Regenerative Practices for Dealing with Weeds

By Sammy Elwell, Storytelling VISTA

Did you know that by incorporating regenerative practices into your farming/gardening, you can revitalize and sustain the health of your soil? It’s true, and you can begin by just changing the way you remove weeds from your growing beds!

Green spinach plants growing in a soil bed. There is a weed in the center of the photo.

“Health Begins in the Soil,” is a motto EarthDance Organic Farm School lives by. Our farmers implement many regenerative practices into daily farming processes in order to care for the land and produce nutritious organic food. While there are many practices, here we’ll focus on our approach to removing weeds from the production fields and high tunnels. First, let’s define “regenerative practices” and explain why EarthDance uses them.

Regenerative practices are methods of farming/gardening that work with and respect nature in order to grow, maintain, and protect healthy soil and the surrounding agroecosystem – including us! Some examples of these practices used by EarthDance farmers include intentional crop rotation, prioritizing biodiversity, using cover crops, and using low-till soil preparation methods. 

So how is weeding a regenerative practice?

As you likely know, weeds can be pests; they use up resources in the soil that are intended for the crops and can outgrow the crops, blocking out essential sunlight.

Weeding by hand is regenerative because we are physically removing the weeds from the soil as opposed to spraying herbicide (which contain harsh chemicals) onto them. The chemicals in herbicide can build up in the soil, harming important microorganisms, leaking into the water system, and even harming the crops. Physically removing the weedy plants allows us to avoid these outcomes that damage the health of our soil. 

Green spinach plants growing in a soil bed. A human hand holds up a weed that has been removed from the soil.

Not only is the manual removal of weeds itself a regenerative practice, but the steps taken in the process are as well. We approach removing a weed as if we are harvesting a root crop: we disturb the soil as little as possible (related to our low-till practices) and shake off any stuck-on soil from the roots back into the beds.

Many weeds can be removed just by hand, but if the use of a tool is required, we’re extra cautious and mindful of the soil.

Two humans kneeling on the ground in a high tunnel next to a row of greens. The humans are smiling and pulling weeds.

For example, when using a fork to remove a weed, we use the same method we use for harvesting carrots: press the tines into the soil just enough to get under the roots and gently “pop” them up, then remove the plant with your hand. In this case, disturbing the soil too much will bring dormant weed seeds to the surface which will then grow and cause even more weeds to deal with.

Once a weed is removed from the soil, it’s important to shake off any soil that may be attached to its roots back into the growing bed. Doing this keeps as much of that rich soil as possible in the growing beds to nourish the crops instead of being disposed of along with the removed plant.

After the weeds have been removed, all that plant material needs to be disposed of. We avoid composting it because weeds often contain lots of seeds that would be spread all over the farm as we spread compost. Instead, we toss that weedy plant material into the wooded areas surrounding the farm. Due to the canopy of the trees there’s insufficient sunlight for those seeds to germinate and grow. They decompose and return to the soil there to nourish the trees. However, If you don’t have a heavily shaded area to toss your weeds into, disposing of them in your yard waste is a great way to get rid of those pesky seeds.

Physically removing weeds is a regenerative farming/gardening practice. Employing regenerative practices improves and maintains soil health for food production.

You can adopt these regenerative practices by giving up the herbicide and switching to physical removal of weeds. Remember to disturb the soil as little as possible, shake off the soil from the roots back into the beds, and either place the weeds somewhere to decompose or recycle them in the yard waste. Change how you deal with weeds and change the world.   

Three humans in a high tunnel that's full of rows of growing plants are smiling for the camera.