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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

Marketable Cover Crops
Marketable Cover Crops

Marketable cover crop of turnips in late September. About 40% of the crop was harvested, first as turnip greens and then the roots, before turning under the middle of November.

Marketable Cover Crops

by Klaus Karbaumer, photos by LeAnn Karbaumer, both of Platte City, MO

Our small horse-powered farm of about seventeen acres is divided up into roughly two acres of crop land, eight acres of permanent pasture, and five acres of hayfield. The rest of the land includes a pond, the farmstead and barnyard. We are actually over-stocked with four big Belgians and one Haflinger as our workforce, but since we also do hayrides two teams are just fine. Besides, we value the manure which we collect by stabling the horses for about ten hours a day. We keep up to 200 hens for our free-range egg production.

On our two acres of growing areas we raise about 50 different varieties of vegetables and herbs each year. Our records for 2009 indicate we sold a total of 9,600 pounds of our produce while still keeping enough for ourselves. Our produce serves an average of 70 to 80 CSA members, passersby who come in from the road, restaurants, and occasionally a farmers’ market.

We obviously have to work our land intensively for that kind of production. Since we strictly adhere to natural production methods without any pesticides and fertilizers whatsoever, we try to observe principles of crop rotation, succession, and companion planting very carefully. For many years I have admired the work of Anne and Eric Nordell with their intricate rotation and fallow patterns. Their method of weeding the soil, not the plant is very intriguing. Unfortunately, due to different climate and soil conditions, following their example is not feasible for us.

Marketable Cover Crops

Mustard sown thickly suffocates everything and breaks up the soil nicely. This marketable cover crop was planted in August following the harvest of potatoes which were partly overgrown with grass. We give our CSA members recipes for the manifold uses of the mustard greens which should be cut when young and tender.

First, we do not have enough land suitable for vegetable production to use long periods of fallowing. Second, grass is our major weed challenge. Even relatively short fallow periods resulted in increased grass growth where I didn’t need it. Our summers here are very warm so occasional very heavy rain brought forth the grass quickly. The grass problem was aggravated by using large amounts of mulch, consisting of old hay, to rapidly improve the worn out soil during the first years on the farm. As a consequence, I prefer to keep crops in the ground all the time to shade out the grass.

Our cover crops have to provide the benefits of smothering weeds, improving soil structure, and replenishing organic matter. They also have to produce some income. For these purposes, we use turnips, mustard and lettuce within our plant successions. I broadcast these seeds thickly on areas where cover crops are necessary and let them do their work. Not all of the plants get harvested then, of course, as this would defeat the purpose. But enough will be taken for marketing so that money can be made while having the beneficial effect of the cover.

It is true that I use the brassica family vegetables quite often because they are so effective at suppressing weeds, fighting nematodes, and making the soil more friable. I try to let a year go by before I plant turnips, mustard, radishes, cabbage, etc… on the same spot. Sometimes the rotation is shorter and I have not experienced bad results. I think it is because of our rapid succession of different plants within one growing cycle.

Marketable Cover Crops

We sowed this mustard very early in April, sold a portion as greens in May, then cut down the remainder in June when it started blooming which kills it completely. We planted a later variety of tomatoes (next to stakes) directly into the dead mustard. As the succulent mustard decomposes quickly in our hot climate, we maintain the mulch around the tomatoes by adding vegetable thinnings and trimmings, such as turnip leaves and excess lettuce.

For example, a plant succession might look like this: spring lettuce, summer tomatoes, fall turnips and overwintering spinach. Or it could be spring radishes followed by summer carrots sown alongside green beans, then Asian greens in the fall.

By the way, I have green beans pretty much on every plot (staggered timing, of course). They are a wonderful help of replenishing the soil with nitrogen, plus they suffocate weeds effectively since I plant the rows densely.

Also, lettuce lasts longer in the fall and even in cold weather stays tender for quite some time when grown tightly. Throughout the year, I plow shallowly and allow for the appropriate time interval before new crops are planted.

The results of these practices can be seen in our increased yields, the soil becoming more and more friable, as can be experienced that plowing and/or disking is easier for the horses, and that I have fewer and fewer problems with grasses, which are my biggest enemy. Also, due to increased tilth I find it easier and easier to grow good carrots which were a major problem when I started. I am convinced that marketable cover crops have merit and that other farmers might benefit from them, too. But by no means do I want to suggest that the system is perfect. I am learning from mistakes every year.

Marketable Cover Crops

Fall plowing after the tomato harvest shows the beautiful tilth created by the marketable cover crop of mustard and mulch of vegetables.

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley A Farmrun Production by Andrew Plotsky

Wild Potatoes and Calcium

Wild potatoes bring increased calcium for better tubers.Have you ever cut into a potato to find a dark spot or hollow part? Early research shows that these defects are likely the result of calcium deficiencies in the potato — and that tuber calcium is genetically linked to tuber quality.

LittleField Notes Prodigal Sun & Food Ethics

LittleField Notes: Prodigal Sun & Food Ethics

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To my great delight a sizable portion of the general eating public has over the past few years decided to begin to care a great deal about where their food comes from. This is good for small farmers. It bodes well for the future of the planet and leaves me hopeful. People seem to be taking Wendell Berry’s words to heart that “eating is an agricultural act;” that with every forkful we are participating in the act of farming.

Low Impact Ranching

Low Impact Ranching

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This kind of low-impact management has yielded visible results for Rose who can display flourishing pasture grasses, healthy cattle, and firm banks in his riverside pasture. “I am just a detail oriented person and one of those farm boys who always likes to have a project,” Rose said. “I am trying to get the most out of my land and efforts and I really enjoy seeing the positive outcomes of a finished project.”

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

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Raised beds may not be right for everyone, and our way is not the only way. I have seen raised beds made from rows of 5’ diameter kiddy pools, and heard of a fellow who collected junk refrigerators from the dump and lined them up on their backs into a rainbow of colored enameled steel raised beds. Even rows of five-gallon pails filled with plants count as raised beds in my estimation. Do it any way you care to, but do it if it’s right for you.

The Shallow Insistence

…a life of melody, poetry and farming?

Farm To School Programs Take Root

All aim to re-connect school kids with healthy local food.

The Forcing of Plants

The Forcing of Plants

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It is always advisable to place coldframes and hotbeds in a protected place, and particularly to protect them from cold north winds. Buildings afford excellent protection, but the sun is sometimes too hot on the south side of large and light-colored buildings. One of the best means of protection is to plant a hedge of evergreens. It is always desirable, also, to place all the coldframes and hotbeds close together, for the purpose of economizing time and labor.

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

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

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 3

What goes with the sale? What does not? Do not assume the irrigation pipe and portable hen houses are selling. Find out if they go with the deal, and in writing.

The Farmer and the Horse

The Farmer & The Horse

In New Jersey — land of The Sopranos, Jersey Shore, and the Turnpike — farmland is more expensive than anywhere else. It’s not an easy place to try to start a career as a farmer. But for a new generation of farmers inspired by sustainability, everything seems possible. Even a farm powered by draft horses.

Littlefield Notes Fall 2012

Littlefield Notes: Fall 2012

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Why horses? We are knee deep in threshing oats and rye when I find after lunch that the tractor won’t start. Press the ignition switch — nothing; not even a click. I cancel the day’s threshing and drive thirty miles to the tractor store and pick up a genuine-after-market IH part. Come home, put in the new ignition switch and still nothing. When we need the horses they start right up, without complaint — every time.

Cultivating Questions A Diversity of Cropping Systems

Cultivating Questions: A Diversity of Cropping Systems

As a matter of convenience, we plant all of our field vegetables in widely spaced single rows so we can cultivate the crops with one setup on the riding cultivator. Row cropping makes sense for us because we are more limited by labor than land and we don’t use irrigation for the field vegetables. As for the economics of planting produce in work horse friendly single rows, revenue is comparable to many multiple row tractor systems.

Week in the Life of D Acres

Week in the Life of D Acres

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D Acres of New Hampshire in Dorchester, a permaculture farm, sustainability center, and non-profit educational organization, is a bit of a challenge to describe. Join us for this week-in-the-life tour, a little of everything that really did unfold in this manner. Extraordinary, perhaps, only in that these few November days were entirely ordinary.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Cultivating Questions: A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Market gardening became so much more relaxing for us and the horses after developing a Horsedrawn Guidance System. Instead of constantly steering the horses while trying to lay out straight rows or cultivate the vegetables, we could put the team on autopilot and focus our whole attention on these precision tasks. The guidance system has been so effective that we have trusted visiting chefs to cultivate the lettuce we planned on harvesting for them a few weeks later.

LittleField Notes Fall 2011

LittleField Notes: Fall 2011

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There is a certain set of skills and knowledge that tend to fall through the cracks of your average farm how-to book. Books of a more specialized nature are also abundant but often seem to take a fairly simple subject and make it seem daunting in scope and detail. What follows are a few tidbits of knowledge that I have found useful over the years – the little things that will inevitably need to be learned at some point in the farmer education process.

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions: Going Single

Going single did not occur to us until we began receiving questions from prospective teamsters who felt it would be more manageable and economical to get started with a single horse than a team. After 29 years of market gardening with two or more horses, our impetus to try out one-horse farming was not a question of management or economy, but due to the radically diverging horse temperaments on our farm.

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

The Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

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In the winter of 2011, Daniel mentioned a fourteen-year-old student of his who had spent a whole month eating only foods gathered from the wild. “Could we go for two days on the hand-harvested food we have here?’ he asked. “Let’s give it a try!” I responded with my usual enthusiasm. We assembled the ingredients on the table. Everything on that table had passed through our hands. We knew all the costs and calories associated with it. No hidden injustice, no questionable pesticides. We felt joy at living in such an edible world.

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