As we would say in McBee, “Weeds give us a FIT in vegetable crops.”

In our summer heat, crop problems increase until the great crescendo (frost). Simply said, weeds are a knock-down-drag-out-fight this time of year.

When weeds are present, they rob nutrients, sunlight and, in worse cases, lead to product being discarded. This is not a good situation for the grower, buyer or the processor in that the grower loses the income from his crop and the buyer/processor loses the product.

Not many chemical weed controls are available for vegetables, and certain weeds like swinecress in collards are very difficult to control. Like collards, swinecress is a cool-season plant in the Brassicaceae family; therefore, the swinecress grows as the collards grow, competing for water, nutrients and space.

However, the main problem is when the collards are harvested for processing, so is the swinecress, which cannot be removed from the raw product that arrives at the processor, and loads of collards contaminated with excess swinecress must be discarded.

Therefore, at the Vegetable Research Area at the Pee Dee Research & Education Center and on farms, we are continuing to search for chemical controls, land-preparation techniques and planting procedures to reduce waste and increase productivity.

Working with two large vegetable growers to implement procedures identified by research at the PDREC, we modified their planters, land-preparation techniques, planting procedures and tremendously reduced weed pressure before the planting of the crop.

By the implementation of this technique, called Stale Bed Culture, the weeds at the soil surface could emerge and be killed before the crop was even planted. Fields were bedded early, weeds were allowed to emerge and killed with herbicides before planting, reducing what is called the Weed Seed Bank, which is the amount of weed seed in the top two inches of the soil.

The number of weeds present in fields where Stale Bed Culture was used properly was reduced tremendously. For instance, this spring one 50-acre field where it was not properly used had to be disked up and terminated because of too many weeds. This was a loss of approximately 1,000 tons of collards at a cost of $150/ton, equaling $150,000 to the grower.

Also, the growers estimate that Stale Bed Culture reduced the number of semi-loads of raw product discarded this spring by another 30 semi-loads, resulting in 600 tons of collards delivered weed-free to the processor, canned and served on tables like yours throughout the East Coast.

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.

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