root system before it’s developed. Like everything else, it is a good time for all when the rain season is here and it’s super muddy. The moisture makes it easier to pull weeds by hand, rather than use a cavador (hoe).  The tools tend to get stuck with mud and get heavy. If it’s to dry, it’s hard to hand weed and easier to use tools such as the hula hoe and scuffle hoe which are easiest to maneuver when the land is dry. You can also burn weeds throughout the season to help with keeping them down and under control. Steven Jaramillo of San Pedro gave us a demonstration of how, when and where to use a propane tank with a torch for weed control. His favorite time is in the spring when weeds first come up before planting. Other uses include anytime there are smaller weeds to control, they only need to be singed rather than caught on fire. This technique can also help with the management of pests. For example, when we’ve had crazy amounts of grasshoppers, If you get up early as the sun rises and it’s still to cold for the grasshoppers to be active,  You can start up the flame burner/torch and work though the field.  Burning them isn’t the most enjoyable thing, but when you have a serious vegetable loss because of them it is worth it. It’s just necessary and also pesticide/ insecticide free.  There are also tractor implements that can assist with weeding, though they are a little pricey. This can be a fast way to rid of weeds for awhile, though still necessary to go back bi-weekly and keep them in control. In some circumstances the weeds can be helpful in keeping the ground cool, providing shade for the ground and retaining some moisture.  We discussed disposal methods of weeds, including using them as mulch for weed suppression, though noxious weeds going to seed need to be burned or trashed. There is a Bindweed mite that can be purchased and it eats the bindweed, although you would need to let your field rest for multiple years It is a very slow traveler and needs time to work its way through the area (contact the Alcalde Science Center for more info on the bindweed mite).

In the past year we made a pig tractor and learned that it did a tremendous job at working the weeds out of the field. We did have to let the area rest as well, as fresh manure present a food safety risk. The manure has to cure for 1-3 months during summer or 3-6 months in winter. The pigs did an amazing job at digging weeds out with their noses as well as enriching the soil.

Bardo Gonzales showed the group of intensively grazing a hog for weed removal- Photo taken by Serafina Lombardi, NMAA Staff

We spoke about different types of cover crops and how they may help if you plant faithfully. There is a high possibility that if you keep planting it on top of highly weeded areas, it may kill the weed and in return help the soil with beneficial nutrients. Cover crops are always a good idea in your farm plan, if you are looking to suppress weeds, try a few years of winter rye.

There are natural and organic concoctions that you can make in hopes of killing weeds. You can mix vinegar, salt, and very little water. It’s supposed to burn out the weeds for a while and re-application will be needed weekly, or when it rains. You will need to avoid the vegetables, because an application will cause injury.

Next on our agenda we covered pest control and the kinds of pests we’ve had a problem with this year. We discussed cucumber beetles which are more common in the valley, and luckily it’s too cold here in Chamisal for them to be a serious threat. The grasshoppers seem to have hit everyone terribly, and chinches (squash bugs) are always around along with flea beetles. Lastly, the cabbage worms have thrown a party inside our hoop house .They’ve eaten their share of kale and chard. We went over different certified organic pesticides such as Nolo bait, Pyganic, and surround WP. There are also concoctions that can be used for different types of pests. There are different oils such as Neem oil, eucalyptus oil, and also soapy sprays that can help with minimizing bugs. Milk sprays, chamomile, and baking soda can be used to prevent fungal spores, mildew, and mold. We discussed an old traditional way to get rid of the flea beetles. If you make holes in a tin can, you can place a mixture of cow patties and saw dust, light on fire and let it smolder through the field. The flea beetle usually leaves, because the isn’t too fond of the smell. 

We also have chickens and turkeys as well that help with pest management. The Turkeys are really good at keeping the grasshoppers in check, and the chickens are better at other bugs like ants, caterpillars, spiders, earwigs, flies, and mites.  You do need to be careful with their manure as well. If you are taking food to market, they shouldn’t be welcome on the field. If you plan on having a home garden, you don’t have to worry as much.

Lastly, we covered different irrigation methods. I personally love to use the acequia to irrigate our crops. Sometimes using drip tape is a better option in our hoop house. The hoop house needs more water and the drip tape is a very reliable source. You do need to figure out a couple different things such as what kind of lay-flat or pipe that will be used.  Most drip tapes are the same, although the connectors can be pricey at about 50 cents a piece.  The bad side of drip tape is that it does tear or manage to get cut, easily moves and usually has to be stapled down to the bed/ row. Lastly, it is a lot of plastic that usually ends up in the trash, unless you’re really cool, creative and willing to weave it – then you can make totes. I’ve been looking forward to experimenting with it and make a big shade tarp.

 There are gas pumps or electrical submerging pumps that can be used to feed the drip tape, and work fairly well if maintained properly. You will need to have a filter in this case because there is debris that will fill the drip tape, as well as pressure regulators. There are sprinkler systems of many different types that can also be used for watering. Lastly you can implement rain catchment systems, water small spaces by hand or get crafty and figure out a great watering system.

In addition to what I have shared here there was a plethora of storytelling, comparing what has worked or not on our farms and tons of creative ideas. We invite all who are on the journey of improving their farming skills to join us for future Sembradores workshops, where we present on key topics, but most importantly enjoy a rich dialog and comradery. A special thanks to all who have contributed their wisdom and experiences to these workshop. Wishing everyone a wonderful harvest!

For more information on Los Sembradores contact Serafina@lasacequias.org