Sunday, April 13, 2008

Studying The Benefits Of Low Till Farming

Just 2 weeks from now I'll be getting our fields ready for another season of planting, growing and harvesting on beautiful Prince Edward Island. I'll be working to further our plan to eliminate the need for seasonal plowing from our mixed use row crop field.

Now, I should say that our farm is really a market garden that employs just a few of our total acres in any one season. And I'll humbly add we're slowly learning the benefits of including sustainable design into our small farm operation through trial and error.

Our overall plan is to use crop rotation, cover cropping and inter-cropping to maintain soil fertility, manage weeds and limit fuel/labor inputs. We plant intensively in a small area, looking for high efficiency in our work and sustainable yields at harvest time.

The photo above was taken in May, 2007. I had fallowed the field for the past three seasons and last year I used a trailing disc harrow and S tine harrow but no plow. I used a home built tool bar mounted on the back of the tractor with a 3 point hitch to form 4 foot wide raised beds. The wide lanes between the rows were planted with white clover and rye grass, so no bare dirt remained to require weed management or risk a loss of topsoil. These lanes were mowed over the summer, feeding a nice mulch into the soil, holding moisture, moderating soil temps and providing blossoms that attracted beneficial insects.

This year, we plan to continue to use the raised beds I formed last year by rotating our crops, planting green manure crops in fallow rows and adding finished compost mulch to crop rows.

We'll also be planting a small fruit orchard with trees set out to accommodate inter-cropping and machine work in the orchard. We hope this will mean a more compact operation and higher yields with less input.

Wish me luck!

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