Old time farming question.

So I have a smallish vegetable garden in my back yard which I have just turned into a blackberry patch as I was wearing myself out trying to weed it. It would take days to do, grow back quickly and kill my back.

But that got me to thinking. My city is ringed with farming communities and as you drive by you see fields of uninterrupted corn or soya beans, with nary a weed in sight.

Now I know that modern farming practices and chemicals are largely responsible for this.

But what did they do in the olden days? I’m assuming the backbreaking labour of hand sowing and reaping a med - large sized farm crop took up most of one’s time.

What did they do about weeds? Did they do it by hand? Just tolerate them?

Any insight offered would be greatly appreciated.

I was under the impression that they did weed by hand. They used some preparations to kill weeds, I’m sure, and they bred for hardy plants that were weed-resistant. Their plots weren’t as large as modern agribiz farms, or eve n private farms today, although still daunting from the point of view of pulling all the weeds.

You might try writing to one of those “working” museums, like Old Sturbridge Village ( http://www.osv.org/ ) or The Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown ( http://www.farmersmuseum.org/ ). They’re usually willing to answer questions.

They used a tiller, either horse drawn or pulled by a tractor. Not really much different from today’s garden tillers, actually.

The tiller basically chops up everything on or just underneath the soil, so you couldn’t really do much with it after the crop started coming up. At that point, the farmer would switch to a smaller tiller between each crop row, or go in and hoe the weeds out.

Horse drawn tillers were limited to maybe 3’ wide. With a strong horse a farmer could do about 2/3 acre per hour (by then the horse would be exhausted.) So a 40-acre farm would take about 60 hours. After a week or so, the weeds would sprout again and the farmer would repeat the process.

How are you doing it by hand? Are you using a hoe? or just pulling them up? I have worked on a lot of quite large gardens with nothing but a hoe to do the weeding.

If you have plenty of time you can use this low-effort, no-chemical method to burn them out:
(Do the following in the Summer).
Till the soil.
Spread heavy-duty black plastic over the area, and anchor it down with dirt at the edges and some places in the center.
Leave it to bake in the sun for a few weeks.
Remove the plastic, till again, and repeat.
Two cycles should be enough.
Mother Earth News has more detailed instructions.

I don’t know if they do it much anymore, but when I was 11 or 12, one of my first jobs was “riding beans” on my grandmother’s farm.

Basically, a tractor was outfitted with a big spray tank and a long beam that just hung out in front of and to either side of the tractor, kinda like a tightrope-walker’s pole. The beam had two small seats on each side, and there were hoses and spray guns for each seat. The farmer would have the kids (usually) sit on the seats and take a spray gun each, then he’d drive the tractor along the rows. The kids’ job was to spray every weed they could.

They use sharp hoes. Vegetable farmers still hoe around the plants. You can do a lot in one day. I did it when in school during the summer and other things like picking.

Manual weeding would drive up the cost of farming. Some manual weeding takes place on organic and/or natural farms (not up on all the terminology), and it does indeed drive up the costs. One reason natural farming gets pricey.

Commercial farms keep costs down with chemicals.

In the good old days, there was a lot of labor.

When we were kids, we had to “walk the beans” (none of that fancy riding crap for us!) on my aunt’s farm. Manual weeding is not fun.