Archive for the 'Weeds' Category


Summer’s muggy heat is easing up. Fall is here. You can feel a certain coolness in the evenings now. We’re definitely transitioning from summer in to fall, the start of our winter growing season.

It’s time to dig! …well, figuratively speaking, that is, if you’re in the “Krome Gravelly Soils”, as the USGS euphemistically classifies our solid limestone rock base, with its light dusting of soil on top.

Large commercial farms, and some small farms, hire the services of a ‘rock plow’  to break up the rock and release the soil trapped in the many pores characteristic of limestone. The rock plow is a big yellow bulldozer, specially equipped with a big solid steel ‘plow tip’. It’s mounted on the front of the machine. The plow is run repeatedly back and forth across a field, each time ‘slicing’ and breaking up a thin layer of rock and loosing the soil to a depth of about 6 or 8 inches. This becomes the planting media for the year’s crops. Many growers repeat this process every year or two. The rock plow was patented in 1943 by two local growers – check out the patent record here.

Unlike organic growers, chemical growers treat the land not as living soil, but as a substrate to hold plant roots, expecting to add everything the plant needs for survival. This is because limestone is alkaline (has a high pH), and plant nutrients are more tightly bound in the soil and not as readily available to plants. This is where organic matter, microorganisms, and the soil chemistry immediately around the plant’s root hairs comes into play.

One of the basic tenets of an organic farm is nurturing the life of the soil. So organic farmers use techniques such as composting and cover crops to help build organic matter and provide a good environment for soil microorganisms to flourish. In a healthy soil, the ‘bad’ bugs and fungi are kept under control by ‘good’ bugs and fungi, in a natural balance. This also helps maintain more acidic conditions in the immediate area around the plant’s root hairs, where all the nutrient absortion action takes place.

A good compost pile goes a long way toward recycling nutrients, reducing the size of our landfill, and buildingup soil health. This process can go on year-round. Cover crops are used with several goals – reducing weeds during the off-season, building up organic matter, and, depending or the cover crop used, reducing some pests and diseases.

Here in South Florida, we don’t grow many vegetable crops in the summer. Heck, we don’t even want to be outdoors much in the summer (except maybe at the beach). It gets pretty grueling out there in mid-summer. Although some things grow well in summertime, like okra, cowpeas and their relatives, and bitter melon, to name a few, most of the common food crops we like to eat will not. Cover crops are the perfect solution, and at Bee Heaven Farm we take full advantage of them.

So, having sowed our SudeX sorghum-sudangrass hybrid cover crop seed back in June, we sat back (not really – we were busy with our avocado crop, catching up on paperwork and other sundy tasks). After a false start & reseeding due to a period of no rain, it grew to about 6 feet tall. Then it was time to mow it down and till it in.

But wait! The rains were in full summer monsoon mode. The soils were completely saturated. You can’t work the soil when it’s in that condition, or you will kill the soil life and destroy its structure (tilth – see last year’s post). So we waited, increasingly anxoiusly, until we had 3 days with no rain. Luckily, these same limestone soils drain very well, and finally, this past weekend, we were able to mow the cover crop down. We finished tilling yesterday. Now we wait for a week or so, to allow weed seeds to germinate. Then we’ll till one more time, form up the beds, put in the irrigation, and plant them seeds!

In the meantime, we’re preparing the plant starts, for transplanting and for our annual heirloom tomato starts sale at FTG’s Edible Garden Festival October 23-24. See you there!


After spending a season working on a no-till farm this summer I have absorbed the numerous benefits of this system. For those of you who have never heard of no-till, it is basically what it sounds like, it is farming without tilling the ground. This method is very uncommon for many reasons. As a race we have been tilling the ground for thousands of years, in fact the word agriculture means “tillage of a field” when translated literally from Latin. Conversely the no till method of farming is relatively new and because of a lack of education and communication it has not been tried on many farms. Needless to say it hasn’t been tried in a big variety of climates and soil types either. Another issue is that it doesn’t lend itself to large scale production, in other words, this technique is only manageable on a small scale. On the other hand the benefits of no-till are so great that it’s definitely worth exploring and there is no question that it’s a big step towards a sustainable agriculture.

You might have heard about the idea that more small and medium sized farms are better for our food safety and for the environment than huge farms. Considering that no-till works in small scale farming it’s feasible that if eventually there are more small farms it could be adopted as a common and normal practice. From what I understand, every farmer and gardener who practices no-till does it differently. The system that I learned has been very effective for the farmers at Four Winds Farm in upstate New York for about 15 years. One of the reasons they got into it is because they didn’t have a tractor when they started their farm, which is an issue most new farmers face, considering tractors are such an expensive piece of equipment. After a couple of years, once they began to see the benefits of no-till, even though they were able to purchase a tractor they stuck with it.

Arguably the most important benefit is the preservation and improvement of soil structure and soil life. Better soil structure helps both retain water and drain excess water, it also prevents erosion, run-off and compaction. A soil that is alive with worms, bugs, fungi and bacteria is constantly breaking down organic matter and making nutrients available to plants. Another benefit is weed control. This idea is the hardest for people to understand because essentially, tilling is weeding. The problem with tilling is that it brings to the surface thousands of weed seeds that were buried and exposes them to oxygen which triggers germination. When you don’t till all you have to deal with is the seeds that landed on the surface and the weeds that spread through underground root systems.

The weed issue might be the key factor in considering the no-till method for South Florida. In the North East there are long freezing winters which kill off weeds and give farmers a fresh start in the spring. It isn’t totally perfect though; once the summer kicks in there are plenty of weeds to fight off, many of which have deep tap roots that are a nightmare to dig up. Here in South Florida during our off season the weeds take over instead of die back. That alone changes the way we should approach no-till. Weeding an entire organic farm by hand, which is the way they do it up north, is inconceivable for us. cornplotbefore

At Bee Heaven we have a few small fields tucked away in between the groves and one field we keep in permaculture that are never tilled. Coming back to work here this season, after my no-till experience, has given me the inspiration to treat this ground like we worked the fields at Four Winds Farm. I’m curious about how it will be different and how we can manage crops efficiently considering those differences. cornplotcleared

The pictures to the right are documenting the process of starting with a totally overgrown plot that had field corn in it last season and preparing it for a new crop. After weeding the “jungle” by hand, we raked the loose weeds and big chunks of wood, rocks and roots out of the way. Then we scuffle hoed the ground thoroughly and finally added a thick layer of compost to the planting beds. Because our compost is mostly plant material with some finishedcornplothorse manure, it isn’t very rich in nutrients so we have to add a small amount of pelletized chicken manure fertilizer over the compost. All of this work is much easier said than done! The 3 of us spent about 4 hours working really hard and sweating profusely to get 3 40′ beds done, all by hand.

We’ll see how the season pans out and what the weed pressure is like in this field compared to the tilled fields. The improvement of soil structure will come with time so we wont get the instant gratification of fluffy loose soil like you get with tilled ground. This field will be harder at first, but theoretically over the years if it continues to be treated like this it will gain organic matter, it will have better structure, less weeds and most importantly produce better food.

Preparing the ground



We’re prearing various planting areas all over the farm. Some, like the section containing scallions that ‘oversummered’ (seen in the front of the picture), are simply weeded by hand, amended with compost,  and the irrigation checked. Some areas are tilled with the tractor – you can see me in the background making the second pass on this field, after having waited 10-14 days after the first pass for weed seed to sprout. When there is sufficient time, we till a third time (not this season – we got behind because of all the rain). The repeated tilling reduces weed pressure on the planting beds. The next step is to form up the beds.  I do this with a bedder attachment on the tractor. Then we add compost and fertilizer, lay down the irrigation lines, and put up trellising where needed.

A new season begins

Returning Farm Intern Muriel arrived two weeks ago (already?!) , along with increased responsibilities and a great attitude! She immediately got to work cleaning up the summer’s accumulation of spiderwebs, dust and debris in the barn, taking inventory of planting supplies, starting germination tests for our heirloom tomato seeds, posting CSA enrollments,  and a host of other startup chores.

In the meantime, I, Farmer Margie, was waiting to till under the cover crop… and waiting…and waiting…and waiting… Why? It was raining every single day, and not just a little. The soil has been soggy for weeks. You can’t work the soil when it’s so wet – you’ll destroy its tilth, and that’s something you want to avoid – even if it set you back a few weeks.

So what the heck is ’tilth’ anyway? Read more

Hello world!

At last we’ve bowed to peer pressure…

Welcome to Bee Heaven Farm’s blog. Here you’ll find farm musings and ramblings from Margie, the farmer, along with her invaluable helpers- the interns, apprentices and WWOOF volunteers who together make it all happen.

Follow us throughout the growing season, for which we’re starting to gear up. Still working on summer stuff- avocados, weed jungles (!), and general cleanup. Next, preparing the shade house and growing tables for the starts, and tilling under the cover crop that’s been rejuvenating the planting areas.


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July 2022

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