Making Roller Crimping a Reality in the Southwest

Final Report for FW13-122

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2013: $9,155.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:
Dale Rhoads
Rhoads Farm
Co-Investigators:
Joran Viers
New Mexico State University
Expand All

Project Information

Abstract:

The following are evident from the trials comparing roller crimping to conventional tillage and weeding:

1. There is significantly less weeding in the roller crimped areas.

2. Some crops seem to perform better in the crimped areas than in the conventional tillage areas.

a. Tomatoes and chilis in the crimped areas tend to produce larger harvests but several days to a week later for first harvest due apparently to cooler early season soil temperatures. This was also true for cantaloupe.

b. Cooler season crops like kale, chard, cabbage and potatoes produce larger yield with larger plant size in the crimped areas due to cooler soil temperatures.

3. Some crops produced better yields in the conventional ‘bare earth’ cropping system. These were summer hot weather-liking flowers, basil, early season cilantro.

4. Squash has presented some problems with growth and harvest size in the roller crimped areas in the past. Part of this year’s trials was comparison between roller crimped, bare earth, roller crimped with crimped cover removed and roller crimped with a 12” tiller row in the crimped cover. It seems evident from the results, which were similar between the crimped with a 12” tilled row planted into and the bare earth, that the difficulty with squash harvest size in the past in crimped areas is mostly a matter of soil ‘looseness’ for the shallow-rooted squash plants. While it is seen that the crimped areas have smaller yields and several day later yields compared to bare earth, the roller crimped with 12” tilled area has similar first harvest dates and yields to the bare earth, while also giving better weed control in the paths and area between plants than the conventional tillage areas.

5. Soil appearance, nutrition and organic matter continue to be impressive in the crimped areas over the bare earth, especially now that three years of bare earth compared to crimping has been done in the same plots. The table below shows the differences in the bare areas to the areas that have been crimped-grown for the last three years. Each year the nutrient analysis shows more nutrients accumulating in the roller crimped areas. It is proposed that this is due to the breakdown of the cover crop that occurs over the entire growing season rather then being ‘dumped’ into the soil in the spring when a cover crop is incorporated into the soil all at one time and leaching of unused nutrients occurs. The bare areas had the same cover crop on them as the crimped areas, only at crimping time the bare areas were mown and tilled under.

SOIL NUTRIENT BARE AREAS CRIMPED AREAS
soil ph 7.8 7.8
Salts (mmhos/cm) 0.4 0.6
Organic Matter % 3.8%   4.7%
Nitrogen ppm   5.3 19
Phosphorus ppm 110 175
Phosphorus ppm 66 97
Potassium ppm 214 620
Sulfur ppm 23 32
Nitrogen Needed for Next Year lbs/acre 120 62

See soil tests 

These are very impressive numbers. In three years of growing, the roller crimped areas need half as much nitrogen for the next growing season and no other soil amendments. It would seem that the vegetative matter decaying on the top of the ground assists in tying nitrogen into the soil. Weed management on the crimped areas only took about 50% of the time in weeding than the bare earth areas. Crop sizes were similar in both areas, with the crimped having slightly larger crops with carrots, kale, cabbage and potatoes, and slightly larger but several day later crops with chilis, tomatoes and cantaloupe. And the bare earth weeding produced better flowers, basil and cilantro.

6. The eventual near-elimination of weeds in the growing areas was demonstrated by this year’s trials. The roller crimped areas had only one weed, sheep’s head (Tribulus terrestris), appearing in any numbers compared to the adjacent bare earth conventional weeding area, which still has a variety of weeds. These two trial areas purposely had weed seeds introduced three years ago in applied horse manure fertilizer. In the three years of using roller crimping on half of the area, the weed density and variety has been significantly reduced in the crimped areas, while increasing soil quality. Numbers and varieties of weeds in the non-crimped areas is still similar after three years.

**note: past year’s data are from a previously funded project FW11-021

Cover crop before crimping and half to be tilled in, May 10th Cover crop before crimping and half to be tilled in, May 10th

The crimped area crimped and the conventional tillage to be mowed and turned under The crimped area crimped and the conventional tillage to be mowed and turned under

weed free cover at planting time Weed free cover at planting time

Late May, everything planted, things starting to grow. Late May, everything planted, things starting to grow.

Tomato plants growing in crimped cover. Tomato plants growing in crimped cover.

Trasplatanted cabbages in cover Transplanted cabbages in cover

Canteloupe in bare areas at first weeding compared to few weeds in cover area Canteloupe in bare areas at first weeding compared to few weeds in cover area

Squash in bare areas showing weeding needed at first weeding Squash in bare areas showing weeding needed at first weeding

9749327- Typical weeds in bare conventional tillage areas in June Typical weeds in bare conventional tillage areas in June

Chili's and cabbage in weed free crimped cover areas 2-6 Chili’s and cabbage in weed free crimped cover areas 2-6

Beets in weed free cover July Beets in weed free cover July

Growing Potatoes, tomatoes and flowers in weed free crimped cover Early July Growing Potatoes, tomatoes and flowers in weed free crimped cover Early July

Spinach in conventional tilling area at a July weeding Spinach in conventional tilling area at a July weeding

Cilantro in crimped with smaller harvests than bare tillage areas Cilantro in crimped with smaller harvests than bare tillage areas

Potatoes gorwing in crimped area weed free Potatoes growing in crimped area weed free

Tomatoes July 14 Tomatoes July 14

Weeds around chili in conventional area in Early July Weeds around chili in conventional area in Early July

Chard, potatoes, flowers, lettuce in crimped areas, still weed free in early August Chard, potatoes, flowers, lettuce in crimped areas, still weed free in early August

August pic of kale on bare area… weeds now only in rows that need control, crimped areas weed free August pic of kale on bare area… weeds now only in rows that need control, crimped areas weed free

Squash in crimped area with tilled strip producing good Squash in crimped area with tilled strip producing good

Beet harvests, non crimped area harvest on left and crimped area harvest on right in each type… crimped areas produced larger, but fewer tubers, Beet harvests, non crimped area harvest on left and crimped area harvest on right in each type… crimped areas produced larger, but fewer tubers,

Potatoes in crimped area Potatoes in crimped area

Harvest size in non-crimped area, 3/4 size of crimped area harvests. Harvest size in non-crimped area, 3/4 size of crimped area harvests.

Harvest in non crimped area that is 1/2 size of crimped harvest areas. Harvest in non crimped area that is 1/2 size of crimped harvest areas.

Cabbage head in crimped area, 20% more weight than conventional tillage areasCabbage head in crimped area, 20% more weight than conventional tillage areas

Harvest tables and weeding time table

 

Introduction

Roller crimping is a method of manipulating or killing an over-wintered cover crop that kills and flattens the cover crop during the late spring flowering growth plant stage so it remains on the soil surface, making an in-place weed suppressing mulch that lays flat on the ground. There have been two years of formal trials and three years of using this technique in a trials plot area. That area was ‘seeded’ with weed seeds through horse manure in fall 2010. Half of the area has had the cover crop incorporated into the soil each spring with conventional mechanical and hand-weeding techniques used. The other half of the trials area has for three years had the cover crop crimped into an in-place mulch. For two of those years, there was no tillage done on the crimped area. This made, in 2012 and 2013, the crimped area a no-till, roller crimped growing area. In the trials in 2012, weeds on both of the adjacent crimped and conventional areas were managed with minimal weeding, only enough to ensure no weeds produced seeds. In this year’s trials, all weeds were eliminated through weeding methods until the last several weeks of the growing season.

Project Objectives:

The goals of this project were:

1. Get researchers interested in trying crimping.
2. Get interested farmers data and a project they can see.
3. Inform farmers that may not be interested about this technique.
4. Gather field data through replicated field trials with a wide variety of plant family and plant types representative of the major vegetable crops in the southwest. This data was to measure:

a. Production of each major family of vegetable crops to test suitability of crimping on various vegetables.
b. To measure if soil nutrients are different in the two different treatments: crimping and conventional cover crop incorporation earlier in the season for conventional growing methods.
c. To gather specific data on squash production with roller crimping, no-till organic farming. Gather more specific data about why squash has problems with crimping based on several years of trials by Rhoads.

Research

Materials and methods:

For the gathering of the field data there were replicated field trials outlined below:

Replicated Field Trials Details

There are 60 3‘x10’ plots in six rows 100‘long. Thirty of those plots had winter rye cover crimped into an in place mulch. Thirty plots hd the winter cover incorporated into the soil. In the 60 plot test areas, there were 10 plots of different market crops, times three replications, per the two test areas of crimped and incorporated winter cover crop. The 10 plant family plots were planted in three replications in both the crimped and uncrimped conventional areas and contained:

a. Summer squash planted in crimped cover.
b. Squash planted in crimped cover with the cover removed 1’ around the plant.
c. Squash planted in the crimped cover that has the cover pulled back 1’ from plant and ground tilled 6” deep 1’ around. (I know squash does better in tilled non crimped areas. Why? Some plant specialists have theorized it is soil ‘looseness’ others soil temperature. This test should show why and how to mix tilling and crimping to grow Cucurbitaceae to maximize weed control and plant growth).
d. Cantaloupe grown in crimped cover.
e. Tomato/Bell Pepper/Green Chili
f. Basil/Cilantro/Chives
g. Floss Flower/Bachelors Button/Pinks
h. Carrot/Beet/Late potato
i. Lettuce/Spinach/Chard
j, Broccoli/Kale/Cabbage

The following data was gathered:

1. Soil tests threetimes in the season: pre-crimping, after planting and end of season.
2. Harvest size.
3. Weed pressure/time in weed control.
4. Labor times to measure installation and weeding costs.

Research results and discussion:

The Objectives Listed in the proposal were:

1. Get researchers interested in trying crimping.
2. Get interested farmers data and a project they can see.
3. Inform farmers that may not be interested about this technique
4. Gather field data through replicated field trials with a wide variety of plant family and plant types representative of the major vegetable crops in the southwest.
5. Gather more specific data about why squash has problems with crimping based on several years of trials by Rhoads.

The first three goals are on-going and long-term involving education. At this time in NM, to my knowledge, only one other farm is looking at roller crimping.

Goal 4 of the proposal was:

Gather field data through replicated field trials with a wide variety of plant family and plant types representative of the major vegetable crops in the southwest.

The following field data was collected.
1. Soil tests three times in the season: pre-crimping, after planting and end of season.
2. Harvest size.
3. Weed pressure/time in weed control.
4. Labor times to measure installation and weeding costs.

Soil Test Results

The soil tests results were given in the summary listed above. The cover cropped areas need 1/2 of the N for next year and overall retain more soil nutrients.

Harvest Size (except summer squash)

Crop sizes were similar in both areas, with the crimped having slightly larger crops with carrots, kale, cabbage and potatoes, and slightly larger but several day later crops with chilis, tomatoes and cantaloupe. And the bare earth weeding produced better flowers, basil and cilantro. (More on Squash below. Summer Squash produces 30% less crop on the crimped areas, but if a 1’ wide area is tilled in the crimped areas, the harvest sizes are the same as bare areas, with the advantage of the strips between rows has weed suppression from the crimped cover crop, making for less weeding with the same harvest sizes.).

Comments on Harvest Sizes Below:

a. Summer squash planted in crimped cover.
Summer squash planted into a crimped cover produces 30% less fruits but of a similar size. The plants simply do not get as large as on bare earth before setting first fruits, which limits the size of the plant.

b. Squash planted in crimped cover with the cover removed 1’ around the plant. Squash grown with this method showed a very similar size to squash grown on crimped areas, which is around 30% less plant size and crop size than on bare earth.

c. Squash planted in the crimped cover that has the cover pulled back 1’ from plant and ground tilled 6” deep 1’ around. (I know squash does better in tilled non crimped areas. Why? Some plant specialists have theorized it is soil ‘looseness’ others soil temperature. This test should show why and how to mix tilling and crimping to grow Cucurbitaceae to maximize weed control and plant growth. Summer squash having the cover removed and tilling 1’ wide in the crimped cover produced harvest sizes only 5% smaller than squash grown on bare earth showing that tillage was the central issue.).

d. Cantaloupe grown in crimped cover.

Surprisingly cantaloupe grown in the crimped areas out-produced those grown on bare earth by an average of three more cantaloupes per plant. But the crimped area plants was three to four days later in first harvest, which can make a difference at farmer’s market when trying to get crops into consumers early. It is thought that the additional moisture in the crimped areas might explain the difference. It is thought that while summer squash in crimped areas produces less, the cantaloupe throws a deeper root than summer squash, explaining why it grew well on the crimped cover. It is also worth noting that the cover in the crimped areas protects the fruits from rotting and getting dirty by holding them off the earth.

e. Tomato/Bell Pepper/Green Chili

As shown in the trials last year, these plants seem to do well in the crimped areas. They did produce a few more and several day later fruits.

f. Basil/Cilantro/Chives

The early season cilantro along with the basil and chives produced 40% more harvests on the bare earth.

g. Floss Flower/Bachelors Button/Pinks

The flowers were direct seeded and produced over 50% more blooms on the bare earth. This was due to poor seed germination in the crimped areas.

h. Carrot/Beet/Late potato

Surprisingly the carrots, beets and potatoes did as well in the crimped areas as the bare earth areas.

i. Lettuce/Spinach/Chard

The lettuce and spinach produce 27% better in the bare earth than the crimped areas. This is proposed to be to more soil warming early in the season. The swiss chard however did 20% better in the crimped areas, but this was later in the season and they outgrew the bare earth area plants.

j. Broccoli/Kale/Cabbage

The broccoli, which produces a head then is cut out, produced 15% more weight in the bare areas than the crimped areas. The cabbage though made for a 40% heavier head at harvest in the crimped areas. The kale in the crimped areas produced 25% more harvestable leaves in the crimped areas. It is thought that a cooler soil under the crimped area accounts for these differences.

Weed Pressure/time in weed control.

In prior years, the weeding times on the roller crimped areas was around 70% less. This year’s trials showed that the crimped areas took half (48%) less time in weeding. The difference from last year’s trials was that the plant ‘sheep’s head’ threw seeds in the crimped areas last year. Because sheep’s head is a low growing plant that intertwines into the crimped cover, this called for longer, more difficult hand weeding in order to both control the sheep’s head, but also to ensure it did not produce seeds. Except for five to six strays, there was no other type of weed that germinated in the crimped areas. On the areas where the cover crop was turned into the soil rather than crimping into into a cover there was a typical number of weeds as similar years with similar weeding times as prior years. It is on the area that was crimped for three years that the decrease in quantity and variety of weeds was seen.

Labor times to measure installation and weeding costs.

As with last year it was seen that the roller crimped areas took about the same time to install and plant. With mechanical planters adapted to planting into a crimped cover, this time could be reduced.

Goal 5 of the proposal was:

Gather more specific data about why squash has problems with crimping based on several years of trials by Rhoads. The problem that has been experienced by Rhoads for over sixyears with summer squash grown with no till roller crimping has been a marked decline of 25-40% less in plant and harvest size as compared to squash on tilled bare earth. I had consulted with university crop specialist in several states.

The consensus was three questions:

1. Is it soil tillage making the difference as summer squash is a shallow rooted plant?
2. Is it soil temperature that makes the suppression of summer squash on roller crimped soils?
3. Is it possibly a combination of both soil density and soil temperatures?

The summer squash trials were designed to answer these three questions by growing summer squash grown on:

1. Crimped areas.
2. Bare tilled areas.
3. Areas of crimped plots with a 1’ wide strip tilled in the crimped areas to loosen the soil around the plants.

It was shown that the moderate production of summer squash on roller crimped areas was due to soil density. The areas of crimped with a 1’ wide strip tilled in had summer squash of a similar size and total harvest size as the bare earth areas. There is an advantage to growing summer squash in a crimped area that has a strip tilled in it as the weed suppression between plants and plant rows of crimping still occurs. Also, other cucurbita plant family plants, like cantaloupe performed similar or slightly better on crimped areas. Cantaloupe has a deeper root system than summer squash. This assists in making the determination that summer squash on roller crimped areas performs poorly due to soil density with the non-tilled cover crimped into a mulch. Note: Summer squash, like many of the heat-liking plants, produced first crops one to six days later than bare earth, but had similar to slightly larger sizes harvests over the entire season on crimped areas.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

The following eight outreach activities were in the proposal:

1. Post on the website I will create. In 2012 there was a website set up- safesoil.info – in which last year’s and this 2013 trials were explained.

2. Get that info on the NM and regional ag networks. In 2012 and 2013 the information about the two years of trials were published on the NM organic ag website. Technical advisor is creating these.

3. Invite two local chapters of the FFA to come visit when the TA and his farm help and soil team come to do testing three times in 2012. Due to school scheduling, no visits was done. All NMFFA co-ordinators were informed of the trials through e-mail with attachments of the flyer and poster.

4. E-mail pics and flyer to over 1,200 NM farmer’s market farmers. This was done through internet mailing lists.

5. Try to find other farmer e-mail listings. Nothing was found.

6. Inform the Fed about the project… Soil, Ag and Water. This was done through electronic means and personal contact.

7. Speak at the Alcade, NM Research Station Sustainable Ag Farm day, like I did for last year’s project. There was a missed communication error so this opportunity was missed. There is an offer to do this next summer, even though the project time is over then.

8. Present at the February 2012 and 2013 NM Organic Ag Conference. Rhoads presented for 30 minutes at the February 2012 NM Organic Farming Conference in Albuquerque, NM to an audience of over 200 farmers. While the offer was made to present in 2013, the co-ordinator stated that the conference had decided to go to different types of formats for presentations. They did request that a poster stating the links to online results of the trials to be displayed for farmers to access the information. Helen Atthowe, who has an M.S. in Horticulture/Plant Physiology from Rutgers University and presently farms with her partner on 26 acres in the Sierra foothills of northern California and works for Oregon State, will be presenting on the topic of low tillage vegetable growing and roller crimping. Poster of these trials and flyers will be in the room, and there will be mention of them being available during her presentation.

9. Through personal contact, the technical advisor and the administrator of the NM Organic Research Farm were informed about the outcomes of these trials. Both have expressed interest in doing research on roller crimping.

Roller Crimping Poster

Roller Crimping Outreach brochure 2013

Roller crimping outreach brochure backside

Flyer in Spanish

Flyer in Spanish backside

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Finding that:

1. Roller crimping is a viable option for many vegetable crops in the weed management and soil building techniques in the arid western states.

2. Roller crimping and no till roller crimping can significantly reduce yearly weed pressure and, used over time, can reduce weed populations, accelerating the benefits of less yearly weeding.

3. Roller crimping the same over-wintered cover crop incorporating it into the soil binds and keeps more soil nutrients in place rather than them being released once in the year in the weeks right after tillage.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

1. Overall weed management improvement is essential to organic production systems becoming more sustainable.

2. Improved soil characteristics of the roller crimping areas makes for soil improvements, which are essential for both farm management and sustainable and financially viable organic farming. Less soil amendments have to be made after several years of this cropping system, which reduces farm expense.

3. Less water is needed in the roller crimped ‘mulched in place’ areas.

4. Less time and fuel expenses are needed with less time weeding and less time in tillage.

5. The factors listed above make for less time weeding and soil building, which improves farm finances, enjoyment and lifestyle, while giving more time for additional farm or personal activities.

6. Of special note is that the benefits of roller crimping appeat to be cumulative as successive years of this system are used, greatly reducing weed populations and slowly increasing soil nutrients with each year.

Future Recommendations

Through two years of trials (and three years of consecutive no-till roller crimping in the same area) I have demonstrated that roller crimping is a weed suppression technique that suppresses weeds, uses less fuel and builds soils better than cover crop incorporation while yielding similar or better crop yields for most vegetable crops. Farmer, university and other farming agencies are strongly encouraged to do trials and education around adaptation of roller crimping for the arid west. It is strongly recommended that multiple year trials be done.

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.