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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Low Tillage Radish Onions

Low Tillage Radish Onions

by Joel Miller of Lee, NH

In the summer of 2011, we had a small plot in one of the house gardens that was in need of a cover crop in early August. The previous season we had tried sowing Tillage Radishes in mid September and found this was too late for us in southern New Hampshire because of the reduced growth before the killing frost. Now we decided to try planting them the first week of August to see how that compared. Without putting much further thought to it, we ran the Planet Jr. every 15” or so across the garden. The radishes came up quick, filling the garden canopy completely that fall, and the following spring we found the plot was clean of weeds and rows of open holes were left where the radish roots had been growing. Well, we had a few extra onion plants that spring and decided to plant them in these holes, since we already had very clear lines laid out for us and a clean seedbed. With such little weed pressure and no need to disturb the soil for planting, the soil structure was left almost entirely intact and held moisture very well. We didn’t irrigate or fertilize this crop, beyond a compost application the previous July before sowing the Tillage Radishes. Our intention was to see how the crop would perform in a similar condition to how we would manage it in our fields. What we got were the best looking onions that have ever come out of our gardens. With these good results, we thought that this experiment might be worth trying on a field scale.

The following photo essay describes the August 2012 planting of Tillage Radishes, laid out in preparation for our spring 2013 crop of onions. This layout can work for many other early spring crops as well. We have since used the same design for spinach, carrots, beets, and lettuce. Besides recycling the absorbed nutrients of the cover crop directly into the planted row, the main benefit of this system is the planting pattern it provides without the need for any preparatory tillage in the spring.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

A month long summer fallow started us out with a stale and very mellow seedbed. Here we show how our homemade roller levels and firms the soil to prepare for direct seeding the Tillage Radishes with the Planet Jr. This step may not necessarily be wise since it will encourage weed seed germination. It has made following the row marker on the Planet Jr. easier though, which is crucial for the proper spacing of the stand and why we have included it here. In this photo you can see a cover crop of field peas and oats in the adjacent garden.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

This shows how we used the Planet Jr. (seed hole #13) with the row marker set to very clearly mark out our rows on 17” centers. This planting was done the morning after a half inch of rain on August 9th. The conditions were perfect and it was a joy to walk barefoot behind the planter.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

Two weeks after planting, the radishes are up and looking nice.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

October 10th the radishes have filled in the field and are standing beautifully. Brushing aside the thick canopy reveals large roots that tell us they are doing the job expected of them. Besides being a row marking system for us, they are also “bio-drilling” their tap rooted selves down through the compacted subsoil underneath.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

Planning ahead to next spring, we were a little worried about the amount of winter killed residue that these giant radishes would leave behind. Thinking of our early cultivation and not wanting to be clogging up the cultivator, we decided to very quickly graze our small dairy herd through the stand for one day. They went right for the greens and sampled a few roots but seemed to prefer the tops.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

Right after the last snow melted off in the first week of April. Radish residue is present but thinner than we expected.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

As we had hoped, the 17” rows were very clearly marked by the holes left behind from the already well decayed radish roots amongst the plant residues and oak leaves. Using our hand dibbler, we went along opening up the smaller holes for setting the transplants, and substituted new holes where the radishes hadn’t provided one, spacing our onion plantings about 5” apart within the row. We then skipped every other radish marked row, leaving our onion crop to stand on 34” centers designed for managing with our McCormick Deering riding cultivator.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

The transplanting team is sitting down on the job on April 10th. We took advantage of being able to plant so early since no fieldwork was involved and the onions could handle the cool soils. This helped us to check one big mark off the planting list before the early season rush really started. Since the spring of 2013 was very cool and wet, the onions all got off to a very slow start and didn’t really pick up until June. The early planting we thought, probably wasn’t any more beneficial for the crop this season, but it did seem worth it to free up our time later in the month for other tasks.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

We customized a set of salvaged rolling Lilliston cultivators to mount onto our new Pioneer Homesteader. We put this together the previous winter since we were planning on dealing with lots of residues in the early cultivations. As it turns out, we decided that it would have been better not to graze the plot in the fall because by the time of this photo, our first cultivation pass on the field in early May, the residues are almost completely gone. What little was left behind was no trouble for the Lilliston’s to work through and the only clogging we had was when it spiked a dry cow pie!

Low Tillage Radish Onions

By the middle of May we were able to try out our custom tine weeder set up, also on the new Homesteader, to loosen the soil and take out any small weed sprouts. Look closely to see the still very small, but well rooted, onion transplants standing up to the weeder fingers while any small weeds are taken out. At this point the field was completely clean of all radish residues! Those earth worms were really doing their job!

Low Tillage Radish Onions

In early June we moved on to the riding cultivator set up with four 12” sweeps. After two years of ground work training, this spring was the first season that our three year old Suffolk Punch colts went to work in the market gardens. It is also the first season that we have looked at our old cultivator with new eyes after reading the “Horsedrawn guidance system” article by Anne and Eric Nordell in the SFJ. By working with some of their ideas on cultivator setup, we were able to train our young and energetic horses to walk a narrow 34” row straight and calmly in a short amount of time. The key to this system that worked out so well for us is the two outside sweeps which track in the same path as the horses, are tipped down slightly so they leave a shallow furrow in the center of the pathway. As described in the guidance system article, this leaves a path that the horse naturally wants to follow during the next cultivation. Being so young and impressionable, they fell for this little trick very quickly and we didn’t have to steer them for the rest of the season while cultivating, letting us focus on watching the plants and working the foot pedals. I believe this also took a lot of the horses’ anxiety away from doing a new task by making their job so easy for them to understand. That set a nice base foundation for all the other new jobs we have been putting them to around the market gardens, making their farm training a real pleasure for teamster and team alike.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

On August 15th we had a beautiful harvest of yellow and red storage onions. Here they sit on the 9’x16’ flat bed trailer ready to cure in the sun! Overall we were pleased with this project and have repeated it with a few modifications for our 2014 crop of onions. We hope that this idea can be helpful and adaptable to different reduced tillage systems for others as well.

Spotlight On: Livestock

Step Ahead Horse Progress Days 2016

Step Ahead: 23rd Annual Horse Progress Days 2016

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I had only been to Horse Progress Days once before, at Mount Hope, Ohio in 2008. It had been an eye-opener, showing how strong and in touch with sustainable farming values the Amish are, and how innovative and sensible their efforts could be. So at the 23rd annual event in Howe, Indiana, I was there partly looking for signs of continuity, and partly for signs of change. Right off I spotted an Amish man with a Blue Tooth in his ear, talking as he walked along.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Cheval de Merens Revisited

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In the Fall ’97 issue of SFJ you printed an article on the Cheval de Merens, the all black horse of the French Pyrenees. I was immediately obsessed by their beautiful stature, a very strong draft-type-looking horse with powerful legs and long flowing manes and tails. The article sent me running for maps to locate France and the Ariege Valley, the central location for the Merens. After making contact with the writer of the article and being told of the major Merens horse show in August, plane reservations were made.

Ask A Teamster Halters Off

Ask A Teamster: Halters Off!

When my friend and mentor, the late Addie Funk, first started helping me with my horses, he suggested that we get rid of my halter ropes with snaps and braid lead ropes on to all the halters permanently. Actually as I think about it, it was more than a suggestion. Knowing him, he probably just braided the new ropes on, confident that anyone with any sense would be pleased with the improvement. In any case, when the task was completed I clearly remember him saying to me, “Now nobody will turn a horse loose around here with a halter on.”

Rabbits

Rabbits

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The domestic rabbit has the potential to become one of the world’s major sources of meat protein. As human populations continue to put pressure on the resources of the food providers, the farmers, the rabbit is likely to begin to interest, not only the farmer, but the family interested in providing food for it’s table. They convert forage more efficiently than do ruminants, such as cattle and sheep. In fact, rabbits can produce five times the amount of meat from a given amount of alfalfa as do beef cattle.

Ask A Teamster Ten Common Wrecks With Driving Horses

Ask A Teamster: Ten Common Wrecks with Driving Horses

One of the things I’ve learned over time is that the truly great teamsters rarely – if ever – have upset horses, close calls, mishaps or wrecks, while the less meticulous horsemen often do. Even though it may take a few minutes longer, the master teamsters constantly follow a series of seemingly minute, endlessly detailed, but always wise safety tips. Here are 10 of them:

Horseshoeing Part 1C

Horseshoeing Part 1C

The horn capsule or hoof is nothing more than a very thick epidermis that protects the horse’s foot, just as a well fitting shoe protects the human foot. The hoof of a sound foot is so firmly united with the underlying pododerm that only an extraordinary force can separate them. The hoof is divided into three principal parts, which are solidly united in the healthy foot – namely, the wall, the sole, and the frog.

Happs Plowing A Chance to Share

Happ’s Plowing: A Chance to Share

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Dinnertime rolled around before we could get people and horses off the field so that results of judging could be announced. I learned a lot that day, one thing being that people were there to share; not many took the competition side of the competition very seriously. Don Anderson of Toledo, WA was our judge — with a tough job handed to him. Everyone was helping each other so he had to really stay on his toes to know who had done what on the various plots.

Ask A Teamster Tongue Length

Ask A Teamster: Tongue Length

My forecart pole is set up for draft horses. My husband thinks we should cut the pole off to permanently make it fit better to these smaller horses. What would be your opinion? Like your husband, my preference would be a shorter tongue for a small team like your Fjords. The dynamics and efficiency of draft are better if we have our horse(s) close to the load. A shorter tongue will also reduce the overall length of your outfit, thereby giving you better maneuverability and turning dynamics.

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.

A Gathering of Comtois in France

A Gathering of Comtois in France

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I was soon planning for a stop in the town of Pontelier, the main hub in one corner of the country I had never been to and was bent on exploring: the Franche-Compte. As luck would have it, this region has its very own breed of draft horse, the Comtois. It was to an “exhibition” of this horse that I was heading, although thanks to my lousy French, I was not sure exactly what kind of “exhibition” I was heading to.

Fjordworks: Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 2

Fjordworks: Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 2

In the practice of Zen sitting meditation, a special emphasis is placed on maintaining a relaxed but upright sitting posture, in which the vertical and horizontal axis of the body meet at a center point. Finding this core of gravity within can restore a sense of well-being and ease to the practitioner. This balanced seat of ease is not all that different from the state of relaxed concentration we need to achieve to effectively ride or drive horses.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 3

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In parallel with making hay on the ground, nearly every year I have also made some hay on tripods. The attraction of this method is that it only needs one day of good weather to dry the grass sufficiently before it is put on the tripods, and then the hay takes very little harm no matter what the weather, usually coming out green, dry and smelling of hay two weeks later when it can be baled or stacked.

The Cutting Edge

The Cutting Edge

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In the morning we awoke to a three quarters of a mile long swath of old growth mixed conifer and aspen trees, uprooted and strewn everywhere we looked. We hadn’t moved here to become loggers, but it looked like God had other plans! We had chosen to become caretakers of this beautiful place because of the peace and quiet, the clean air, the myriad of birds and wildlife! Thus, we were presented with a challenge: how to clean up this blowdown in a clean, sustainable way.

Livestock Guardians

Introducing Your Guard Dog To New Livestock And Other Dogs

When you introduce new animals to an established herd or flock, you should observe your dog’s reactions and behavior for a few days. Since he will be curious anyway, it is a good idea to introduce him to the new animals while he is leashed or to place the new animals in a nearby area.

Lineback Cattle

Lineback Cattle

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Cattle with lineback color patterns have occurred throughout the world in many breeds. In some cases this is a matter of random selection. In others, the markings are a distinct characteristic of the breed; while in some it is one of a number of patterns common to a local type. Considering that livestock of all classes have been imported to the United States, it is not surprising that we have our own Lineback breed.

Shoeing Stocks

An article from the out-of-print Winter 1982 Issue of SFJ.

Littlefield Notes Making Your Horses Work For You

LittleField Notes: Making Your Horses Work For You Part 1

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The practical everyday working of horses and mules in harness has always been at the heart of what the Small Farmer’s Journal is about. And like the Journal, a good horse powered farm keeps the horses at the center: the working nucleus of the farm. All the tractive effort for the pulling of machines, hauling in of crops, hauling out of manures, harvesting and planting is done as much as is practicable with the horses.

Icelandic Sheep

Icelandic Sheep

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I came to sheep farming from a background in the arts – with a passion for spinning and weaving. When we were able to leave our house in town to buy our small farm, a former dairy operation, I had no idea that the desire to have a couple of fiber animals would turn into full time shepherding. I had discovered Icelandic sheep, and was completely enamored of their beauty, their hardiness and their intelligence.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT