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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 PST

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

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.

Determining the Age of Farm Animals by their Teeth

Determining the Age of Farm Animals by their Teeth

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Establishing the age of farm animals through the appearance of the teeth is no new thing. The old saying, “Do not look a gift horse in the mouth,” is attributed to Saint Jerome, of the fifth century, who used this expression in one of his commentaries. Certainly for generations the appearance, development, and subsequent wear of the teeth has been recognized as a dependable means of judging approximately the age of animals.

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.

Ask A Teamster Perfect Hitching Tension

Ask A Teamster: Perfect Hitching Tension

In my experience, determining how tight, or loose, to hook the traces when hitching a team can be a bit challenging for beginners. This is because a number of interdependent dynamics and variables between the pulling system and the holdback system must be considered, and because it’s ultimately a judgment call rather than a simple measurement or clear cut rule.

Collar Hames and Harness Fitting

Collars, Hames and Harness Fitting

Farmers who are good horsemen know everything that is presented here: yet even they will welcome this leaflet because it will refresh their memories and make easier their task when they have to show hired men or boys how to adjust equipment properly. Good horsemen know from long experience that sore necks or sore shoulders on work stock are due to ignorance or carelessness of men in charge, and are inexcusable.

How To Dry Up A Doe Goat

How To Dry Up A Doe Goat

You are probably thinking why would I want to dry up a doe? If the plan is to rebreed the doe, then she will need time to rebuild her stamina. Milk production takes energy. Kid production takes energy, too. If the plan is to have a fresh goat in March, then toward the end of October start to dry her up. The first thing to do is cut back on her grain. Grain fuels milk production.

Multiple Hitching with One Set of Lines

Multiple Hitching with One Set of Lines

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A great deal of interest has been shown the last several years in using multiple hitches in horse farming, especially in spring fieldwork. The question often asked is how to keep it simple and easy in driving and assembling the hitch as far as lines are concerned. We demonstrated our method at the Horse Progress Days at Mt. Hope, Ohio in 2003 and have been asked numerous times how we drove four, six and eight-horse hitches using only two lines.

Fjordworks Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 3

Fjordworks: Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 3

By waking up so fully to the tasks at hand we are empowered to be more present, more available, and thus able to offer a compassionate and skillful response to the needs of our horses even as we ask them to accomplish heavy work on the farm. It is not up to the horses to trust us; it is up to us to prove ourselves worthy of their trust. What the horses can offer to us are new avenues to freedom and resilience, sustainability and hope.

Fjordworks Horse Powered Potatoes Part 2

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes Part Two

These types of team implements for digging potatoes were the first big innovation in horse powered potato harvesting in the mid-19th century. Prior to the horse drawn digger the limitation on how many potatoes a farmer could plant was how many the farm crew could dig by hand. The basic design of these early diggers works so well that new models of this type of digger are once again being manufactured by contemporary horse drawn equipment suppliers.

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.”

The Mule Part 1

The Mule – Part 1

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There is no more useful or willing animal than the Mule. And perhaps there is no other animal so much abused, or so little cared for. Popular opinion of his nature has not been favorable; and he has had to plod and work through life against the prejudices of the ignorant. Still, he has been the great friend of man, in war and in peace serving him well and faithfully. If he could tell man what he most needed it would be kind treatment.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 2

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 2

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From reading the Small Farmers Journal, I knew that some people are equally happy with either model, but because McCormick Deering had gone to the trouble of developing the No. 9, it suggests they could see that there were improvements to be made on the No. 7. Even if the improvement was small, with a single horse any improvement was likely to increase my chance of success.

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.

Chicken Guano: Top-Notch Fertilizer

Whoever thought I’d be singing the praises of chicken poop? I am, and I’m not the only one. Chickens are walking nitrogen-rich manure bins.

Ask A Teamster Driving

Ask A Teamster: Driving

I have been questioned (even criticized) about my slow, gentle, repetitious approach “taking too much time” and all the little steps being unnecessary when one can simply “hitch ‘em tied back to a well-broke horse they can’t drag around, and just let ‘em figure it out on their own.” I try to give horses the same consideration I would like if someone was teaching me how to do something new and strange.

The Broodmare in Fall

The Broodmare in Fall

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Mares are not the major emphasis in the fall since they have performed their task of foaling, lactating and being re-bred. After foals are weaned, most breeders tend to focus on weanlings and yearlings that are being prepared for shows, sales and/or performance in the case of long yearlings. Fall management of broodmares is far more critical than some breeders realize and can directly impact foaling and re-breeding successes next year.

American Milking Devons and the Flack Family Farm

American Milking Devons and the Flack Family Farm

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On a sunny early September day I met Doug Flack at his biodynamic and organic farm, just South of Enosburg Falls. Doug is an American Milking Devon breeder with some of the best uddered and well behaved animals I have seen in the breed. The animals are beautifully integrated into his small and diversified farm. His system of management seems to bring out the best in the animals and his enthusiasm for Devon cattle is contagious.

ODHBA 2016 Plowing Match

ODHBA 2016 Plowing Match

The Oregon Draft Horse Breeders Association hosted their 50th Anniversary Plowing Match at the Yamhill Valley Heritage Center in McMinnville, Oregon on April 9, 2016. Small Farmer’s Journal was lucky enough to attend and capture some of the action to share.

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