Question of the Week
Answer: Generally in organic systems, preventive weed control is the most effective method of dealing with weeds. As for what can assist you now, a combination of approaches is likely necessary, as you almost certainly have some weeds that you can control with mulches and others that you cannot. Various approaches include the use of geotextiles (fabric mulch), wood chip mulch, mowing, some hand-weeding around young trees, flame weeding, chickens or weeder geese, and some of the organic herbicides. Try everything you can to keep from disturbing the soil with cultivation, but if you simply can’t manage that, you may find the Weed-Badger to be effective with minimal soil disturbance.
As for organic herbicides, some find a citric acid-based one to be most effective, but soap-based and vinegar-based (acetic acid) ones also do the job. Of course, there is no systemic organic herbicide, so all of these organic herbicides are "contact" herbicides only, i.e., they are only affective on what they come in contact with. These don't work especially well on any established weeds—the sprayed part wilts, but the weed sends up new growth almost immediately. As a consequence, achieving decent weed control on established weeds can be prohibitively expensive. However, if you time the use of these organic herbicides so that they're being employed against small, young weeds, you can get some decent control from them.
See the ATTRA publication Tree Fruits: Organic Production Overview for information on weed management both prior to orchard establishment (pages 10-11) and in established orchards (pages 22-24). It is available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=2.
Also see ATTRA’s Biorationals Database for more information on organic herbicides and ecological pest management, available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/biorationals/.
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