Weeding with a garden weasel


iF Foundation staff using a garden weasel to weed a rice plot



Just got back to Haiti this Monday after one and half month break in upstate New York. It was so nice to be warmly welcomed by people here.

We went to see the SRI plots Tuesday morning. The SRI plots seemed very sad. Weed turned out to be a primary obstacle, same as previous experiments we had in Dubre last fall. Many plants just did not make it due to high weed pressure. The two plots with the Philippines variety were totally wiped out, not a single rice plant remained in the plot but only lush weeds (These Philippine rice started weak. They began to die about 2 weeks after transplanting when the weed pressure was still low. The actual factors causing the failure of these 2 plots are still unclear).

The cono weeder we had did not work well in these plots because the soil is heavy clay. Both iF staff and farmers reported that it was difficult to push the weeder forward or turn or get the weeds at the base of rice plants. The conoweeder is kind of heavy and they got tired very soon. It was very slow and exhausting to weed with the cono weeder in our field. We did weed twice but failed to weed on time. We hired some local farmers to help weeding manually and some plants got pulled out accidentally. The SRI plots are extremely thin although individual plants are bigger in shape than those in traditional plots. The SRI plants also have bigger leaf angles since there is more spacing between each of them, compared to the traditional ones.


(Front: SRI; Far end: traditional)


(Left:SRI, Right:Traditional)


(SRI plot. Bottom of the photo is a traditional plot of the same variety)

We recently bought some garden weasels so we brought them to the field to test and compare with the cono weeder. It turns out that these garden weasels work better in our field than cono weeder. They are lighter and smaller, so it is easier to push, reverse, or turn them around. Even weeds that are at the base of the rice plants can be reached without hurting the crops.

Other than the weed issue, I heard from my colleagues that water control could be another cause of this unexpected result. It came to the wet season in May and there has been pouring rains almost every day. Also, the fields down-stream of out plots were planted in May, which added to the difficulty of managing water. Water has to come into and fill our field before getting into the one downstream, while there was no other water channels that delieves water to his field directly from the irrigation trench. The foundation staff and farmers tried their best to drain the water, only to avoid long-lasting standing water. For most of the time, the soil in most SRI plots were soaky wet.

In order to see how SRI will work when everything is under control, we decided to start over again. We selected 6 plots to try SRI again. These are all 6m x 10m plots, and the first round of land preparation was just finished this week–weeds are cleaned and soil surface is broken into chunks. We also started the nursery this week. Instead of building nursery beds, we tried portable dry nursery this time.

We used bamboo trays and laid fabric bags inside, then filled in with vermicompost-soil  mix, with a layer of fine sawdust on top. We then sprinkled seeds in and watered. The trays were covered with wet paper and will be watered twice a day to keep the moisture.

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