We use a lot of organic herbicide in our orchards this time of year against our arch nemesis Johnson grass. The grass is an Australian import, I’m told, that was brought here at the beginning of the last century as livestock forage. The problem with the stuff is it has these big fat white rhizomes down at the roots that make it really tough to get rid of.
Legend has it that my Grandfather Pedro actually planted the stuff in his orchards.
As an aside, you’re probably wondering why the son of Swedish immigrants would be named Pedro so here’s the story. In high school, he played the part of Pēdro (long “e”) the Pirate in a school play. It must have been quite the performance, because forever after, folks only knew him as Pēdro.
Dad said Pedro felt it helped cool the orchard so the trees didn’t have to work so hard doing their own transpiration, which makes sense. We let weeds grow the last month before harvest for the same reason.
An old-timer told me the saying around Kingsburg was, “If a plum fell in Pedro’s orchard, it’d never hit the ground there was so much Johnson grass.” One cool thing he did in this regard was mow the grass between rows for winter feed for the work horses. He also fenced the fields, irrigated them extra wet and while they were still damp, turned pigs out. Pigs love those succulent rhizomes, kinda like truffles, and would root around for them getting fat and providing an additional source of income for the farm. Try turning pigs in a field with today’s food safety rules; it’s a wonder our forefathers survived this microbial onslaught!
All of that was way before my time. Johnson grass has only been a costly scourge in my life. I remember when a revolutionary product called Dow-Pon® came on the scene; a powder in a cardboard barrel mixed in a spray rig that worked, sort of. The big news that came along when I was in high school was Roundup®; the wonder herbicide that would clean up grasses like magic.
But now, as organic farmers, we use a very powerful herbicide that no weed has ever developed a resistance to despite years of repeated use, not only here in America, but worldwide called “steel.” We prefer to use plow steel, as diesel’s more cost effective than sweat, but this time of year, the men are employing shovel steel down the tree rows where cultivation equipment can’t reach.
If anything ever made you question your commitment to organic farming practices, it would be painstakingly grubbing Johnson grass rhizomes out of an orchard berm on a 100 degree day when you know that 2 bits worth of Roundup and 5 seconds would do a better job.
But organic’s how we roll. We’re committed to all aspects because you can’t have effective biological fertility while simultaneously poisoning the weeds. The combined value of organic biological fertility, organic proactive pest control, and probiotic-based decay control unquestionably grows healthier families, just look across the table. Healthy farms make healthy families, which make healthy communities, which make a healthy world; hence our new logo in the bottom corner here. It’s a love-based paradigm. There’s just no other possible explanation for shoveling Johnson grass in 2014.
Here’s a look at digging up Johnson grass from our Peaches to Papayas video project a few years back: