Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

Cultivating Questions: Ridge-Till Revisited

by Anne and Eric Nordell

Over the past six years of cultivating this column, we have tried to answer the questions addressed to us via rural delivery. For a change of pace, we decided to devote this space to a topic of interest at the small group tours held at our farm last year. Many of the participants seemed genuinely excited about trying the alternative tillage techniques we have adapted to market gardening. Of particular interest was our experimental practice of no-till planting vegetables on cover cropped ridges.

We will let the following photos tell the story of how this hybrid planting system evolved. The Ridge-till Revisited photo essay begins with a brief review of the principles and practice of horsedrawn ridge-tillage as described in the Winter 1998 column. It then looks at the advantages of reducing tillage even further in the case of no-tilling the ridges with alliums in 2001. The results of this new development were so encouraging that we think it might be the key to no-tilling produce in our cool climate. Our optimism is based on the fact that the soil in the cover cropped ridges stays much warmer than under the same amount of cover crop residues in a flat field.

Ridge-till Revisited also details recent mechanical and biological improvements which have made ridge-till planting and cultivation more efficient and effective using the team and the old riding cultivator. We realize that these tools and techniques may not be of practical interest to most growers. We document them here just to underscore the importance of building a measure of flexibility into a sustainable cropping system.

For instance, the raised ridges made it possible to begin planting on schedule during the wet month of April last year. In the next issue, we hope to show how we were able to keep up with our successive plantings of peas, lettuce and spinach during the drought conditions of May by forming low planting beds and adapting lister planting to vegetable production.

Just to show how easy it is to design this sort of flexibility into a well-defined rotation, we have included our 2001 crop plan in this column. The map indicates the essential elements of the bio-extensive cropping system – alternating the half-acre strips between cash crops and fallowlands, and rotating the cash crops between those planted EARLY and those planted LATE. The accompanying field notes detail the diverse mix of cover crops and tillage techniques which can be plugged into this simple, straightforward rotation. We think this “organized flexibility” helped to make last year our best season ever despite the wild swings in the weather.

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

2001 Field Notes

Field 1
rye and italian ryegrass skimplowed mid-August and replanted to oats middle of September

Field 2
rye and vetch skim-plowed late April and planted to squash peppers, dried flowers, summer lettuce, spinach and peas late May and June, and interseeded with sudex followed by a cover crop of rye seeded mid-October; beets and carrots planted early July and interseeded with rye

Field 3
rye cover crop surface-tilled in July and planted to a mix of sudex, field peas and forage soybeans early August; mulched strawberries in middle of the field surface-tilled late July and planted to ridged rye the end of August

Field 4
oats ridge-tilled in April and planted to spinach, peas and carrots interseeded with buckwheat followed by a rye cover crop in mid-September; no–till garlic on north edge double-cropped to late lettuce and spinach

Field 5
rye and triticale on north half of field deep plowed late June and replanted to oats and buckwheat which was surface-tilled mid-August, then replanted to oats on ridges late August; rye on south side deep plowed early May and replanted to oats which was surfaced-tilled late July, then planted to oats and peas on ridges late August

Field 6
rye and hairy vetch surface-tilled mid-May and planted to fall lettuce, spinach, carrots and cole crops mid-July through August, and interseeded with rye late August

Field 7
rye, spelt and italian ryegrass deep plowed mid-July and reseeded to rye and hairy vetch mid-August

Field 8
oats, peas and forage soybeans surface-tilled in April and planted to early potatoes, lettuces, zukes, peas, onions and strawberries; strawberries and onions on south side of field interseeded with hairy vetch late June; everything else interseeded with buckwheat followed by a rye cover crop mid-September

Field 9
rye, spelt and triticale surface-tilled early July followed by oats and Canadian field peas planted mid-August

Field 10
rye and vetch deep plowed early May and planted to storage potatoes, spinach and carrots late May, then interseeded with sudex and vetch followed by a rye cover crop seeded early October

Field 11
rye deep plowed late May and replanted to buckwheat, italian rye grass and clover mix mid-June

Field 12
surface tilled oats, peas and beans planted to sweet onions, zukes, lettuce, peas and spinach in May and interseeded with sudex and/or vetch followed by a rye cover crop early October

Ridge-Till Revisited

Building the Ridges

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

1A. We formed these ridges the end of last summer in field 5. The cover crop of oats and Canadian field peas just getting started on the ridges grew about 20” tall before dying back at the onset of winter. Note the large quantity of coarse organic matter worked into the hilled up soil. We have found that concentrating lots of fresh organic matter into the ridges noticeably improves soil quality and planting conditions in a ridge-till system on our silt-loam soils.

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

2A. The trick is to shallowly incorporate a cover crop before building the ridges the last week of August. In this case, we surface-tilled a spring planted cover crop of oats along with a light application of compost and lime. We also worked the oat and peas seed into the surface of the soil at this time so that…

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

3A. …when we formed the ridges with the disc-hillers on the cultivator, the organic matter and seed was concentrated in the hilled up soil. We like to think of these ridges as long, low composting windrows where conditions are close to ideal for good decomposition.

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

4A. In fact, when we tried out the Solivita soil quality test kit from Woods End Lab, these ridged fields tested the highest in biological activity. The test results did not come as a complete surprise considering that the cover cropped ridges contained all the requirements for a high rate of biological activity as measured by the respiration rate of the soil. For one, the raised ridges are extremely well aerated. At this point they were also filled with a live and actively respiring root system. Most importantly, there was plenty of fresh organic matter in the hilled up soil to feed a growing population of earthworms and beneficial bacteria and fungi.

No-Tilling the Ridges with Garlic

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited is a live, ever-changing subscription website. To gain access to all the content on this site, subscribe for just $5 per month. If you are not completely satisfied, cancel at any time. Here at your own convenience you can access past articles from Small Farmer's Journal's first forty years and all of the brand new content of new issues. You will also find posts of complete equipment manuals, a wide assortment of valuable ads, a vibrant events calendar, and up to the minute small farm news bulletins. The site features weather forecasts for your own area, moon phase calendaring for farm decisions, recipes, and loads of miscellaneous information.

Spotlight On: How-To & Plans

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

From Dusty Shelves: Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide teaches us about soil acidity.

Pulling A Load With Oxen

an excerpt from Oxen: A Teamster’s Guide

Book Review Butchering

Two New Butchering Volumes

Danforth’s BUTCHERING is an unqualified MASTERPIECE! One which actually gives me hope for the furtherance of human kind and the ripening of good farming everywhere because, in no small part, of this young author’s sensitive comprehension of the modern disconnect with food, feeding ourselves, and farming.

A Pony-Powered Garden Cart

A Pony-Powered Garden Cart

from issue:

One of the challenges I constantly face using draft ponies is finding appropriately sized equipment. Mya is a Shetland-Welsh cross, standing at 11.2 hands. Most manure spreaders are big and heavy and require a team of horses. I needed something small and light and preferably wheeled to minimize impact to the land. My husband and I looked around our budding small farm for something light, wheeled, cheap, and available, and we quickly noticed our Vermont-style garden cart.


Driving Fence Posts By Hand

Where the soil is soft, loose, and free from stone, posts may be driven more easily and firmly than if set in holes dug for the purpose.

Lightning Protection for the Farm

Lightning Protection for the Farm

from issue:

Lightning-protection systems for buildings give lightning ready-made lines of low resistance. They do this by providing unbroken bodies of material that have lower resistance than any other in the immediate neighborhood. A protection system routes lightning along a known, controlled course between the air and the moist earth. Well-installed and maintained, a lightning-protection system will route lightning with over 90-percent effectiveness.

The Anatomy of Thrift: Harvest Day

On the Anatomy of Thrift Part 2: Harvest Day

On the Anatomy of Thrift is an instructional series Farmrun created with Farmstead Meatsmith. Their principal intention is instruction in the matters of traditional pork processing. In a broader and more honest context, OAT is a deeply philosophical manifesto on the subject of eating animals. Harvest Day is the second in the series, which explores the ‘cheer’ that is prepared on the day of slaughter, and dives deep into the philosophy and psychology of our relationship to animals.

Henpecked Compost and U-Mix Potting Soil

We have hesitated to go public with our potting mix, not because the formula is top secret, but because our greenhouse experience is limited in years and scale. Nevertheless, we would like to offer what we have learned in hopes of showing that something as seemingly insignificant as putting together a potting mix can be integrated into a systems approach to farming.

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

from issue:

Making a pair of tongs was a milestone for a lot of blacksmiths. In times gone past a Journeyman Smith meant just that, a smith that went upon a journey to learn more skills before taking a masters test. When the smith appeared at the door of a prospective employer, he/she would be required to demonstrate their skills. A yard stick for this was to make a pair of tongs.

The Milk and Human Kindness Making Camembert

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Camembert

from issue:

Camembert is wonderful to make, even easy to make once the meaning of the steps is known and the rhythm established. Your exceptionally well fed, housed and loved home cow will make just the best and cleanest milk for this method. A perfect camembert is a marvelous marriage of flavor and texture. The ripening process is only a matter of a few weeks and when they’re ripe they’re ripe and do not keep long.

Basic Blacksmithing Techniques

Illustrated guide to basic blacksmithing techniques, an excerpt from Blacksmithing: Basics For The Homestead.

Basil Scarberrys Ground-Drive Forecart

Basil Scarberry’s Ground-Drive Forecart

from issue:

I used an ’84 Chevrolet S-10 rear end to build my forecart, turn it over to get right rotation, used master cylinder off buggy and 2” Reese hitch, extend hitch out to use P.T.O. The cart is especially useful for tedding hay. However, its uses are virtually unlimited. We use it for hauling firewood on a trailer, for pulling a disc and peg tooth harrow, for hauling baled hay on an 8’ x 16’ hay wagon, and just for a jaunt about the farm and community.

Blacksmithing with Pete Cecil Building a Fire

Farm Drum #29: Blacksmithing with Pete Cecil – Building a Fire

Lynn Miller & Pete Cecil talk about Blacksmithing basics, and Pete demonstrates building a fire in the forge.

Disc Harrow Requirements

Disc Harrow Requirements

from issue:

One of the most important requirements is disc blade concavity, that is, correct concavity. Further along we set forth the purposes of disc concavity. We feel it is important enough to devote the extra time and words in a discussion of the subject, because seldom is disc concavity talked about, and very few know that there is difference enough to cause good and bad work.

Building a Community, Building a Barn

Building a Community, Building a Barn

from issue:

One of the most striking aspects of this development is the strength and confidence that comes from this communal way of living. While it is impressive to build a barn in a day it seems even more impressive to imagine building four barns or six, and all the rest of the needs of a community. For these young Amish families the vision of a shared agricultural community is strong, and clear.

Haying With Horses

Hitching Horses To A Mower

When hitching to the mower, first make sure it’s on level ground and out of gear. The cutter bar should be fastened up in the vertical or carrier position. This is for safety of all people in attendance during hitching.

How To Prune a Formal Hedge

How To Prune A Formal Hedge

This guide to hedge-trimming comes from The Pruning Answer Book by Lewis Hill and Penelope O’Sullivan. Q: What’s the correct way to shear a formal hedge? A: The amount of shearing depends upon the specific plant and whether the hedge is formal or informal. You’ll need to trim an informal hedge only once or twice a year, although more vigorous growers, such as privet and ninebark, may need additional clippings.

Shed and Barn Plans

Below is a short piece from Starting Your Farm, by SFJ editor and publisher Lynn R. Miller. Click the links below to see Chapter One of Starting Your Farm and to view the book in our online bookstore. “You may have purchased a farm with a fantastic set of old barns and sheds. You, on […]

Journal Guide