Sunday, May 22, 2011

Fields of dandelions

I never expected that the result of twenty-seven years of carefully tending our farm would be a field full of dandelions. Somewhere, we went wrong. We aren’t alone with the problem, I’ve heard others bemoaning their dandelions, but we are on the extreme edge. One of the problems of limiting spraying with herbicides and keeping our fields in alfalfa as long as possible is that weeds do have a chance to become established. The dandelions are way beyond established, they are close to dominant.

This spring we decided that we had to dig the fields and replant the alfalfa. With our dandelion situation, we didn’t see any way to only replant half of our acreage. The blooming dandelions on the unplanted field would easily re-infect the clean fields.

Unfortunately, you can’t replant alfalfa in a field in which alfalfa has been growing. It is auto toxic, meaning that the old alfalfa plants left a toxin in the soil that inhibits alfalfa seed. It makes no sense to me, but may account for past crop failures. So we will plant something else this year and alfalfa next year. Our first choice as a crop for this summer was oats. We used to feed oats to our sheep, but we can’t buy them any more – hardly anybody plants oats because they can make so much more money on soybeans and corn.

We have a tractor, a haybine for cutting hay, a baler for baling hay, a disc for lightly scraping the fields and a rotary mower for cutting pastures. We’ve never bought equipment for seeding or harvesting grains. We don’t intend to. Our land is hilly and our fields are small. It isn’t good land for growing grains. June rains wash the seedlings and the topsoil down the hills. The big new planters and combines are too big for our steep hills and sharp curves.

So we have to find someone else to plant and harvest our grains. They will take most of the crop in trade for their work. No one would plant oats for us, but a neighbor offered to plant Roundup Ready soybeans. These genetically modified soybeans can be sprayed with the herbicide Roundup and not be hurt. The soybeans have the advantage of allowing us to spray the hell out of the dandelions on our land and still get a crop this year.

It has the disadvantage of going against everything we’ve been trying to do on our farm. Yes, Roundup is one of the less horrendous herbicides, even useable on organic crops, but I am not happy with the research I’ve read lately about how using Roundup changes the soil and decreases yields over time. If we use it just this once, and then not for ten years perhaps we will be doing as little damage as possible for the best outcome. I just wish there was a clear cut, unambiguous solution to the problem of fields of dandelions.


  1. I'm reeling at this post. Joan, may I suggest you pose this question to Margaret Roach at A Way To Garden. She might have some ideas. She does a lot of research on solutions, and, like me, has strong feelings about RoundUp Ready crops.

  2. Thanks for the comment. Margaret Roach has a very interesting web page.