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“Soil seedbank” refers to weed seeds present in the soil. The soil seedbank serves as the source of next season weed problems. The majority of seeds in the soil were deposited by plants that escaped control on the last year. Due to seed dormancy, weed seeds can remain viable in the soil for many years and often emerge over many weeks during the growing season.
Know where the problem areas are: map them out.
How to Manage the Soil Seedbank?
The bale direct system consists of a large square baler that is attached directly to the harvester which constructs bales from the chaff and straw residue. There is a limited market for the bales and a large risk of immediately spreading weed seeds to other fields.
Limit the spread of weed seeds through the field and from weedy fields to clean ones. Clean the combine before leaving a field. A single Palmer amaranth plant can produce hundreds of thousands of seeds – planning your harvest strategy and cleaning equipment diligently is well worth the time. Remember: scout, map, and plan prior to harvesting to Get Rid of Weeds!
Harvest Weed Seed Control (HWSC) is an approach to managing the soil seedbank. These methods focus on cultural and mechanical options to reduce the impact of seeds from escaped weeds at harvest time. These are only effective for weed species that do not shatter and allow their seeds to shed prior to mechanical harvest.
Weed communities in agronomic fields are dominated by annual species. Summer annuals initiate growth each spring from seeds found in the upper soil profile (Figure 1). In most fields, a small percentage of the emerging plants survive and contribute new seeds to the soil seedbank. Historically, most research of the annual weed life cycle has focused on seed dormancy and emergence (A), effect of control tactics on weed survival (B), and weed seed production (C). The fate of seeds between the time of maturation on the plant and entering the seedbank (D) has largely been ignored. However, current research at Iowa State University and other organizations has shown that significant seed losses routinely occur in agronomic fields, and these losses may influence the effectiveness of weed management programs. This article will provide a brief summary of some of the current research in this area and the potential importance of seed predation to weed management.
Insect predators (field crickets, ground beetles, etc.) are active during the growing season when temperatures are favorable for cold-blooded species, whereas field mice are active year round. Seed predators have a remarkable ability to locate seeds on the soil surface; however, once seeds move into the soil profile the threat of predation is greatly reduced. The highest rates of seed predation likely occur in late summer and early fall when weed seeds are shed from plants onto the soil surface. Tillage buries the majority of seeds at depths where predation is minimal. Avoiding or delaying fall tillage following harvest should increase seed losses due to predation. Seeds can also enter the profile due to the impact of rain droplets, by falling into cracks, or due to freezing/thawing cycles during the winter. Ongoing research at ISU is evaluating the fate of seeds on the soil surface and how long they remain available to predators.
Weed seeds are an important food source for a variety of organisms that live within or adjacent to agricultural fields. It is clear that seed predation is an important form of biological control that influences weed communities within agricultural fields. Yet to be defined is how cropping systems can be manipulated to enhance the activity of seed predators and maximize their benefit, therefore allowing reductions in other more disruptive control tactics.
A common method of measuring seed predation involves lightly attaching seeds to sandpaper or a similar material and placing the seed cards in the field. After a few days the card is retrieved and the percentage of seeds removed is determined (Westerman et al. 2005). Averaged over 12 sampling periods from May through November, seed losses ranged from 7 to 22% per day depending on the crop present in the field in a study conducted near Boone, IA (Figure 2). The higher predation rates in small grain and alfalfa compared to corn and soybean may be due to differences in crop canopy development. The rate of seed predation typically increases as a crop canopy develops within a field. Corn and soybean canopies provide little protection for predators early in the growing season compared to small grain or alfalfa, and thus predators may seek other habitats when little canopy is present. Later in the season, predator activity is typically similar in corn and soybeans as in other field crops.
The preference of predators for different species of weed seeds in the field is poorly understood. When given a choice, seed predators often will feed preferentially on one species over another (van der Laat et al. 2006; Figure 3). A common question is whether seed predators pose a threat to crop seed. Seed size and depth of planting minimize risks of corn and soybean seed losses to predators. Small-seeded legumes and grasses are at greater risk for predation losses, but proper planting where the majority of seed are placed under the soil surface should minimize losses.