Each season, we strive to improve what we do at Stearns and how we grow certain crops. As we live and work through our mistakes and failures in real time, Kerry and I are already thinking about next season and the ways we can make it better. 

One of the crops that we’ve had on our minds recently are our beloved carrots, which we grow in three successions: spring, mid-season and fall. Each seeding presents different problems. If the spring carrots are seeded too early before the soil warms up, the seeds have trouble germinating. The mid-season carrots have an easier time germinating, but so do the weeds! Carrots are slow to germinate so the weeds can easily crowd out the veggies. It also doesn’t help that carrot greens don’t do a great job shading out small weeds, so we typically hand weed two or three times before the greens are big enough to create a lush canopy.

Our fall carrots are the trickiest. When we seed them in early July, it’s often hot and dry so the seeds have trouble germinating. On top of that, the weeds can take over at record speed. The growing conditions are perfect and our days are filled with many other tasks so we often miss the perfect window to cultivate. One way that many organic farms try to deal with the weeds at this time of year (and really all times during the season), is to flame weed their carrot beds. A flame weeder is a propane-fueled torch that you wave just above the surface of the soil to burn and kill anything that has germinated.

There are two helpful ways that flame weeding can combat the weeds. One way is to flame weed just before the carrots begin to germinate. This gives the carrots a head start until the next flush of weeds emerges. The second method is to make a bed for carrots one week before we plan to seed them, let weeds germinate, flame weed the bed to create a stale bed (a technique known as “stale seedbed”) and then seed the carrots. By killing weeds with little soil disturbance, this also helps to minimize the chance of bringing up dormant weed seeds to the surface. 

This year we are trying both methods with our fall carrots! Kerry flame weeded two beds of carrots just before they germinated and also made a stale bed that she then seeded into after flame weeding the first flush of weeds. We hope this will significantly help cut back on the amount of time we spend hand weeding.

Until next time,