An introduction to “flame weeding”

Spring is nearing, and I have been so anxious to get out into the dirt and do work in the field. I have been reading up on some different weed control techniques in preparation for the battle that will ensue on the farm. The most intriguing of all methods is definitely flame weeding.

As we have talked about so much in class, and as so many of us have experienced in our gardens, weed control is the most painstaking process in organic agriculture. It seems that even if you go throughout your entire backyard and hand-pull every single thistle and dandelion, a fresh thriving crop will have emerged by the next day.

To achieve the goal of producing healthy, safe, and sustainably grown food, organic growers must avoid simply using chemical pesticides and herbicides to suppress weeds. They commonly use specific planting techniques, different types of hoes and hand weeding.

What is flame weeding?  Flame weeding is exactly what it sounds like – the use of propane gas burners to create a carefully controlled and directed flame that passes over weeds (Flame Weeding For Vegetable Crops, Diver 2002).  Flame weeders come in a variety of different styles that can be hand-wielded or even pulled behind a tractor.

What types of crops can be flame weeded?  Flame weeding is primarily used on vegetable beds that are planted by direct seeding. Depending on the plant, some can tolerate flame weeding after germination. It is also often utilized in row crops. Carrots, parsnips and onions have famously benefited from this style of weed management.

When can I use a flame weeder?  It is common practice to flame-prepare beds once or twice before planting seeds. This kills weed seedlings that have germinated because of spring tilling. Flaming can also be done after seeds are planted, but 2 to 3 days before germination is likely to occur. This technique diminishes weed competition with desired seedlings. If this is done properly, the plants can grow tall and broad enough to shade out weeds. Some plants, such as corn build up a heat tolerance and can be torched during vegetative growth.
Flame weeding is a very interesting alternative method for weed control. Not only does it excite that inner pyromaniac in all of us, it can be very effective and save hours of tedious work.

John Lencowski

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