Cover Crop-based Reduced Tillage for Fall Production of Cabbage, Cauliflower and Broccoli Using a Roller-Crimper and No-Till Planting Aid

Project Overview

FNC14-973
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2014: $7,480.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Thomas Ruggieri
Fair Share Farm

Annual Reports

Information Products

Commodities

  • Vegetables: broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, tomatoes

Practices

  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer
  • Farm Business Management: value added
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil quality/health

    Summary:

    The aspects of this project were many and included the seeding of cover crops, fabrication of a no-till planting aid (NTPA), rolling and crimping cover crops, and the planting of crops into rolled beds. While we had success with the NTPA, crop roller, and cover crop seeder, our ability to plant crops into rolled beds was limited due to three very wet seasons and a profusion of bindweed and grasses in rolled/crimped beds.

     The NTPA was fabricated with a combination of on-farm implement parts (toolbar and shanks) and purchased items (toolbar clamps, coulters, fertilizer knives). Trialing of the NTPA showed that it works well in our silt/clay soils, cutting a 6 to 8 inch deep furrow that will allow for the planting of transplants.

     After 1-1/2 seasons of searching for a 5 to 6 foot used grain drill with no luck it was decided that we would assemble a cover crop seeder with a new toolbar and four Cole Planter vegetable seeders. This arrangement required a double-pass to seed a bed with eight rows of cover crops. Several seeder and seed plate arrangements were tried, and the seeder worked adequately to produce a good stand of cover crops. This seeder system has the added benefit of being able to serve a dual purpose by also seeding cash crops.

     A used flail mower was purchased as a part of the project to serve the dual purpose of either rolling down cover crops or flail mowing them. The unit purchased is heavy duty and complete with necessary belt guards and other safety feature desired for long-term farm use. The heavy roller on the unit worked well to roll/crimp the cover crops when the mower blades were not engaged. Vetch did require a second pass to mow off regrowth after the initial rolling.

     The main aspect of this project, planting brassicas into rolled/crimped cover crops was not able to be accomplished over the three year period of this demonstration. In 2014 planting into the rolled beds was not able to be accomplished due to very wet conditions and a profusion of bindweed and grasses in the beds slated for brassica planting. In 2015 the project was suspended since the farm received almost 36 inches of rain between May 7 and July 20th. In 2016 rolled/crimped crops again saw a profusion of grasses that did not allow for brassica planting.

     It appears that for our farm and perhaps our area of the country, it is difficult for rolled/crimped beds to keep weeds smothered during the 6 to 8 week period between rolldown in late-May and brassica planting in mid to late-July. This time period is prime for grass growth and this weed pressure is very strong in our grassland ecosystem.

     The rolled cover crop beds used for summer tomato planting fared better. A comparison between a rolled/crimped bed and one where the cover crop was incorporated and beds hand-mulched showed the latter scenario to produce a significantly higher yielding crop of tomatoes (over 300% difference). These beds experienced less weed pressure issues as planting of tomatoes was completed about 2 weeks after crops were rolled/crimped.

     With the help of Lincoln University Extension Agent Jim Pierce, we hosted two field days in 2014 and two in 2016. We also hosted a soils workshop farm tour as a part of the local Growing Growers farm apprentice program, and discussed the project work. We participated in a poster session at the 2015 Great Plains Growers Conference. In addition, updates have been posting on our farm blog www.fairsharenews.blogspot.com, and the results of our study were presented at the Kansas Rural Center Conference in November 2016.

    Introduction:

    Fair Share Farm is a diversified vegetable farm located in rural Clay County, Missouri that supplies a 140- member Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in the Kansas City metro area.  Rebecca Graff and Tom Ruggieri farm 5 acres using sustainable practices within the 260-acre Graff family farm.  Crops include annual vegetables, strawberries, asparagus, herbs and a flock of 100 laying hens.  

     In 2004, Fair Share Farm received a Missouri Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Award for “Transitioning Row Crop Fields to Organic Agriculture using Cover Crops.”  We applied compost and organic amendments after testing the soil and began the seeding of cover crops.  In the years since, we have seen a dramatic improvement in soil fertility and plant health.  These results are evident in later soil testing and in the farm’s harvest records. 

    We have been working for eleven years to improve the quality of the soil on our farm and have seen significant improvements in fertility and soil structure as a result of our biological farming methods. To continue growing our operation, while relieving the physical burden on the farmers, implementation of more efficient farming methods is necessary.

    Our interest in scaling-up production relates to our plans/recent construction of an on-farm food processing facility for fermented sauerkraut, kimchi and cucumber pickles. All major ingredients (cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, garlic, etc.) are to be grown on the farm. 

     

    Project objectives:

    Before we can grow, however, we face several obstacles. One is the time needed to hand-mulch crops. We have found that mulching of our fall brassicas is a necessity. Summer heat and drought require mulch to conserve moisture, minimize labor associated with weeding, and keep the soil cool. Growing our mulch in place using reduced tillage methods will save considerable time, energy and money, while adding fertility to the soil.

    In addition, while we have been able to establish good stands of cover crops by hand broadcasting with a spin-seeder and harrowing with a tractor, this method is time consuming and yields inconsistent results when soil and weather conditions are not conducive to germination. A grain drill will allow for more precise seeding and better seed to soil contact, promoting more consistent germination and better stands.

    We plan to trial the methods of “reduced tillage and cover cropping systems for organic vegetable production” developed by Dr. Ron Morse of Virginia Tech.  Cover crops will be flattened using a roller/crimper, and then a no-till planting aid (NTPA) will be used to open a planting zone.  Seeds will be sown with our Planet Jr. seeder pulled by the AC G and plants will be set with our existing water-wheel transplanter.  We will focus on fall brassica production while trialing beds for other crops like summer tomatoes and direct seeded fall beets.

    Dr. Morse has agreed to provide consultation for building the NTPA and the general implementation of the project.  Reduced tillage trials will compare results to our current farming method which entails flail mowing and spading cover crops followed by cultivating and planting. Except for the beets, these production areas will be mulched with hay.

    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.