Cover Crop-based Reduced Tillage for Fall Production of Cabbage, Cauliflower and Broccoli Using a Roller-Crimper and No-Till Planting Aid
Work on the project in 2014 proceeded well, as we were able to experiment with rolling down our rye/vetch cover crops and complete construction of the no-till planting aid (NTPA). Planting into the rolled beds was not able to be accomplished however, due to very wet conditions and a profusion of bindweed in the beds slated for brassica planting.
Fabrication of the NTPA proved challenging, due in part to our incorporation of implements and toolbars salvaged off the farm. However, with the help of Dr. Ron Morse’s expertise we were able to spec the purchase of new parts necessary for fabricating a working NTPA and trialed it before the end of the season.
For the first half of the year we researched the purchase of a new flail mower for mowing and rolling crops, as well as a grain drill for the seeding of cover crops. We were not able to find the equipment we were looking for, and will pick this work back up during the first part of 2015.
Rye/vetch cover crops were planted in September for subsequent rolling/crimping in May 2015. As we were unable to purchase a grain drill in 2014, these crops were seeded with a hand-held broadcast seeder and harrowed in with our tractor.
With the help of Lincoln University Extension Agent Jim Pierce, we hosted two field days, one in May when we rolled down the crops and one in August when we trialed the NTPA. We also hosted a soils workshop farm tour as a part of the local Growing Growers farm apprentice program, and discussed the project work. In addition, we have been posting updates on our farm blog www.fairsharenews.blogspot.com
Work began on the project last September when we planted a cover crop of rye grass and hairy vetch. The rye/vetch came up well in Spring 2014, despite the extremely cold winter and a dry April & May.
Our objectives/performance targets for 2014 were:
March-May: research and purchase grain drill and flail mower, fabricate NTPA
May: roll/crimp cover crops for trial areas and mow/spade/cultivate production area cover crops;
June: plant late-tomatoes;
July: plant fall cabbage, direct seed beets;
Sept: seed RV cover crop;
July thru Oct: harvest
We were not able to meet our target of planting into the rolled/crimped beds due to weather and weed problems further described below. Other objectives were met.
By mid-May the rye/vetch was four feet tall and flowering and we had a good stand. In half of our main test area we used the roller on our flail mower to “roll down” the rye/vetch mix to create mulch that we could plant directly into with the NTPA. In the other half we mowed down the cover crop and spaded the crops into the soil for subsequent planting and hand-mulching. We rolled rye/vetch area on May 16 and it went well, creating a beautiful, spongy carpet of greenery.
Summer Tomato Planting
The beds described above are for our fall brassica plantings. We also ran a test bed for our mid-summer planting of tomatoes. Half of a 200 ft. bed was rolled/crimped and the other half was mowed and spaded. These beds proved problematic in June as they are located in a bit of a dip in the fields, and we received 10 inches of rain over the first 3 weeks of the month, making it difficult to do any planting or additional spading. We were unable to plant the middle portion of the bed due to wet conditions.
Over the course of a few weeks in late-June and early –July we were able to plant our “summer” tomatoes (determinates). The ground was very soupy and wet, and we were not able to achieve our objective of planting 50 tomatoes in the rolled part of the bed and 50 in the spaded portion. All of the tomatoes were caged after transplant. The rolled area of this bed did a good job of keeping down weeds and required less than 10 minutes of weeding with four people. These plants were caged.
Pre-Planting Status of Brassica Beds
By June we observed the vetch growing back in the rolled down beds. Subsequent re-rolling did not kill the vetch and so it was mowed off and eventually died.
Unfortunately, we are suffering from a profusion of bindweed on our farm, and while the rye/vetch mulch held up well, the beds needed serious weeding in July, prior to any brassica planting in August. Several methods were trialed to see what might be an effective means of weeding.
A hand weeding of 33 ft of bed was completed by the farm crew on July 14th and required 5 man-hours. This showed hand weeding not to be cost effective, so two different organic herbicides were tried: Ground Force (citric acid based) and herbicidal soap (fatty acid based). As the photos show, these herbicides were effective; however, the bindweed grew back in subsequent weeks. At that point we decided to abandon the prospect of planting fall brassicas in these beds.
The adjacent beds were spaded twice and harrowed once to keep down weeds and try to form a “stale seed bed.” They were planted with fall brassicas using our existing methods. As we did not plant in the rolled beds, no side-by-side trial was performed.
Fabrication of the No-Till Planting Aid (NTPA)Perhaps the most challenging part of the project (so far) has been the fabrication of the NTPA. It was initially thought that we could put together this critical tool with existing farm implements, a couple purchases, and some bolts.
However, once we got our technical advisor Dr. Ron Morse of Virginia Tech on board we realized that we should invest in newer and heftier parts to help assure success. This led to the purchase of a new coulter (big round cutter) and fertilizer knife.
While putting things together in May and June we then began realizing some of the more subtle limitations of the parts we had on hand, such as the need to fit a square clamp on a diamond toolbar and finding out that the plow shanks we were using were not long enough.
Despite these issues, we were able to construct a very sturdy NTPA and trialed it in the rolled beds during a late August field day. Over the winter we have plans to further “tweek” the fabrication by better clamping our square clamps to the diamond toolbar, and torching off any excess metal that can snag field trash and affect performance. We are looking forward to using it in 2015 and further honing our skills with it.
- mowing half of the test area
- Rolled down cover crop
- Vetch growing back in the rolled beds
- Mowed off vetch
- Bindweed and test patch sprayed with organic herbicide
- First No-till Planting Aid (NTPA) fabrication
- Trialing the NTPA
- August 28th Field Day
- Rolling down the rye/vetch
- Summer tomato plants in rolled/crimped beds. Mowed and spaded area at far end of bed.
- Hand weeding of bindweed in rolled beds, test patch
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
No quantitative data was collected during 2014. The efforts for the year were very fruitful though in familiarizing ourselves with the NTPA and need to manage the planting of our cover crops in areas where perennial weeds are not found.
In 2015 we will continue the study. We seeded cover crops in the fall of 2014 in areas where we do not anticipate the weed pressure we saw this year. We will work on further refining the fabrication and use of the NTPA and will also continue pursuing the purchase of a cover crop seeder and flail mower.
18613 Downing Road
Kearney, MO 64060
Office Phone: 8163203763
18613 Downing Road
Kearney, MO 64060
Office Phone: 8167214456
Dept of Horticulture
vegetable crops research
Blacksburg, VA 24061
Office Phone: 5402316724
Farm Outreach Worker
38215 West 176th St.
Rayville, MO 64084
Office Phone: 6602321096