The Cambridge CropShare group is aiming to build a push-powered, lay-down weeder, and we'd like your help.
What is CropShare?
CropShare is a small group of community-spirited individuals who volunteer at Waterlands Organics in near Cambridge, typically once a fortnight from March to October. We help with seeding, planting, weeding and harvesting. In return, we get to take home some of the delicious organic produce that grows on the fertile fenland.
What is the Problem?
In a word, weeds! Weeds grow rapidly in the rich soil on the farm. Unchecked, they starve our lettuces etc. of the light and nutrients they need. While the vegetables are small, farmer Paul has a brush weeder which can reduce the weeds between rows. Soon, though, the only way to extract the weeds is by hoeing or bending over and pulling. That quickly gets tiring, giving us sore backs or knees. So...
On a farm hack weekend in Shropshire in 2015, a solar/battery powered lay-down weeder was demonstrated. It was effective, but it has to be taken to the end of each row to be pulled back. It would be a bit too complicated for us to construct, though.
The dream is to design and build our own simple push-powered weeder. And with a little help from our friends, you can turn our dreams into reality.
The weeder has been designed by Reggie Thomson and consists of two metal bogeys with wheelbarrow wheels supporting a gently tilted "table" with a foam topping. The wheels fit either side of the vegetable bed, and two cropsharers lie face-down with their hands through the gap at the front. They can pull up the weeds close to our veggies. Moving forwards is simply a matter of them each pushing on the tyres.
We intend doing the woodwork ourselves. However, drilling the bogey will be done by the local engineering firm that supplies the metal, saving us time and ensuring a greater accuracy.
What does the money actually pay for?
Well, we need to buy the wheelbarrow wheels (£90), the metal with holes drilled (£70 or so), the treated wood (£90), foam (£40) and then there's paint, tarpaulin to cover it, canvas bags to keep the mice away from the stored foam, etc. Any extra that we raise can go towards consumables like gloves.
Reggie Thomson has been on CropShare for over five years. He has a small fruit and vegetable garden in his house, but also enjoys driving the tractor on the farm. By day he designs websites and web applications, and by night he dances.
Paul Robinson: life long grower, sometimes large scale, sometimes on a mini scale. Organic grower for many years. Lover of low tech, eater of green veg. Natural environment predominantly the open air. Likes sun or partial shade. Thrives in Fenland. Non migratory. Fondness for wild plants, wild animals especially weasels.
Helen Holmes is one of the volunteer founders and co-ordinators of the producer-community partnership CSA Cambridge CropShare, and is employed by the producer business, Waterland Organics, one day a week. She is not from a farming family but got into agriculture via studying applied plant sciences and doing a permaculture design course. She also works as a crop physiologist doing a variety of arable research at ADAS UK Ltd. Fave veg currently: kale, dwarf green curled.
CropShare is part of Transition Cambridge, which aims to help Cambridge make the transition to ways of life that are more resilient in the face of rising energy prices and a changing climate.