Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cover Crop Saves Top Soil, Reduces Inputs

A picture is worth a thousand words. This picture was taken last July just as the cucumbers were coming in. I'm posting it to show our plan to create a sustainable, integrated organic system that we can keep building on. I have to give credit to the Small Farmer's Journal for giving me the insight and information to start this plan. The article in SFJ gave information about cover cropping and green manure rotation using horse powered equipment. So far, our small scale operation and compact tractor are just the right scale for this design.

The picture shows 4'x 200' rows of cucmbers and squash, mulched with unsprayed barley straw I bought from a local farm. The straw mulch kept out weeds and kept moisture and soil temps even.

In between the crop rows is a cover/green manure crop of white clover and perennial rye grass. By keeping it mowed, but tall enough for the clover to bloom, we keep weeds out, feed the soil a mix of organic matter and fixed nitrogen and cover the top soil. We encourage bees and other pollinators to work for us. We also have a clean surface to work on that's wide enough to bring machines onto when needed.

So far, the results are good. But we'll soon see if weed pressure is manageable and whether the rotations of crops we plan will continue the high yields we've had so far.

The low till approach means less fuel required to prepare for planting. Cover crops keep weeds from establishing, so there is no input cost for weedkiller, equipment or fuel for spraying. We mow between rows with a lawn tractor - using far less fuel and creating less soil compaction than heavy machinery.

Anyway, I guess we're learning things that people who farm with horses or small tractors already know. We find it exciting and rewarding to learn more each year about how to work with nature to create high yields on a compact scale.

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