Report D030 *****

Problem: Docks in wheat
Where: Eshott Estate, Northumberland
When: April 2004.
Area: Unrecorded (but large)
Status: Organic.
Detail: Visit Northumberland & Durham Machinery Ring workforce, who were removing broken (but shooting) dock roots in wheat crops. Docks spreading from plantations & hedgerows.
Report: (includes DOCK WARNING)

This was a visit to encourage a Northumnberland & Durham Machinery Ring workforce, who were removing dock plants from wheat. Docks were spreading from unmanaged tree plantations & hedgerows, and the roots had been chopped up by cultivations (rotovated). They grew from varying depths, and were difficult to locate.

The task was thankless, and not to be recommended. See WARNING below.

IMPORTANT WARNING: Hand-pulling is a vital aspect of weed control, but the job of pulling hundreds of docks growing from rotovated or repeat-rotary-harrowed root sections, in an arable crop, is not to be recommended.

  • If forced (for any reason) to plough grasses before pulling the docks, something must be done to remove existing plants & broken root sections before sowing.
  • Repeated dragging of the land with 5-framed chisel harrows, mounted on the three-point linkage, is a good way. With these harrows (lifted on chains & latterly made by Parmiter), the chisel points are spaded slightly and curved forward, which encourages root sections to the surface. Also used for dragging wicks & couch grasses into piles for burning, these harrows will also pull the majority of your dock roots into rows.
  • After ploughing, most soils will first require the use of heavier drag-harrows, to break the furrows down.
  • When using the chisel harrows, they can be be usefully weighted down (so fix a weight container to each frame, or use a croncrete block). Pull the roots into rows.
  • Drag the roots towards the centre of the worst infestations (don’t contaminate clean areas). Separate these roots from soil & load them into a tractor bucket or trailer with hand gripes (or possibly try an adapted potato harvester (with seed belts).
  • If a fallow is required, the root sections can be allowed to leaf-up (by May), when they are much more easily caught by the chisel harrow tines.
  • After collection, the roots can be incorporated in a hot compost them (3 days minimum @ 55C.) Shredding them will accelerate this process & enrich the compost .
  • If the problem is serious, a year of fallow and repeated action, is the best and only answer.

This work must be done immediately after ploughing & before repeated use of a rotary power harrow or rotovator

Mechanical approach: Try adapting a potato harvester, or stone separator system. A proportion of the collecting & sorting of roots could perhaps be done using such a tool. We are currently working on adapting a machine for trials.

  • Hand-pulling must always be reduced to a minimum. It is best used for eliminating the source of the problems, which often originate in field borders, fencelines, or nearby plantations. In some areas it can sometimes help to surface burn (in corners & along fencle-lines), before going on to pull the roots. Handwork & RIP has its rogueing role among growing crops, but to try clearing an infestation at that stage is wrong.

RECENT EXPERIENCE of removal of individual docks from established grasses, before conservation (or ploughing). Spring 2004 (Using Lazy Dog & NO8)

  • 1142 dock plants (including seedlings) were removed from 7.2 acres, using 108.5 man-hours
  • These docks included seedlings, growing among the clusters.
  • Cost @ £60 = £106. per acre. Rate of pulling, about 99.34 docks per hour per man, including tea-breaks.
  • Maintenance costs in future will be minimal in comparison.
  • P.S. There are always far more seedling docks near an older cluster, than a cursory glance reveals.