For a good harvest, weed control is important

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Keeping your crop free of weeds is critical in good farm management. Farmers should plan their farm activities well so that they do weeding at the right time and in the right way. Weeds use the nutrients that your crop needs to grow.

They may also harbor diseases and pests which destroy and weaken the growing crops thus reducing the yield at the end of the season.

Ploughing helps spread weeds

Ploughing is the most common method used by farmers to control weeds. For crops like maize, weeding is usually done two times after planting – three weeks after planting and when the crop is knee high. Weed control starts at the ploughing stage when the soil is turned over to bury any weeds and to loosen the soil. Ploughing buries weed seeds while at the same time brings to the surface seeds buried in the subsoil. Here, they germinate causing more problems for farmers. Ox-drawn ploughs and tractors also facilitate spreading of weeds on the farm. The plough cuts the weeds down and drags them along as it moves. Eventually, the weeds spread throughout the farm.

Some ways of controlling weeds without chemicals

It is always wise to control weeds when they are still young before they produce seeds. Weeds should never be allowed to grow until they compete for nutrients with the crop. Uproot them manually, cut or slash to stop them from producing seeds.

1. Practice minimum tillage

Minimum tillage is a system of agriculture that ensures that the soil is not disturbed much during land preparation. The system discourages ploughing of land such that weed seeds buried in the soil are not brought to the surface. Suitable cover crops are planted instead to suppress weeds before they can grow. Select good cover crops which have several uses. These include dolichos or njahe (lablab) which provides human food and animal fodder. Lablab can cover the soil completely in about two months. Mucuna is also a good cover crop that also provides food. It suppresses weeds including striga. Purple vetch and desmodium are also good cover crops. When growing cover crops, it is important to weed once to give the cover crop a chance to establish. If there are good rains, farmers can schedule the planting of the cover crop such that it remains in the field even after the main crop has been harvested.

2. Mulching

Weed seeds germinate easily if the soil is left bare. Mulch makes it difficult for weeds to grow because they do not leave any space or light for weed germination. Mulch not only control weeds, but also reduces soil temperatures, conserves moisture, enables water to penetrate the soil and adds organic matter, which enriches the soil.

3. Crop rotation and intercropping

Practicing crop rotation and intercropping breaks the life cycle of weeds leaving fewer weeds that are easier to control. Intercropping helps cover the soil and smother weeds that grow between the rows of the main crop.

How to keep weeds under control

1. Slash weeds immediately after harvesting and during the dry season to prevent them from producing seed.

2. Before planting, slash down any plants (such as weeds and maize stalks left over the previous season) in the field.

3. Dig planting holes with a hoe or open planting furrows with a ripper or sub-soiler (See picture).

4. After the first rains have fallen allow weeds to grow or new weeds to emerge, and then weed them out before planting.

5. Plant a cover crop between rows of the main crop.

6. Check for weeds every week and control them by pulling them out by hand or by scrapping the soil surface with a hoe. Do not dig as this exposes weed seeds that later sprout.

7. Harvest the main crop and allow a cover crop to remain in the field and grow.

8. Remove weeds continuously regardless of whether there is a crop in the field or not. Remember some weeds take 3 to 5 years to disappear completely. Continous weed control can eliminate or reduce weeds to a minimum.

9. Avoid the use of chemicals in weed control. Most chemicals in the market leave dangerous residues in crops and in the soil which are harmful to human, animal and environmental health.

>>Tell us how useful this information is to your farming enterprise. Share your experience by email to or leave a comment below this article.

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