2021 Case Study: Nettie Fox Farm


Nettie Fox Farm, Newburgh, Maine

Everett Ottinger and Molly Crouse operate Nettie Fox Farm in Newburgh, Maine. They produce organic mixed vegetables on 3-4 acres, marketing through a weekly farmer’s market in Bangor, as well as 75-80 CSA shares in the summer and 30 shares in the fall. In addition to vegetables, Everett and Mollie raise poultry for their own consumption, and to boost nutrient cycling on the farm.

Nettie Fox Farm employs 1-2 hourly workers and 1-3 apprentices each year. Apprentices are given on-farm housing and provide needed labor for the farm, while gaining immersive experience on the day-to-day operating of a small-scale organic vegetable operation.

Prior to starting Nettie Fox Farm in 2014, both Mollie and Everett farmed in other locations for several years. Everett came to Maine in 2009 through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in order to gain more farming experience. Nettie Fox Farm has been the first full-time operation Everett has operated, though he helped run a small-scale vegetable farm on loaned land in Blue Hill, ME prior to 2014. Mollie also apprenticed at several farms, including Peacemeal Farm in Dixmont, ME, before starting Nettie Fox Farm with Everett.

Challenging weeds

Choosing one weed as the most problematic species at Nettie Fox Farm was a challenge for Everett. “We have a healthy population of almost all the dominant weed species in Maine”, he said, which has made the seedbank seem unmanageable at times. Large crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis) is at the top of the list and has been a growing problem for Nettie Fox each year since 2016, while redroot pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus) and common lambsquarter (Chenopodium album) have been long-standing challenges at the farm. In just the last two years, hairy galinsoga (Galinsoga ciliata) has also emerged as a major problematic weed.

Hairy galinsoga was first observed at the farm in 2020, prior to which it had not been a dominant weed species in the fields. While it was not very prominent that first year, the farm saw a major increase in hairy galinsoga density during the spring and summer of 2021. Everett is not certain of how the weed species arrived at the farm, but suspects it may have come from contaminated equipment carrying the seed from other locations.

Less dominant at the farm, but still notably problematic, are sowthistle (Sonchus), velvetleaf (Abutilon theophrasti), jewel weed (Impatiens capensis), bladder campion (Silene vulgaris), and bindweed (Convolvuvis arvensis).

Weed management at Nettie Fox Farm

Weed management at Nettie Fox Farm aims to balance weed eradication Everett’s ideal goal with profitability. Ultimately, Everett said, “Cultivation often takes back seat to planting and harvest. Nobody pays you to have clean fields”.

In terms of strategy, physical weed control, seedbank management, and mulching all play a role in how Everett and Mollie manage weeds. Physical weed control, mainly through scuffle hoes and hand-weeding, but with some tractor cultivation, as well, is their dominant weed control method.

Black plastic and straw or hay mulch are also used at the farm to suppress weeds. Everett notes that black plastic has been a game-changer at the farm, providing more clean plantings that can last much longer throughout the season. For example, prior to applying black plastic, kale would go through eight plantings and had high densities of weeds when tilled in at the end of a succession. With black plastic, however, the kale crops maintain low-enough weed densities that they last longer and have only required two plantings throughout the season.

Tarping in salad mixes [check about other crops?] has had variable success as a seedbank management technique at the farm, noted Everett. One year, tarping served to almost eradicate weeds in a salad mix crop, while the next year, with the same technique, weed densities were high enough that Everett thought that discing the field may have had the same effect.

Experimental crop

For the first cultivation event in the weed management experiment, spinach was used as the test crop. For the second cultivation, lettuce was used. In both crops, Everett and Mollie typically manage weeds with scuffle hoes and careful hand-weeding in the crop row.

Experimental tools

The experimental tool used at Nettie Fox Farm was the Kult Kress Next Generation unit, with finger weeder and beet knife implements. This was compared against two reference treatments: scuffle hoes and hand-weeding, and the Buddingh basket weeder.

Evaluation of stacked tools

Given the time required to adjust the equipment, trial the tools, and make further adjustments as needed, Everett did not find the Kult Kress Next Gen unit to be a successful replacement for their typical weed control strategies.

“The biggest hurdle for me in feeling like I’m making progress with mechanical cultivation strategies is the scarcity of time. . . and the considerable upfront investment in that time,” said Everett. While scuffle hoeing a field takes many times longer than tractor cultivation, Everett noted that it does not require the hours of trial and error necessary to setting up cultivation tools, and in the moment may be a more accessible and efficient weed control method.

Reflections from the on-farm research project

While there were no major new discoveries for Everett after the weed management experiment, he did find it useful to gain more experience with cultivation equipment, especially the basket weeder.

Further information, training, or resources

Having a long-term tool library with a variety of cultivation equipment for loan would be a useful resource, Everett noted.

Figure 1: Mental model of the components and connections within the weed management system at Nettie Fox Farm.


  • Gray boxes represent farming system priorities, orange boxes represent overall weed management strategies and goals, blue boxes represent physical weed control practices and decision-making, and purple boxes represent key lessons on using physical weed control tools based on practical experience.
  • Blue arrows indicate the three strongest perceived relationships between components within the mental model.