Small Farmer's Journal

Facebook  YouTube

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

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

Laying Out Fields For Plowing

Laying Out Fields For Plowing

from issue:

Before starting to plow a field much time can be saved if the field is first staked out in uniform width lands. Methods that leave dead furrows running down the slope should be avoided, as water may collect in them and cause serious erosion. The method of starting at the sides and plowing around and around to finish in the center of the field will, if practiced year after year, create low areas at the dead furrows.

Barnyard Manure

Barnyard Manure

by:
from issue:

The amount of manure produced must be considered in planning a cropping system for a farm. If one wishes to manure one-fifth of the land every year with 10 tons per acre, there would have to be provided two tons per year for each acre of the farm. This would require about one cow or horse, or equivalent, for each six acres of land.

Farmrun - Sylvester Manor

Sylvester Manor

Sylvester Manor is an educational farm on Shelter Island, whose mission is to cultivate, preserve, and share these lands, buildings, and stories — inviting new thought about the importance of food, culture and place in our daily lives.

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

The Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

by:
from issue:

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.

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.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 2

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 2

It is always fascinating and at times a little disconcerting to watch how seamlessly the macro-economics of trying to make a living as a farmer in such an out-of-balance society can morph us into shapes we never would have dreamed of when we were getting started. This year we will be putting in a refrigerated walk-in cooler which will allow us to put up more storage-share vegetables.

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

Book Excerpt: The enclosed gear, late model John Deere, Case, Oliver, David Bradley, and McCormick Deering International mowers I (we) are so fond of had a zenith of popular manufacture and use that lasted just short of 25 years. Millions of farmers with millions of mowers, built to have a serviceable life of 100 plus years, all pushed into the fence rows. I say, it was far too short of a period.

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.

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Forestry

by:
from issue:

After 70 plus years of industrial logging, the world’s forests are as degraded and diminished as its farmlands, or by some estimates even more so. And this is a big problem for all of us, because the forests of the world do much more than supply lumber, Brazil nuts, and maple syrup. Farmlands produce food, a basic need to be sure, but forests are responsible for protecting and purifying the air, water and soil which are even more basic.

Congo Farm Project

Congo Farm Project

by:
from issue:

I was at day one, standing outside an old burnt-out Belgian plantation house, donated to us by the progressive young chief of the village of Luvungi. My Congolese friend and I had told him that we would need to hire some workers to help clear the land around the compound, and to put a new roof on the building. I thought we should be able to attract at least 20 workers. Then, I looked out to see a crowd of about 800 eager villagers, each one with their own hoe.

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley A Farmrun Production by Andrew Plotsky

TMAHK Tripod Haymaking

The Milk and Human Kindness: What I’ve Learned of Tri-Pod Haymaking

by:
from issue:

I have no doubt that when the time comes we are going to need to know how to make hay this way, whether it be this Proctor Tripod method, or the French rack method illustrated in André Voisin’s great book “Grass Productivity” or the Scandinavian “Swedish Rider” method of tightly strung wire “fences” for hay to dry on. Each method has its pros and cons, and it’s my belief that the “Swedish Riders” is the easiest to learn and the Proctor Method may be the most difficult.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 1

Our mild climate makes it too easy to overwinter cover crops. Then the typically wet springs (and, on our farm, wet soils) let the cover put on loads of topgrowth before getting on the soil. Buckwheat is the only crop that I can be certain will winterkill. Field peas, oats, annual rye and crimson clover have all overwintered here. Any suggestions?

Cultivating Questions Cultivator Setups and Deer Fencing

Cultivating Questions: Cultivator Set-ups and Deer Fencing

We know all too well the frustration of putting your heart and soul into a crop only to have the wildlife consume it before you can get it harvested let alone to market. Our farm sits next to several thousand acres of state game lands and is the only produce operation in the area. As you can imagine, deer pressure can be intense. Neighbors have counted herds of 20 or more in our pastures.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 2

How do you learn the true status of that farm with the “for sale” sign? Here are some important pieces of information for you to learn about a given selling farm. The answers will most probably tell you how serious the seller is.

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.

The Shallow Insistence

…a life of melody, poetry and farming?

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

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