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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: Crops & Soil

Cabbage

Cabbage

by:
from issue:

Cabbage is the most important vegetable commercially of the cole crops, which include cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, collard, broccoli, and many others. It also ranks as one of the most important of all vegetable crops and is universally cultivated as a garden, truck and general farm crop. The market for cabbage, like that for potatoes, is continuous throughout the year, and this tends to make it one of the staple vegetables.

Cultivating Questions: Alternative Tillage & Inter-Seeding Techniques

Our intention is not to advocate the oddball living mulches we use with this single row inter-seeding system, but just to show how it is possible to utilize the between-row areas to improve insect habitat, reduce erosion, conserve moisture, fix some nitrogen, and grow a good bit of extra organic matter. If nothing else, experimenting with these alternative practices continues to keep farming exciting as we begin our twentieth season of bio-extensive market gardening.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

Low Tillage Radish Onions

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from issue:

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. What we got were the best looking onions that have ever come out of our gardens.

Mullein Indigenous Friend to All

Mullein: Indigenous Friend to All

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from issue:

Mullein is a hardy native, soft and sturdy requiring no extra effort to thrive on your part. Whether you care to make your own medicines or not, consider mullein’s value to bees, bumblebees, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, who are needing nectar and nourishment that is toxin free and safe to consume. In this case, all you have to do is… nothing. What could be simpler?

Asparagus in Holland

Asparagus in Holland

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The asparagus culture in Holland is for the majority white asparagus, grown in ridges. This piece of land used to be the headland of the field. The soil was therefore compact, and a big tractor came with a spader, loosening the soil. After that I used the horse for the lighter harrowing and scuffle work to prevent soil compaction. This land lies high for Dutch standards and has a low ground water level, that is why asparagus can grow there, which can root 3 foot deep over the years.

Marketable Cover Crops

Marketable Cover Crops

by:
from issue:

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.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate Part 2

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 2

Finding just the right cover crop-tillage combination for crops planted the last half of June has always been a real challenge in our location. While surface-tilling mature rye and vetch in May works well for fall crops established in July and August, this cover crop-tillage combo does not allow enough time for decomposition and moisture accumulation for end-of-June plantings.

Cane Grinding

Cane Grinding: An Age-Old Georgia Tradition

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from issue:

Most sugar cane is processed in refineries to give us molasses, brown sugar, and various kinds of white sugar. However, some South Georgia farms that raise sugar cane still process it the old way to produce the special tasting sweetener for their own food. One such farm is the Rocking R Ranch in Kibbee, Georgia. It is owned by Charles and Patricia Roberts and their sons. The process they use has not changed in the past 100 years. This is how it is done.

Making Sorghum Molasses

Making Sorghum Molasses

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from issue:

Growing sorghum doesn’t take much work, according to Buhrman. You plant it in the spring, work it a couple of times and that’s about all that’s required until late in the growing season. That is when the work begins. Before it is cut, all the stalks have to be “bladed” – the leaves removed from the stalks. It’s then cut, then the tassles are cut off, and the stalks are fed through a crusher. The crusher forces the juices out of the plant. The sorghum juice is then boiled in a vat for four to five hours until nothing is left but the syrup.

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.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

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The old way of selecting seed from open-pollinated corn involved selecting the best ears from the poorest ground. I have tried to select perfect ears based on the open-pollinated seed corn standards of the past. I learned these standards from old agricultural texts. The chosen ears of Reid’s average from 9 to 10.5 inches long and have smooth, well-formed grains in straight rows. I try to select ears with grains that extend to the end of the cob.

Propagation by Means of Budding and Grafting

Propagation by Means of Budding and Grafting Part 2

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Budding is the operation of applying a single bud, bearing little or no wood, to the surface of the living wood of the stock. The bud is applied directly to the cambium layer of the stock. It is commonly inserted under the bark of the stock, but in flute-budding a piece of bark is entirely removed, and the bud is used to cover the wound. There is every gradation between budding and grafting proper.

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

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

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

We were inspired to try no-tilling vegetables into cover crops after attending the Groffs’ field day in 1996. No-tilling warm season vegetables has proved problematic at our site due to the mulch of cover crop residues keeping the soil too cool and attracting slugs. We thought that no-tilling garlic into this cover crop of oats and Canadian field peas might be the ticket as garlic seems to appreciate being mulched.

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

Cultivating Questions: Ridge-Till Revisited

Delay ridge building until early fall so that the cover crop on the ridge does not grow more than 12” tall before winter. The residues from a short cover crop will be much less challenging to cultivate than a tall stand of oats, especially if tangly field peas are mixed in. Waiting for the winterkilled cover crop residues to breakdown as long as possible before ridge-tilling in the spring will also make cultivation much easier until you gain familiarity with the system.

Beating the Beetles – War & Peace in a Houston Garden

Blooming that is, unless the cucumber beetles arrive first.
And arrive they have … “At first I thought they looked like big, yellow lady bugs.” Paul said, “Then I looked…

Peach

Peach

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from issue:

The Peach is a showy tree when in bloom. There are double-flowered varieties, which are as handsome as the dwarf flowering almond, and they are more showy because of the greater size of the tree. The flowers of the Peach are naturally variable in both size and color. Peach-growers are aware that there are small-flowered and large-flowered varieties. The character of the flower is as characteristic of the variety as size or color of fruit is.

An Introduction Into Plant Polyculture

An excerpt from What’s Wrong With My Fruit Garden
Companion Planting for Beginners

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