Planting Small Seeded Vegetable Crops into a High Residue, Reduced Tillage Environment

Final Report for FNE09-667

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2009: $6,491.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Neil Myerov
Myerov Family Farm
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Project Information

Summary:

The purpose of the project was to develop a reduced tillage system for planting small seeded vegetable crops. Six cover crop treatments were established during various parts of the growing season, killed with an herbicide and rolled down. This created a high residue environment which suppressed weeds, added organic matter and built soil structure. The treatments were strip-tilled using a minimally invasive implement, and planted to small seeded vegetable crops using conventional equipment. Results indicated that the cover crop combination of field peas and sorghum sudan grass yielded the most biomass. A minimally invasive strip tillage implement was built that would not clog under high residue conditions. Cash crops of Asian greens, radishes and mustard were successfully produced. The project demonstrated that small seeded vegetables can be grown in a high residue, reduced tillage environment.

Full report with graphs and tables is attached.

Introduction:

Myerov Family Farm (12 acres) located in Bucks County, Pa. A “CSA” producing a full array of vegetables and small fruits, served 250 families during the past two years. Farm facilities include a 3,000 sq. ft. heated greenhouse, 3000 sq. ft. high tunnel, machinery barn, walk in cooler, and large community room with kitchen and furnishings.

Committed to a reduced tillage direction, the farm is planted to a fall rye cover crop and spring oat cover crop. No plowing has has occurred for 3 years. No-till vegetable crops included sweet corn, melons, winter squash/pumpkins, lima beans, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Other crops received soil preparation using a sub-soiler followed by roto-tilling to a 4” depth. I did not perceive any benefit from the sub-soiling. Roto-tilling alone without plowing did not control perennial weeds adequately. Fall applications of glyphosate effectively improved the perennial weed situation.

During 2009, the soil rarely dried out because of frequent, heavy rains. A very challenging season with many crop failures. Weed control using pre-emergent herbicides was inconsistent because of the wet weather diluting the chemicals and possibly the absorptive nature of the increased cover crop residue.

The 2009 segment of the SARE Research Project using new strip-till techniques yielded crops of mustard greens, radish and mizuna which were distributed to CSA members.

In 2010, the spring was very productive with ideal growing conditions. This was followed by a summer drought with excessively high temperatures which dramatically reducing the yields of some crops. The fall was productive and mild. Crops in the high tunnel were harvested into the first week of December.

The 2010 segment of the SARE Research Project was grown under totally different weather conditions than 2009. The cover crop treatments yielded consistently, but the cash crop part of the project suffered from the drought and high temperatures.

4. Participants

Scott Guiser assisted in the evaluation of research plot results. He made suggestions for appropriate data reporting and improvements in future research plot layout and design. Aaron Segall supplied technical assistance in planting, biomass collection and equipment development. Asher Miller helped with statistical design and evaluation. Andrew Frankenfield helped with project equipment design considerations.

Project Objectives:

I propose an integrated solution, combining the benefits of reduced tillage farming with the use of cover crops. This will improve soil structure, drainage and will facilitate farm machinery entering fields with excess soil moisture. To make this system work, strip tillage/zone tillage is employed to prepare a narrow seed bed of adequate quality that will successfully grow small seeded vegetable crops.

Various cover crops, selected for their weed suppressing characteristic, will be established using no-till techniques during different periods of the planting season. These cover crops, having produced enough biomass will be rolled down and killed prior to cash crop seeding. Strip-tillage equipment will be used to prepare narrow seedbeds, and then conventional machinery to plant small seeded vegetable crops.

Primary and secondary strip-tillage equipment will be evaluated will be evaluated for their effectiveness in various high residue situations. Cash crops will be measured for percent germination, quality and yield. Any observable alleopathic effects from the cover crops will be noted.

Research

Materials and methods:

Conventional mid-western style strip tillage equipment was tested under high residue conditions with varying soil moisture levels. This equipment turned out to be too aggressive, producing a rough seedbed with much field trash, a poor match for planting small seeds. Another approach was explored. Consequently, a less invasive strip tillage implement was designed and built, more along the lines of a no-till planter, that would prepare a narrow seedbed under high residue conditions without clogging.

Six different cover crop treatments were selected, mostly pairing a legume with a grass/grain, trying to capitalize on their combined benefits for better weed suppression. Three randomized blocks were planted, Block #1 July 2009, Block #2 August 2009 and Block #3 April 2010. The research blocks were planted on a no-till part of the farm.

The cover crop treatments were allowed to grow for a period of two months. Biomass samples were collected and measured. The cover crop treatments were killed with the herbicide glyphosate. Then after about two weeks, weather permitting, the cover crops were rolled down, strip tilled and planted to small seeded vegetable crops. Block 1 was planted to radish, beets, mizuna and red mustard. Block 2 was planted to spinach. Vegetable crop samples were collected and weighed from Block 1. Block 2 produced no crop due to cold and wet conditions.

In 2010, Block 3 was planted in early spring with an improved randomization design then treated in a similar fashion as the experimental blocks of 2009.At the end of June the cover crops were killed with glyphosate,.The plot was rolled down, strip tilled and planted July 8 with beets in alternating rows with an herb mix of dill, cilantro and parsley. Cash crop samples were collected and measured in September.

 

 

 

 

Experimental design – Research Project 2009

Overview:

The experimental design is a complete randomized block with 4 replications labeled a,b,c,d.

Each block (36′ x 220′) includes 6 randomized cover crop treatments.

Each treatment plot (36′ x 55′) consists of 6 beds (6′ x 55”).

 

6 cover crop treatments labeled 1,2,3,4,5,6.

 

1-crimson clover and oats

2-soybean and buckwheat

3-soybean and sorghum sudan grass

4-field pea and oats

5-field pea and sorghum sudan grass

6-buckwheat and sorghum sudan grass

7-control -fallow

 

Seeding rate for each 6′ x 55′ treatment plot

 

1/3 lb.              Crimson clover – no variety stated

2 lb.                 Oats – “Blaze” Seedway

2 lb.                 Soybean – SG385C Seedway

21/2 lb.            Field pea – “Maxum”Seedway

1 lb.                 Buckwheat – no variety stated

½ lb.                Sorghum Sudan grass – BMRM202 Seedway

 

Soil preparation was shallow rotary tilling to a maximum depth of 2”

Seed was broadcast by hand

Very light disking and seed bed firmed with a roller

 

A control strip 6′ x 220′ was added along side plot #1 later to compare the performance of the planted vegetable crops.Two randomized blocks (36′ x 220′) were planted with 6 different cover crop treatments.

A, B, C, D, represent the four replications

South

4D

5D

6D

1D

2D

3D

7D

3C

4C

5C

6C

1C

2C

7C

2B

3B

4B

5B

6B

1B

7B

1A

2A

3A

4A

5A

6A

7A

North               driveway____________________________________

Block #1 was planted 7/13/2009 and Block #2 was planted 8/9/2009. Two biomass samples were taken from each treatment plot (6′ x 55′) two months after planting. Both wet and dry weight were measured.

The cover crop treatments were killed with the herbicide glyphosate. Then after a period of time, when the weather permitted the cover crops were rolled down, strip tilled and planted to small seeded vegetable crops. An additional treatment plot (6′ x 220′) was added along side each block to give a comparison to conventional tillage.

Block #1 was planted to radish, beets, mizuna and red mustard. Block #2 was planted to spinach. Vegetable crop samples were collected and weighed from Block #1. Block #2 produced no crop due to excessively wet and cold conditions.

 

Research Project 2010

Overview

One randomized block was(42′ x 220′) were planted to six different cover crop treatments a fallow control.

            1. crimson clover and oats

2.soybeans and buckwheat

3. soybean and sorghum sudan grass

4. field peas and oats

5. field peas and sorghum sudan grass

6. buckwheat and sorghum sudan grass

7. control – fallow

Block #3 was planted in early spring, 5/15/2010.

South

6D

3D

5D

1D

4D

7D

2D

2C

4C

6C

5C

3C

1C

7C

1B

5B

2B

6B

7B

4B

3B

7A

1A

4A

3A

6A

5A

2A

Two biomass samples were taken from each treatment 6/25/2010 (afternoon). Observations – buckwheat and oats were going to seed. Plots are generally taller going from A-D uphill.

Burn down with glyphosate, rate 2qt/acre 6/27/2010

7/8/2010 Rolled cover crop, strip tilled three times. Soil was very dry and hard. Planted Early Wonder beets in alternating rows with an herb mix of dill(Greensleeves), cilantro(Marino), and parsley(Gigante d’ Italia). Two good rains followed 7/10/2010 and 7/13/2010.

7/29/2010 Observations – control plots had very little germination, plots with cover crop treatments had some very good germination. Mulch cover during the heat of summer helps to retain moisture and enhance germination.

8/8/2010 Some cover crops reseeded producing weed competition for the cash crop. Photos taken.

Photo documentation was made of the entire project.

 

Research results and discussion:

The goals for the 2009season were to test the project design, solve equipment issues and experiment with new and unfamiliar crops. In 2010 an improved randomization design was employed for the third replication.

The research project demonstrated, at least in a qualitative way, that planting small seeded vegetable crops into a high residue reduced tillage environment can produce crops comparable to conventional tillage.

Cover crop biomass samples from all three experimental blocks yielded consistent results. The cover crop treatment sorghum sudan grass/field pea produced the most biomass making it a good choice for both spring and warm season production in my geographic area.. The research project demonstrated that a significant amount of biomass/residue can be produced in only 2 months.

The cover crop treatments planted in July and August of 2009 produced significant weed suppression compared to the conventional tillage treatment. This is crucial to the success of the cash crop that follows. Block 3 cover crop treatments planted in early spring of 2010 were not killed soon enough. Both oats and buckwheat reseeded after the herbicide burn down creating weed competition for the cash crop.

The Block 1 cash crop had seed germination, weight and quality that were similar to the conventional tillage control. No alleopahtic effects from the cover crop on the vegetable crops was observed. The Block 2 cash crop failed to germinate. Block 3 cash crop yield was small due to excessively hot temperatures, drought and weed pressure from the cover crops that reseeded themselves. The field pea/oat cover crop treatment of 2010 produced the most cash crop yield under hot dry conditions.

Conventional strip tillage equipment proved to be a poor match to this project. It was too aggressive, churning up an 8”-12” strip mixed with the surface residue. This would require more time for the residue to break down before planting, additional soil preparation, dilute the benefits of the cover crop and promote more weed competition. The strip tillage implement developed as part of the research project prepares an adequate seed bed while keeping residue and soil disturbance to a minimum. It prepares a 3” wide seed bed without getting clogged in the high residue conditions. The implement consists of three rotating elements: a coulter, two angled wheels with sharp fingers, and a pair of disks. The coulter cuts the residue and needs significant weight to be effective in dry conditions. A wavy or turbo style coulter would aid in soil preparation. The two angled wheels with sharp fingers act as residue removers and work the soil. It is important to place the trash removers behind the coulter. The two parallel disks complete the soil preparation.

The excessively wet nature of the 2009 growing season delayed planting the first research block until July. Yields were clearly reduced in areas with poorer drainage.

Although, positive qualitative observations were reported from Block 1 and samples of vegetable crops were collected and weighed, the statistical data is not conclusive due to areas washed out by rain.

There was some deer feeding on the soybean and buckwheat cover crops in Block 2. This is reflected in the lower biomass weights for those plots. Selecting cover crops which encourage deer feeding is not advised.

Block 2 cash crop(spinach) failed to germinate. Conditions were too wet and cold.

The spring of 2010 came early with ideal planting conditions. Cover crop treatments were planted two months earlier than the previous year. Unfortunately, this was followed by summer drought with excessively hot temperatures. This dramatically reduced the cash crop yield.

 

 

8. Economics

The economic cost benefits of this reduced tillage approach are realized through reduced fuel cost, machinery use, labor, soil erosion, chemical runoff, and increased soil organic matter, water infiltration, drainage and improved soil structure.

The original grant proposal submitted and accepted stated that “cover crop biomass and weed biomass will be visually estimated”. The SARE committee asked for an actual sampling and measurements. This added a substantial number of hours to the project.

Research conclusions:

The project demonstrates a new production system for growers to add to their repertoire. It requires greater management and planning than conventional production systems. The choice of cover crop and it’s management are as important as the cash crop.

The system worked best with fall crops of cool season Asian greens, radish and mustard. The next step would be to look at crop specific systems.

Weed control may be the biggest problem. Pre-emergent herbicides appear to be less effective when applied in a high residue situation. This question has not been adequately answered by the industry.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Farm tours of the research plots were conducted throughout 2009 and 2010 for all interested parties and visitors. Copies of the research report were sent to local vegetable farms, Bucks and Montgomery County Extension Agencies, The Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association, educators at Penn State University and Delaware Valley College. A synopsis of the report was submitted for publication to PVGA News letter and other local newspapers.

Project Outcomes

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Future Recommendations

I plan to continue to use and refine this cropping system investigated in the research project. Soil conservation and good agricultural practice go hand in hand. Reduced tillage vegetable production systems can reduce off farm inputs. Farming by intelligent design is a better approach than plowing under our sins each year.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.