- Vegetables: broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, tomatoes
- 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
Cover crop-based reduced tillage will involve seeding a rye/vetch cover crop, roller-crimping it, building a No-Till Planting Aid to open up a furrow, and then transplanting fall brassicas. Test plots using these new methods will be compared with our current cover-cropping practices. Late tomatoes and beets will also be trialed.
Project objectives from proposal:
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 to build 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 using produce from our farm.
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.
Ahead of the SARE project, we will build the NTPA during late winter of 2014 so that it is ready for trialing once the summer begins. We have some parts that can be used; others will need to be collected. It appears it is relatively inexpensive to build and we are happy to cover this cost in order to get it done during a time of year when we can devote time to such projects.
The trial areas for 2014 were seeded in rye/vetch September 2013. In June 2014, 100 ft. of late heat-setting tomatoes will be transplanted into the roller-crimped cover crop. In July 2014, 200 ft. of cabbage will be planted, and 200 ft. of beets will be seeded with the AC G. Hay mulch will be spread in the line opened up by the NTPA and in other areas as needed to cover bare spots. Use of the hay mulch will be recorded including hours spent.
In 2015, based on our experiences from the previous year, we will adjust our methods. We plan to keep the same or increase our plantings of brassicas, beets and late tomatoes. We will dedicate a 200 foot bed (400 row feet) each for trials of cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.