2011 21.4 Ask Albert!

Albert has relinquished this edition’s “Ask Albert!” to a machine topic discussed on two recent farm walks.

Each season, growers hope their planted crops will prosper and yield bounteous harvests. As a rule, weeds will grow and flourish along with their crops. How to effectively control these weeds is a constant seasonal challenge. I found innovative approaches to combating ever-present herbaceous growth on two of the Eastern Washington farm walks this year (Cloudview in Royal City and Middletons’ at Eltopia). The Wonder Weeder, made here in Washington and used by Gary Middleton, caught my eye.

Getting to know the Wonder Weeder

Not only is Gary Middleton of Eltopia dealing a blow to rampant weeds on his farm with his Wonder Weeder, he is turning the greens under and mulching them, thereby improving the tilth of the soil. The Wonder Weeder is made right here by Jerry Harris in Burbank, Washington, some sixteen miles from Gary’s orchard at Eltopia. Harris began an organic orchard in 1998 and needed to address weed control without the use of herbicides for his
certification. Over the course of three years, he developed the Wonder Weeder to control the weeds in his own orchard.

The Wonder Weeder attaches to a tractor and can be operated at 3 to 6 miles per hour. Gary finds the wide straight swath that it cuts works well in his orchard. There are a couple of models to choose from: a three point front mount, standard or telescoping bar, orchard or vineyard models. The equipment can be front mounted to function simultaneously when the same tractor is mowing with a rear-attaching mower. The front mounts also allow the user to see ahead of the tractor, therefore better able to operate the weeder accurately and avoid a sore neck from constantly looking back to see what they’re dragging.

The chemical cost for weeding can run into some $20,000 a season for Gary’s forty-five acres. When that annual cost is compared to a single $8,000 investment for the Wonder Weeder, the outlay makes sense. In organic growing operations, there are about three passes of hand weeding to do after running the Wonder Weeder, but nothing nearly so labor-intensive as without the machine.

Other Options

While I found the Wonder Weeder on a couple of this year’s farm walks, there are similar pieces of equipment also available. The Weed Badger, for example, also attaches to a tractor and has a front-end mount and telescoping arm. The Weed Badger’s flexible arm allows it to be placed around specific plants, rather than running a straight row, like the Wonder Weeder. Both machines must be maneuvered with caution around tree trunks to avoid banging and scraping.

A propane burner can also be used for weed control, but isn’t always the most efficient method. Gary finds the burner is best used when weeds are small. As the weeds grow it becomes challenging to get the ground hot enough to kill them while not melting the plastic risers or burning tree trunks. The price of propane and user time can make this method fairly expensive.

Jim Baird of Cloudview prefers not to turn the soil as part of his weed control strategy. Jim finds aeration and underground rotovating destroys some of the soil ecology, disturbs earthworm habitats, replants a new crop of weeds if done when weed seed heads are on, and damages tree roots. Instead, he prefers to mow and use alfalfa as a cover crop to choke weeds out. For mechanized approaches, he uses a Dyna-Trim manufactured here in Washington by Edwards Equipment Company. The Dyna-Trim attaches to the front of a tractor and is designed for cutting around trees, posts, and other obstacles. Visit http://www.edwards-equip.com/Content/MowingEquipment.aspx for more information on this equipment.


Whatever your method, staying ahead and on top of the weeds during the growing season is a challenge. It is either expensive, time intensive, or a bit of both. Why is it that the weeds seem to grow exponentially more than our desired crops?

Tags: Jerry Harris, Mulching, Practices, Tractor, Weed Control, Weeder, Wonder Weeder