Synonyms:     Systeme de Riziculture Intensive (SRI) = System of Rice Intensification = la Sistema Intensivo de Cultivo Arrocero (SICA).

What Is It?     Intensive rice culture was invented by a French agronomist, Friar Henri de Laulanie de Saint Croix, Society of Jesuits, in 1983 while working on agricultural development projects in Madagascar.

The basic idea is to space individual plants widely so they grow as many tillers as possible.  More tillers = more grain per plant = up to 7 times average yields.

SRI is directly opposite California practice of crowding 1,000,000 plants per acre (23 plants per square foot).  Closely spaced plants have few tillers and produce less grain per plant, but yields are high because there are so many plants per acre.

Both methods work but SRI is better suited to developing countries where labor is cheap and farmers cannot afford expensive machinery and agricultural chemicals needed for conventional rice agronomy.

Traditional rice culture uses flooded paddies, 21 to 30 day old transplants, and close spacing with 3 or 4 plants per hill.  Transplants are shoved into the mud without regard to root orientation or planting depth.  Rice tolerates these practices but does not thrive.  Consequently, yields are greatly reduced.

Intensive rice culture avoids flooded fields.  Transplants are set at the 2-leaf stage when 8 to 12 days old.  Individual plants are widely spaced with crowns at ground level.  Roots are carefully oriented vertically or horizontally.  Transplanting is done quickly.  These practices greatly increase the number of productive tillers resulting in much higher yields.

Typical SRI plants have 50 to 100 tillers.  Most panicles bear 100 to 200 seeds.  Under ideal conditions yields can exceed 20 metric tons per hectare ~ 8.9 tons per acre.

SRI methods work with most types of upland or lowland rice, West African (Oryza glaberrima) or Asian species (Oryza sativa).  Best results are obtained from long season oriental varieties.

How To Do It:     Following are detailed agronomic practices for intensive rice cultivation.

>>>     Need 7 to 8 kilograms of seed rice per hectare ~ 6 to 7 pounds per acre ~ 100 grams per square meter ~ 3 scale ounces per square yard of nursery bed.

>>>     Prepare salt water solution of sufficient density to float a fresh chicken egg.  Mix seed rice with salt water.  Discard any rice that floats.  Save rice that sinks.  Drain salt water from seed rice.  Wash seed rice thoroughly 4 times to remove salt.  Soak seed rice in fresh water 24 hours to speed germination.  If desired, seed may be pre-germinated in a warm place:  Spread soaked seed on wet burlap bags then cover with more wet burlap.  Seed is ready for planting when the first root on any seed appears.

>>>     Prepare nursery bed of 100 to 150 square meters size per hectare of rice field ~ 50 to 75 square yards per acre.  Rule-of-Thumb:  Nursery area = 1% of field size.  Nursery beds should only be 1 meter ~ 1 yard wide so they can be tended by hand.  For best results locate nursery beds next to rice fields to reduce transplanting time.

>>>     Place plastic sheeting or banana leaves on soil surface to keep rice roots compact.  Fill nursery beds with compost 10 to 15 centimeters ~ 4 to 6 inches deep.  Spread seed sparsely = 2.5 centimeters = 1 inch apart on soil surface.  Cover seed thinly with 1 to 2 centimeters ~ 1/2 to 3/4 inch of compost then mulch lightly with straw or banana leaves.  Water 2 times daily to keep seeds moist.

>>>     If desired, seed can be planted into individual soil cubes, peat pots, or other biodegradable containers that will not restrict root growth.  Alternatively, rice may be direct seeded into prepared fields.  Plant not more than 2 seeds per hill.  Space each seed 5 centimeters ~ 2 inches apart.  Thin seedlings to 1 per hill immediately plants reach 2-leaf stage = 8 to 12 days after emergence.  Cut off excess plants at soil surface to prevent root damage to remaining seedlings.

>>>     Fertilize fields with composted manure or other organic fertilizers then plow.  Recommended rate = 5 to 10 metric tons per hectare = 1/2 to 1 kilogram per square meter ~ 2.25 to 4.5 tons per acre ~ 4,500 to 9,000 pounds per acre ~ 1 to 2 pounds per square yard.  Alternatively, grow a nitrogen-fixing legume like velvet bean (Mucuna pruriens) then plow, roller-crimp, or mow when cover crop flowers.

>>>     Irrigate field with 1.25 to 2.5 centimeters ~ 1/2 to 1 inch of water to moisten soil.  Do not flood field more than 24 hours if practical.  Waterlogged soils reduce yields.

>>>     Mark moist soil with a grid pattern to ensure proper plant spacing.  In hot tropical climates near sea level space individual plants 30 centimeters ~ 12 inches apart.  At higher elevations (1,200 meters ~ 3,900 feet above sea level or 1,500 meters ~ 4,900 feet on the equator) space rice transplants closer together = 25 centimeters ~ 10 inches apart.  Wide plant spacing is essential for maximum tiller growth = higher yields.  Best yields are obtained on highly fertile, equatorial lowland soils when plants are spaced 50 x 50 centimeters ~ 20 inches apart.

>>>     Transplant seedlings in their 2-leaf stage = when plants are 8 to 12 days old.  Do not plant seedlings older than 15 days.  Young transplants grow many tillers which increase yields.  Old transplants grow few tillers.

>>>     Plant 1 seedling only at each grid intersection.  Multiple seedlings crowd each other and decrease yields.

>>>    Transplant seedlings quickly = not more than 15 minutes after lifting plants from nursery bed.  Fast planting reduces shock and increases yields.

>>>     Transplant seedlings carefully = 2 to 3 centimeters ~ 3/4 to 1 1/4 inches deep with roots oriented vertically or horizontally.  Do not turn roots up (like a hook) or yields will fall.  Do not plant deeply or yields will drop.

Rice plants are like strawberries.  Both are highly sensitive to planting depth.  Rice grows few tillers if seeded or transplanted too deeply.  Try to set plants at the same depth they grew in the nursery.  Rice crowns = growing points should be level with soil surface.

>>>     Irrigate fields with 1.25 to 2.25 centimeters ~ 1/2 to 1 inch of water every 7 to 10 days as needed.  Wait until soil cracks before applying more water.  Do not flood field for more than 24 hours if practical.  Standing water reduces yields.  More oxygen to roots increases yields.

>>>    Fertilize field with compost 30 days after transplanting seedlings, then again 60 days after transplanting.  Recommended rate = 5 to 10 metric tons per hectare = 1/2 to 1 kilogram per square meter ~ 2.25 to 4.5 tons per acre = 4,500 to 9,000 pounds per acre ~ 1 to 2 pounds per square yard.  High soil fertility is needed for maximum yields.

Adjust fertilizer rates as necessary.  Tall rice varieties lodge = fall over if plants absorb too much nitrogen.  Yields drop if plants do not have sufficient nutrients during critical phases of vegetative growth and reproduction. 

>>>     Weed field 7 to 10 days after transplanting seedlings.  Use a rotary weeder.  Weed field up to 4 times until rice canopy closes.  Each weeding increases yields by 1 to 2 metric tons per hectare = 890 to 1,780 pounds per acre.

>>>     Stop irrigation 15 days before harvest.  Dry soil is necessary to ripen grain and make harvesting easier.

>>>     Typical SRI yields = 1 kilogram of grain per square meter = 10 metric tons per hectare ~ 8,900 pounds = 4.45 tons per acre.  With good management yields can double.

>>>     SRI Record Yield (crop year 2015) = 22.4 metric tons per hectare = 9.9755 tons per acre = 19,951 pounds per acre = 443 bushels per acre (45 pounds per bushel) = 7.37 ounces per plant at 208 x 208 = 43,264 plants per acre (1 plant per square foot).

For best results follow SRI directions carefully.  Small changes in agronomic practices can have dramatic effects on tiller number, seeds per panicle, and seed weight.

Related Publications:     No-Till Subsistence Grain Farming; Pelleted Seed Primer; and Planting Maize with Living Mulches.

For More Information:     Contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need additional information about intensive grain culture systems.

Please visit:  — or — mail your questions to:  World Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania 15108 United States of America  — or — send an e-mail to:                                

Cornell University hosts a comprehensive SRI website at:  SRI Rice Online:

E-mail Address:

The original SRI papers by Friar Laulanie are available both online and in the scientific journal Tropicultura:

Technical Presentation of the System of Rice Intensification, Based on Katayama’s Tillering Model.  Henri de Laulanie.  1993 Tropicultura 13 : 1.

Intensive Rice Farming in Madagascar.  Henri de Laulanie.  2011 Tropicultura 29 : 3 (183 – 187).

About The Author:     Mr. Koperek is a plant breeder who farms in Pennsylvania during summer and Florida during winter.  Growing 2 generations yearly speeds development of new crop varieties.



Every once in a while folks prod me into writing editorials = expressions of personal opinion (as opposed to scientific fact).  These missives are designed to provoke public discussion and research.   Thoughtful responses are welcome.

High temperature composting = thermal composting is an “alien” technology inconsistent with the biology of this planet.  Nature does not decompose organic matter at high temperatures.  Natural decomposition processes ALWAYS occur at low = ambient temperatures.  So why do Humans make great steaming compost heaps?  Are we smarter than Mother Nature?  I don’t think so.

Excepting the biology of volcanic springs, all natural chemistry on this planet takes place at low temperatures.  Thermal processes are artificial creations.  High temperature chemistry wastes vast amounts of energy.  Ambient temperature biochemistry is energy efficient.  Nature is a much better chemist than Man.

Is compost made at 165 degrees Fahrenheit “better” than the same materials decomposed at air temperature?  Should wastes be piled up or spread out?  Is there a difference in the biological or nutrient quality of the finished compost?  Your guess is as good as mine.  I have not been able to find any scientific papers on this topic.  Until definitive research is published, I intend to keep my pitchfork in the shed.  Mulching is easy.  Turning compost piles is too much work.

POSTSCRIPT:     Yes, I know about plant diseases, insect pests, parasites, and pathogenic bacteria, but Nature has a way of dealing with these problems.  High temperature composting is a low-technology way to pasteurize potting soils for greenhouses, nurseries, mushroom farms and other specialty horticultural operations.  Every year I use thousands of tons of thermal compost for reforestation projects, to fill raised beds for intensive vegetable production, and to inoculate mine sites and other barren lands without topsoil.  So please don’t beat on me for being “Anti-Organic”, even though I also use hundreds of tons of chemical fertilizers annually.  Compost or chemicals, I use what works best = “the right tool for every job”.

Is hot compost the right tool for every agricultural problem?  I have managed commercial vegetable farms with nothing other than mulch, irrigation, and donkey carts.  Crops were grown in raised beds.  Wastes were thrown into the aisles to rot.  Rough compost was forked up into the beds as needed.  No hauling, shredding, piling, or turning needed.  Try working a farm by hand and you might think differently about the necessity of large scale thermal composting.  Low temperature decomposition = sheet composting = cold composting = mulching saves costly labor.

Conventional practice requires manure be composted before use.  I have managed vegetable farms and tree nurseries where all plants were grown only in crumbled, dried cow manure — no composting necessary.  So much for mindless obedience to the experts.

The next time someone says you MUST plow, spray, compost, or perform some other agronomic ritual, have a good think first.  Do not be afraid to be contrarian.  The “received wisdom of the ages” is often wrong.   

Would You Like To Know More?     Please contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need additional information on composting or mulching.

Please visit:  — or —  Send your questions to:     Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania, 15108 United States of America  — or —  send an e-mail to:     Eric Koperek =

About The Author:     Mr. Koperek is a plant breeder who farms in Pennsylvania during the summer and Florida during the winter.  (Growing 2 generations yearly speeds development of new crop varieties).



WHAT IS IT?     Weed seeds = Elevator Screenings are what is left when grain is run through a seed cleaner.  Clean grain goes into a bin and residues = screenings are disposed.  Most grain elevators give weed seeds away free to any farmer willing to haul them.  Some elevators charge nominal sums for screenings because they can be fed to animals.  For example, 10% to 15% weed seeds can be mixed into chicken feed.

HOW TO MAKE WEED SEED MEAL:     Seeds of most plants make good fertilizer.  The trick is to mill = grind seeds into a coarse meal or flour so they do not sprout.  Most farmers use roller mills, hammer mills, or gristmills to grind weed seeds.  If milling equipment is not available weed seeds can be baked in shallow (2 inch ~ 5 centimeter deep) pans at 350 degrees Fahrenheit ~ 176 degrees Centigrade for 1 hour to kill seeds.  Baked weed seeds make very slow release organic fertilizer ideal for plants (like roses) sensitive to excess nitrogen.

If weed seeds are not available, substitute any type of waste or spoiled grain, for example, wet or dry brewer’s grains.  There is no standard analysis for weed seed meal; nutrient content varies depending on species and proportion which change by locality and season.  It is good practice to test weed seed samples yearly so fertilizer application rates can be adjusted as needed.

Below are some average nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K) values for rough calculations.  Note:  lb = pound.  1 pound = 0.454 kilogram.  1 American ton = 2,000 pounds = 908 kilograms = 0.908 metric ton.  1 metric ton = 1 megagram = 1,000,000 grams = 1,000 kilograms = 2,200 pounds = 1.1 American tons.


BARLEY (spoiled, dry):  1.75% N : 0.75% P : 0.50% K = 35 lb N + 15 lb P + 10 lb K per ton (Manitoba 2011)

BEANS, SOUP (broken, dry):  4.0% N : 1.20% P : 1.30% K = 80 lb N + 24 lb P + 26 lb K per ton (New York 1988)

BREWER’S GRAINS (dry):  4.53% N : 0.47% P : 0.24% K = 90 lb N + 9 lb P + 4 lb K per ton (Pennsylvania 2012)

BREWER’S GRAINS (wet):  0.90% N : 0.50% P : 0.05% K = 18 lb N + 10 lb P + 1 lb K per ton (Pennsylvania 2012)

CANOLA SEED MEAL:  6% N : 2% P : 1% K = 120 lb N + 40 lb P + 20 lb K per ton (Saskatchewan 2014)

CASTOR BEANS (pressed):  5.5% N : 2.25 % P : 1.125% K = 110 lb N + 45 lb P + 22 lb K per ton (Egypt 2012)

COFFEE GROUNDS (dry):  2.0% N : 0.35% P : 0.52% K = 40 lb N + 7 lb P + 10 lb K per ton (Uganda 2015)

CORN, DENT (spoiled, dry):  1.65% N : 0.65% P : 0.40% K = 33 lb N + 13 lb P + 8 lb K per ton (Maryland 2014)

COTTON SEED (whole):  3.15% N : 1.25% P : 1.15% K = 63 lb N + 25 lb P + 23 lb K per ton (USDA 2015)

COTTON SEED (pressed):  4.51% N : 0.64% P : 1.25% K = 90 lb N + 12 lb P + 25 lb K per ton (USDA 2015)

COTTON SEED MEAL:  6.6% N: 1.67% P : 1.55% K = 132 lb N + 33 lb P + 31 lb K per ton (Egypt 2012)

COWPEAS (broken, dry):  3.10% N : 1.00% P : 1.20% K = 62 lb N + 20 lb P + 24 lb K per ton (California 2014)

FLAXSEED = LINSEED MEAL:  5.66% N : 0.87% P : 1.24% K = 113 lb N + 17 lb P + 24 lb K per ton (Manitoba 2008)

OATS (broken, dry):  2.00% N : 0.80% P : 0.60% K = 40 lb N + 16 lb P + 12 lb K per ton (New York 2010)

RICE BRAN:  4.00% N : 3.00% P : 1.00% K = 80 lb N + 60 lb P : 20 lb K per ton (India 2015)

RICE, BROWN (spoiled, dry):  1.0% N : 0.48% P : 0.32% K = 20 lb N + 9 lb P + 6 lb K per ton (California 2016)

RICE HULLS = HUSKS:  1.9% N : 0.48% P : 0.81% K = 38 lb N + 9 lb P + 16 lb K per ton (Philippines 2014)

RICE, WHITE (broken):  1% N : 0.21% P : 0.27% K = 20 lb N + 4 lb P + 5 lb K per ton (California 2016)

SOYBEAN MEAL:  7.0% N : 2.0% P : 0.0% K = 140 lb N + 40 lb P + 0 lb K per ton (Brazil 2011)

WEED SEED MEAL:  2.7% N : 0.90 % P : 0.90% K = 54 lb N + 18 lb P + 18 lb K per ton (Hungary 2013)

WEED SEED MEAL:  3.02% N : 0.56% P : 0.77% K = 60 lb N + 11 lb P + 15 lb K per ton (Saskatchewan 2015)

WHEAT, HARD RED WINTER (broken):  2.00% N : 0.85% P :0.50% K = 40 lb N + 17 lb P + 10 lb K per ton (Kansas 2011)

For comparison, fresh dairy cow manure (86% water) contains 0.60% Nitrogen : 0.15% Phosphorous : 0.45% Potassium = 12 lb N + 3 lb P + 9 lb K per ton.  Cow manure is the traditional standard against which all other organic fertilizers are measured.

For slow release fertilizer mill weed seeds into coarse flakes or meal.  Grind weed seeds into powder for fast acting fertilizer.

WEED SEED MEAL APPLICATION RATES:     Calculate application rates according to soil test recommendation for desired crop.  Minimum application rate is 1 ton = 2,000 pounds per acre ~ 5 pounds or 1 gallon per 100 square feet ~ 2 Tablespoons or 2/3 ounce per square foot.  Apply 1 pound of weed seed meal for every 25 feet of row or trench.  Mix 1/2 to 1 cup of weed seed meal in each bushel (8 gallons) of potting soil.

Average density of weed seed meal = 0.3125 to 0.40 ounce per Tablespoon ~ 5 to 6.5 ounces per cup ~ 20 to 25.6 ounces per quart ~ 80 to 102.4 ounces per gallon ~ 5 pounds to 6 pounds 6.4 ounces per gallon ~ 40 to 51 pounds per bushel (8 gallons).  1 ton = 2,000 pounds weed seed meal = 40 to 50 bushels.

For example:  200 bushel per acre corn crop requires 200 pounds of nitrogen per acre.  200 pounds N divided by 54 pounds of nitrogen per ton of weed seed meal = 3.70 ~ 4 tons of weed seed meal needed per acre of corn.  Weed seed meal can be tilled into the earth by conventional plowing, broadcast on soil surface, side banded down rows, or drilled into furrows or trenches.

For feeding earthworms broadcast weed seed meal (1 ton per acre or 2 Tablespoons per square foot) on soil surface.  Reapply throughout the growing season when meal is no longer visible.


–>     Weed seed meal is a natural = biological = organic fertilizer that requires decomposition before nutrients are available to plants.  Bacteria, fungi and many other soil organisms eat weed seed meal then excrete nutrients in plant available forms.  As soil organisms live and die, nutrients are constantly recycled = most fertilizer is tied up in the bodies of soil “critters” and is only available to plant roots in small amounts over extended time periods.  Thus, weed seed meal is a slow release fertilizer that will not burn plant roots or leach from the soil.

–>     Cold, wet soils delay weed seed meal decomposition.  Warm, moist soils speed fertilizer availability.  Early season crops may show signs of nitrogen deficiency (light green leaves) if soils are especially cold or poorly aerated = oxygen deficient.  This is a temporary condition that will ordinarily correct itself in 2 or 3 weeks.  Every 5 degree Fahrenheit temperature increase doubles microbial activity.  As soils warm, nutrient cycling speeds up and more fertilizer is released for absorption by plant roots.

–>     If crops must be seeded in cold soils, apply weed seed meal 2 to 3 weeks before planting so soil organisms have more time to decompose fertilizer and make nutrients available to plants.

–>     Weed seed meal is an indirect fertilizer — it feeds soil organisms rather than plant roots.  Large amounts of weed seed meal can be applied without crop damage or nutrient loss because the fertilizer is held by soil biology rather than soil chemistry.  Thus, nutrients can be banked = stored for use by following crops.  Weed seed meal has a “half-life” of several years.  Nutrients are continually released in small amounts long after fertilizer is applied.

–>     Weed seed meal works best on soils managed biologically.  Chemically managed soils typically have smaller populations of soil organisms.  Fewer “critters” slows nutrient cycling and restricts fertilizer absorption by plant roots.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?     Contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need additional information on fertilizing soils with weed seed meal.

Please visit:  — or —  send your questions to:  Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania, 15108 United States of America  — or — send an e-mail to:  Eric Koperek =

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:     Mr. Koperek is a plant breeder who farms in Pennsylvania during the summer and Florida during the winter.  (Growing 2 generations each year speeds development of new crop varieties).





“You got it plum backwards:  You’re supposed to KILL the weeds and GROW the crops”.  Contrarian that I am, I plant weeds and let the crops fend for themselves.

My neighbors call it weed farming or trash farming.  (Less charitable folks say I’m lazy or just plain mental).  I call what I do common sense agronomy.  Planting in weeds saves lots of money.  You should try it.

Most farmers think weeds are enemies that should be exterminated by any means possible.  I take a more balanced view:  Weeds are valuable agricultural resources if properly managed = you have to get off your tractor long enough to think of weeds as an ally.  My spray-by-the-calendar neighbors don’t agree with me but my weedy fields are highly profitable. Their farms are up for auction.

A weed is a plant growing where it is not wanted.  The key to intelligent agriculture is to grow weeds where they are needed.  Here are some ways that weeds can help fill your bank account:

–>     WEEDS ARE GOOD ORGANIC FERTILIZER.     I ran a lawnmower across a typical meadow (8 grasses + 23 broad leaf weeds = 31 species) and sent the clippings off for analysis:  1.00% Nitrogen : 0.27% Phosphorous : 1.10% Potassium by weight = 20 pounds Nitrogen + 5.4 pounds Phosphorous + 22 pounds Potassium per ton.

Compare this with cow manure from my neighbor’s dairy:  0.5% Nitrogen : 0.15% Phosphorous : 0.40% Potassium by weight = 10 pounds Nitrogen + 3 pounds Phosphorous + 8 pounds Potassium per ton.

Fresh green weeds contain approximately double the nutrients of dairy cow manure.  A dense field of weeds 3 feet high yields about 2.5 tons of green manure (stems and leaves) ~ 50 pounds Nitrogen + 13.5 pounds Phosphorous + 55 pounds Potassium per acre.  Green weeds rot fast so most of these nutrients are quickly available to crop plants.

How to Green Manure a Field:     First, cut weeds with a flail, rotary, or sickle bar mower, or use a forage chopper.  Next, use a rear-mounted rototiller, moldboard or disk plow to till the chopped foliage into the soil.  RULE:  Always mow before plowing!  Chopped plants rot faster so crop roots absorb nutrients sooner.  Last, seed or plant field immediately = the same day.  Never leave the soil bare, not even for a single day.  Naked soil is wasted dirt.  Keep the ground covered with growing plants at all times.

Chop-And-Drop:     How do you “green manure” a no-till field?  Answer:  Mow the cover crop as close to the soil surface as possible and leave the chopped vegetation where it falls.  Use a rotary mower, flail mower, forage chopper, or common lawnmower if you want the cover crop to decompose quickly (to feed a following crop or clear a field for planting).  Use a sickle bar mower or roller-crimper for Mulch-In-Place planting.  Timing is important:  To kill a cover crop mow when plants start flowering or begin setting seeds.  Late planted annual cover crops can be left standing until killed by frost; standing vegetation traps snow over winter.  Fall oats are a good crop for this purpose.  Winter killed oats protect soil but do not obstruct spring planting with conventional equipment.

To green manure a field without machinery, use animals to stomp the cover crop.  Erect temporary fencing and “Mob Graze” the field.  Animals should be “well crowded” together.  Ideal stocking density = 680 to 1,210 Animal Units per acre.  (1 Animal Unit = 1,000 pounds live weight).  For example:  680 beef cattle per acre = 1 cow for every 8 x 8 feet = 64 square feet per animal.  1,210 beef cattle per acre = 1 cow for every 6 x 6 feet = 36 square feet per animal.  Keep animals confined until they eat the top 1/3 of the foliage then move herd to fresh pasture.  Plant stomped cover crop the same day with no=till equipment.  Alternatively, broadcast grain into standing cover crop then immediately mob graze field.  This is an old Roman agronomic practice called stomp seeding.

–>     WEEDS ARE HIGH QUALITY MULCH.     Fight fire with fire.  Use weeds to smother weeds.  An 8-inch blanket of cut weed mulch provides 95% or better weed control for 6 to 8 weeks during the growing season.  That is all the time you need to get your crop up and growing.  Once your plants are well established any weeds that poke above the crop canopy won’t matter.  The crop itself suppresses most weeds.  Peek under the leaves and you will see little weeds lurking in the shade.  These tiny plants lost the competition for sunlight.  As long as your crop continues to grow, your fields will remain mostly weed free.

Mulch-In-Place:     Find the weediest field possible.  Dense, luxuriant, rank growth 6 feet high is best = about 4 tons of biomass (stems and leaves) per acre.  Cut weeds with a sickle bar mower or flatten with a roller-crimper.  Seed or transplant directly through the mulch with no-till equipment, or sow by hand.  If desired, you can immediately top seed field with a low growing nitrogen fixing legume like Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens), Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum), or Sub Clover (Trifolium subterraneum).  The tiny clover seeds fill any holes in the mulch and provide useful biodiversity.  (If you don’t have a weedy field, sow Winter Rye = Secale cereale at 3 bushels per acre then mow or roll when 6 feet high or when seeds reach the soft dough stage.  Cereal rye grows fast like a weed and yields 4 to 5 tons = 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of long straw mulch per acre.  Alternatively, seed a high biomass crop like Sudan Grass = Sorghum sudanense or Forage Maize = Zea mays).

Lawnmower Farming:     You can run a 25 acre ~ 10 hectare commercial vegetable farm with nothing other than a common lawnmower.  (For larger areas use a riding lawnmower = lawn tractor).  Find the weediest field possible.  Mow a strip where you want to plant your crop.  Roll irrigation tape down the row.  (The idea is to water the crop rather than the entire field).  Set your transplants then mulch heavily with cut weeds.  Apply a circle or collar of green mulch 1 foot = 12 inches thick around each plant.  This is a form of sheet composting = the weeds rot and release nutrients to feed your crop.  (It’s ok to use synthetic fertilizers but these are expensive.  A 40 pound bag of 10-10-10 = 10% Nitrogen + 10% Phosphorous + 10% Potassium costs $17.12 at my local farm store.  Why spend 43 cents per pound for chemical fertilizer when weeds cost nothing)?

Weed mulches protect and feed earthworms = Lumbricus terrestris.  Earthworm casts = manure fertilize the soil.  Weed fields fallowed = untilled for 7 years typically have 1 ton = 1 million earthworms per acre ~ 23 earthworms per cubic foot of topsoil.  1 million earthworms per acre produce 2,000 pounds = 1 ton of worm casts each DAY during the growing season.  That is an enormous amount of free organic fertilizer ~ 150 to 180 TONS per acre of worm manure in a typical 5 to 6 month growing season ~ 6 to 8 pounds of worm casts per square foot (distributed from the surface through the entire soil column about 6 feet deep).

Earthworms also biologically till the soil so air and water penetrate deep into the subsoil.  Plant roots follow worm borrows 5 to 6 feet underground where the soil stays moist = crops are nearly drought proof.  (My weed fields average 902 MILES of vertical earthworm burrows per acre).  A hundred-year rainstorm (2-inches per hour) falling on a fallow weed field has almost no runoff = zero soil erosion.  Rain sinks into the land like water through a colander.  Underground water keeps my crops growing while my neighbors’ fields wilt.

Earthworm populations are directly proportional to the amount of available food = organic matter.  Apply more mulch and more worms will come.  Space rows widely so you have sufficient weeds to cut for mulch.  (On very large farms use a forage chopper to deposit chopped weeds into convenient windrows.  Set transplants down the windrows).  RULE:  Cut weeds only to clear rows for planting or to harvest for mulch.  Leave remaining weeds standing to maintain wide environmental diversity.

If you don’t have any weedy fields, plant mixed species cover crops.  The goal is to imitate the broad ecological diversity of a naturally weedy field.  Include 50% legume seed in the mix because earthworms need protein in their diet.  Earthworm populations double on fields of clover versus fields of grass.  More legumes = more earthworms = more free fertilizer = more money in your bank account.

If you can’t afford cover crop seed go to the nearest grain elevator and ask for elevator screenings.  These are usually free or cheap and contain many weed seeds.  Haul as many tons as practical; you will need every pound of weed seed obtainable.  Sow weeds generously = with wild abandon.  Your neighbors will think you daft, but it really does pay to plant weeds (especially on poor, eroded, or barren fields).  Run the remaining elevator screenings through a roller mill to make weed seed meal.  Weed meal is high quality organic fertilizer; use it just like cottonseed meal or other expensive soil amendment.  Apply weed seed meal liberally because it won’t burn plant roots.

Once weed fields are planted they require little or no attention = the crops grow themselves.  Mulch protects young transplants for the first 3 to 6 weeks until they put down roots.  Once crops are well established they will outgrow or overwhelm most weeds.  This is especially true for vigorous plants like tomatoes, peppers, and vine crops:  Pumpkins, squash, gourds, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, and melons.  Vine crops tolerate light shade and easily climb over weeds 5 to 6 feet tall.  I always get my best melons from the weediest fields.  On rare occasions weeds may grow too densely around a pepper or tomato plant.  Thin offending weeds with pruning shears.

Weed Seed Meal:     Seeds of most plants make good fertilizer.  The trick is to mill = grind seeds into a coarse meal or flour so they do not sprout.  If weed seeds are not available, substitute any type of waste or spoiled grain, for example, wet or dry brewer’s grains.  There is no standard analysis for weed seed meal; nutrient content varies depending on species and proportion which change by locality and season.  It is good practice to test weed seed samples yearly so fertilizer application rates can be adjusted as needed.  Below are some average nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K) values for rough calculations.  Note:  lb = pound.  1 pound = 0.454 kilogram.  1 American ton = 2,000 pounds = 908 kilograms = 0.908 metric ton.  1 metric ton = 1 megagram = 1,000 kilograms = 1,000,000 grams = 2,200 pounds = 1.1 American tons.

Wheat, Broken (Kansas 2011):     2.00% N : 0.85% P : 0.50% K = 40 lb N + 17 lb P + 10 lb K per ton

Weed Seed Meal (Saskatchewan 2015):     3.02% N : 0.56% P : 0.77% K = 60 lb N + 11 lb P + 15 lb K per ton

Weed Seed Meal (Hungary 2013):  2.7% N : 0.90% P : 0.90% K = 54 lb N + 18 lb P + 18 lb K per ton

Rice, White Broken (California 2016):  1.00% N : 0.21% P : 0.27% K = 20 lb N + 4 lb P + 0 lb K per ton

Rice Hulls = Husks (Philippines 2014):  1.9% N : 0.48% P : 0.81% K = 38 lb N + 9 lb P + 18 lb K per ton

Rice, Brown (California 2016):  1% N : 0.48% P : 0.32% K = 20 lb N + 9 lb P + 6 lb K per ton

Rice Bran (India 2015):  4.00% N : 3.00% P : 1.00% K = 80 lb N + 60 lb P + 20 lb K per ton

Oats, Broken (New York 2010):  2.00% N : 0.80% P : 0.60% K = 40 lb N + 16 lb P + 12 lb K per ton

Flaxseed = Linseed Meal (Manitoba 2008):  5.66% N : 0.87% P : 1.24% K = 113 lb N + 17 lb P + 24 lb K per ton

Dent Corn, Spoiled (Maryland 2014):     1.65% N : 0.65% P : 0.40% K = 33 lb N + 13 lb P + 8 lb K per ton

Cowpeas, Broken (California 2014):  3.10% N : 1.00% P : 1.20% K = 62 lb N + 20 lb P + 24 lb K per ton

Cotton Seed, Whole (USDA 2015):  3.14% N : 1.25% P : 1.15% K = 63 lb N + 25 lb P + 23 lb K per ton

Cotton Seed, Pressed (USDA 2015):  4.51% N : 0.64% P : 1.25% K = 90 lb N + 12 lb P + 2b lb K per ton

Cotton Seed Meal (Egypt 2012):  6.6% N : 1.67% P : 1.55% K = 132 lb N + 33 lb P +31 lb K per ton

Castor Beans, Pressed (Egypt 2012):  5.5% N : 2.25% P : 1.125% K = 110 lb N + 45 lb P + 22 lb K per ton

Brewer’s Grain, Wet (Pennsylvania 2012):  0.90% N : 0.50% P : 0.05% K = 18 lb N + 10 lb P + 1 lb K per ton

Brewer’s Grain Dry (Pennsylvania 2012):  4.53% N : 0.47% P 0.24% K = 90 lb N + 9 lb P + 4 lb K per ton

Beans, Soup Broken (New York 1988):  4.0% N : 1.20% P : 1.30% K = 80 lb N + 24 lb P +26 lb K per ton

Barley, Spoiled (Manitoba 2011):  1.75% N : 0.75% P : 0.50% K = 35 lb N + 15 lb P + 10 lb K per ton

For slow release fertilizer mill weed seeds into coarse flakes or meal.  Grind weed seeds into powder for fast acting fertilizer.

Calculate application rates according to soil test recommendation for desired crop.  Minimum application rate is 1 ton = 2,000 pounds per acre ~ 5 pounds or 1 gallon per 100 square feet ~ 2 Tablespoons or 2/3 ounce per square foot.  Apply 1 pound of weed seed meal for every 25 feet of row or trench.  Mix 1/2 to 1 cup in each bushel (8 gallons) of potting soil.  To fertilize trees and bushes, apply 1 pound or 1 1/4 quarts of weed seed meal for every inch of trunk or stem diameter.  Spread meal from trunk or stem to drip line = farthest extent of branches.

Average density of weed seed meal = 0.3125 to 0.40 scale ounce per Tablespoon ~ 5 to 6.5 scale ounces per cup ~ 20 to 25.6 scale ounces per quart ~ 80 to 102.4 scale ounces per gallon ~ 5 pounds to 6 pounds 6.4 ounces per gallon ~ 40 to 51 pounds per bushel (8 gallons).  1 ton = 2,000 pounds weed seed meal = 40 to 50 bushels.

For example:  200 bushel per acre corn crop requires 200 pounds of nitrogen per acre.  200 pounds N divided by 54 pounds of nitrogen per ton of weed seed meal = 3.70 ~ 4 tons of weed seed meal needed per acre of corn.  Weed seed meal can be tilled into the earth by conventional plowing, broadcast on soil surface, side banded down rows, or drilled into furrows or trenches.

For feeding earthworms broadcast weed seed meal (1 ton per acre or 2 Tablespoons per square foot) on soil surface.  Reapply throughout the growing season when meal is no longer visible.

–>     WEEDS PROVIDE FREE BIOLOGICAL INSECT CONTROL.     I used to work for a cannery company.  I have dreadful memories of being bombed by crop dusters.  I would run for my truck, slam the door and stomp on the gas pedal.  The toxic mist really was that lethal.  Any human caught in the open would spend weeks in hospital and years twitching oddly.  Of course, the cabbage loopers took only 2 or 3 seasons to develop immunity to the toxin.  Then it was replaced with something even more poisonous.  Never again!  I refuse to become yet another ghastly statistic.  Just as stubbornly, I won’t buy something I don’t need.  Farming is all about cheap.  Margins are slim (especially for commodity crops) so a jug of synthetic chemical per acre can make all the difference between hanging-on-by-our-fingernails profit and loss of the family homestead.  Consequently, I cross all agricultural chemicals off my shopping list.  I’m not a “tree hugger” just ruthlessly frugal.  My family has farmed the same land for over 800 years.  I’m not going to be the one who fails.

Pests Be Gone!      Weeds are the poor man’s wildflowers.  Sow weeds just as you would wildflowers to provide food, shelter, and alternate hosts for beneficial predatory and parasitic insects.  For best results, reserve at least 5% of cropland for weeds.  Seed every 20th row with weeds.  Plant a strip of weeds around each field, vineyard, and orchard.  The trick to biological insect control is to grow weeds in close proximity to crops needing protection.  Serious insect problems usually mean a farm does not have enough wild plants.  Spatial orientation is important:  Weeds on one side of a farm will not protect tomatoes on the opposite side.  Plant tomatoes and weeds together = few hornworms.

Strip Cropping:     Plant crops in long narrow strips 4 to 16 rows wide (depending on the size of planting and harvesting equipment).  Long fields increase mechanical efficiency = fewer turns.  Try to keep strips as narrow as mechanically practical.  Narrow strips maximize biological edge effects and increase light penetration into crop canopy.  More edges = less pests.  More sunlight = more photosynthesis = higher yields.  Run strips across fields and farms following land contours.  Plant adjacent strips with unrelated crops to increase biological diversity = more food and shelter for beneficial insects.  If weed seed is unavailable or wildflowers too costly, plant mixed species cover crops to simulate weed populations.  Thomas Jefferson used buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), turnips (Brassica rapa subspecies rapa), and winter vetch (Vicia villosa) = small flowered plants ideal for predators and parasites with tiny mouth parts.  A diligent program of crop rotation, strip planting, and weed farming usually keeps pest populations from rising to harmful levels.

–>     WEEDS ARE POTENT INSECTICIDES.     Over millions of years weeds have evolved elaborate chemical defenses against bugs.  Most weeds have only 1 or 2 minor pests; many wild plants are immune to just about everything.  When bugs get out of hand most infestations can be controlled by spraying with weed tea = a simple infusion of fresh weeds in hot water.  Find any weeds not bothered by the pest needing control.  Collect a large quantity of plants equal to the volume of water needed for spraying.  Chop weeds with a shredder, hydro-mill, or household blender.  Alternatively, crush weeds in a roller mill or laundry wringer.  Soak milled weeds in boiling water until mixture cools to air temperature.  Strain before use then add a commercial surfactant so insecticide spreads over and sticks to crop leaves.

If necessary, dilute weed tea concentrate with clear water to make up spray tank volume.  One application is usually enough to control most pests.  If infestation continues spray again or increase insecticide concentration by brewing equal weights of weeds and water (1 pound of weeds for each pint of water).  The forests around me abound with wild plants, especially ferns.  Nothing eats a fern.  Fern tea will kill or deter any bug known to modern agriculture.  Many common farm and garden weeds are equally distasteful or toxic.

–>     WEEDS ARE GOOD NURSE CROPS.     Weeds moderate farm microclimates by reducing wind speed, increasing humidity, shading soil, drawing water from subsoil depths and sharing moisture with shallow-rooted plants.  In times of drought, crops grown in weeds often out yield plants in cultivated weed-free fields.  Even dead weeds are useful; they protect topsoil from wind and water erosion, and their decomposing tissues feed soil organisms.

Sow-And-Go:     Drill or broadcast small grains into standing vegetation.  For best results sow tall varieties as these compete better against weeds.  The best time to plant is in the dry or cold season when most weeds and grasses are dead, dormant, or growing slowly.  Pelleted seed greatly increases germination and seedling survival.  If desired, you can sow Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) along with the grain.  With plentiful water, expect yields 60% to 70% of conventionally planted cereals.  If rains are poor expect little or no harvest.

Sow-and-Go agronomy works best with winter cereals.  Here in Butler County, Pennsylvania (40.8606 degrees North Latitude, 79.8947 degrees West Longitude)  sow-and-go winter wheat yields 24 to 28 bushels = 1,440 to 1,680 pounds per acre.  (Conventionally planted wheat yields 40 bushels = 2,400 pounds per acre).  My fields look awful but they produce enough grain to feed my family and the entire parish.  More importantly, out-of-pocket costs are minimal so profits are high.  Sow-and-Go cereals reduce economic risk.  Consequently, growing grain in weeds usually makes more money than planting cereal crops in cultivated or herbicide-sprayed fields.

–>     WEEDS ARE GOOD BEE FORAGE.     A jar labeled “wildflower honey” means “made from weeds”.  Very few apiaries plant flowers for their bees.  Most commercial honey in the United States comes from hives that are trucked across the country to pollinate almonds, blueberries, and oranges.  These bees are fed sugar syrup to keep them alive so if you want “real” honey buy from small, local apiaries or keep your own bees.

Honeybees feed on small flowers because they have short tongues.  Most weeds are ideal bee forage because they produce many small flowers throughout the growing season.

For a hungry bee the average plow-and-spray farm is a “green desert”.  Vast monoculture fields of corn and wheat do not provide nectar = starving hives.  To maintain healthy bee colonies plant weeds and wildflowers throughout the farm or sow small-flowered crops like Anise (Pimpinella anisum), Caraway (Carum carvi), Coriander (Coriandrum sativum), Dill (Anethum graveolens), and Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare).   Seed every available space as honey production is directly dependent on flower numbers.  More blossoms = more pollen and nectar = more bees = more honey.  Alternatively, plant mixed species cover crops to replace the bountiful blossoms of naturally weedy fields.  For example, seed orchards with buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), hairy vetch (Vicia villosa), and turnips (Brassica rapa subspecies rapa) to feed bees and other beneficial insects.

Think before mowing!     Do not clip entire hay fields at once.  Leave 5% to 10% of each field un-harvested so bees have something to eat.  Whenever practical, divide fields into blocks or strips then harvest sequentially so beneficial insects can move to undisturbed areas.  Similarly, mow orchards only before harvest; let weeds, wildflowers, and cover crops grow without disturbance.  More flowers = fewer insect pests.

Plant thoughtfully.     Bees will fly 5 miles to gather nectar but long trips are inefficient = less honey.  Would you like to walk 5 miles to get your dinner?  Think like a bee and sow flowers as close to hives and crops as practical.  Integrate crops and weeds whenever possible.  For example, alternate strips of tomatoes and weeds.  Result:  Save $400 per acre for insecticides.

There is no such thing as a free lunch.     Biology can replace synthetic chemicals but there is an economic trade-off:  At least 5% of a farm must be covered in weeds.  This is the same as losing 5% of your corn crop and that costs money.  If this is not acceptable then plant wildflowers or any other small-flowered crop that you can harvest and sell the seed.  You can have bees and a profitable farm at the same time.

“Weed Farming” is an essential part of the New Green Revolution where biology replaces what is normally done by diesel tractors and synthetic chemicals.  This is leading edge agronomy = what our Great-Great-Grandfathers used to do.  Every farmer should reserve a few acres to experiment with this rediscovered technology.  Growing crops in weeds is profitable — provided farmers exercise careful stewardship.  For best results manage weeds just like a living mulch or mixed species cover crop.  Always remember that there are 2 crops growing on the same land at the same time — the weed crop and the cash crop.  Each requires equal care or both crops may fail.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?     Contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need additional information on growing crops and weeds together.

Please visit:  — or —  send your questions to:  Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania, 15108 United States of America  — or —  send an e-mail to:  Eric Koperek =

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:     Mr. Koperek is a plant breeder who farms in Pennsylvania during the summer and Florida during the winter.  (Growing 2 generations each year speeds development of new crop varieties).






Feuds over water rights clog the courts.  Governments impose oppressive regulations on landowners.  What can you do when the water police pound on your door?  Here are some tips on winning a water war:

The King’s Rule:     Under English common law, all farmers along a stream must share water equally.  Under Spanish law, the first farmer to settle on a watershed owns all of the water.  Spanish custom is the basis for most water laws in the western U.S.A.  For example, a person with “senior water rights” is often the descendant of an original homesteader = the first person to stake claim to a watershed.

A Napoleonic general once quipped:        “Spain is a land where small armies are defeated and large armies starve”.  To understand Spanish water law, you have to visit Spain.  After Switzerland, Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe.  Half of the land is rocky, barren, and dry.  Irrigation is essential throughout much of the Iberian Peninsula.  No water = no food, which is why Spanish water law is so strictly possessive.

Twisted Legislation:     Over the centuries, Spanish customary law has been widely = wildly interpreted so that modern laws now bear little resemblance to colonial practice.  Such extreme interpretations are the basis for silly regulations where governments claim to own the rain that falls on a farmer’s fields or prohibit a man from collecting water from his own house roof.  Thus, “you must have license to build a pond because the water belongs to the State”.

Take Them to Court:     If you have a combative personality, retain an experienced trial attorney and fight for your water rights.  The most common argument is that “God owns the rain” or, more practically speaking, a farmer owns the rain that falls on his land, but the State may regulate water that flows through or beside his property.  Thus, a farmer can build a pond on his own land but may not dam a common stream.

Justice for Sale:     If you have money to invest, consider buying water rights or shares in a canal company.  Alternatively, drill a deep well.  Over the short term, this is often cheaper than battling in the courts.  If you own canal shares then water regulations are mostly irrelevant because water law is designed to protect the “haves” from the “have nots”.

Beat Them at Their Own Game:     Another strategy is to play the system.  For this you need to read the law and clearly understand the legal definitions of “ponds” and other water control technologies.  For example, many water regulations exempt artificial fish ponds provided they are not directly linked to public waterways.  Meaning:  You can convert an “irrigation reservoir” into a “farm fish pond” by stocking your lake with fingerlings purchased from the nearest State fish hatchery.  Keep receipts in case the local water police try to regulate your pond.  Carefully screen pond outflows so fish cannot escape into State controlled waters.  Most states have programs and publications to help land owners manage fish ponds.  Ask your local fisheries officer or agriculture extension agent for more information.

It’s not a Window, it’s a Door!     Historically, French houses were taxed according to the number of windows.  Crafty homeowners invented the French Door to outwit local tax collectors.  Similarly, you can often dodge water laws by using “creative labeling”.  It is not an “irrigation reservoir” but rather a “water distribution structure”, “swimming pool”, “stock watering tank”, “fire control pond” or “wastewater treatment lagoon”.  Again, make certain that whatever structure you want to build meets official legal definition.  Ask for help from relevant government agencies and meticulously record their involvement.  Thus, you can pit competing bureaucracies against each other.  For example, if the water police hail you into court, the fire control district becomes your ally.

Exceptions Define the Law:     Water laws are all about “loop holes”.  Search for exceptions that you can employ to your advantage.  For example, many regulations exempt dams not more than 6 feet high.  As long as your “water control structure” is under the mark, the water police are powerless to harass you.

Household Water Supplies:     Cisterns and “potable water systems” are often exempt from local water regulations.  Many water laws fail to define or limit the size or capacity of these systems.  For example, when does a pond become a lake?  How big is a kitchen garden?  How much water do you need to fight fires or water livestock?  Is a 2 year water supply too much or not enough?  Do not be afraid to play the numbers, especially in these times of irregular rainfall and extended drought.  Climate change affects everybody.  Translation:  A jury is most likely to find for a homeowner with an empty cistern.

Grandfather Clauses:     Many activities are permissible because they were started or completed before modern laws were enacted.  Thus, your lakes, dams and canals may be “grandfathered” because they predate current water regulations.  “This dam is 100 years old; we are just repairing the spillway”.  Note:  The structure may be a 400-year old archeological ruin, but as long as there is physical evidence of hydraulic engineering it can be grandfathered in most jurisdictions.  Mere traces of ancient canals are sufficient to legally establish prior irrigation works.

The Texas Two-Step:     Sometimes the best way to win a water war is to side-step the issue entirely.  Thus, it is not an “irrigation structure” but rather a “sediment control basin”.  This is more devious than mere creative labeling.  Most soil conservation technology exists to manage surface water.  Thus, what is legal under a soil conservation plan may not be popular with the local water police.  And while the big government bureaucracies are battling each other, you are free to do mostly as you please.  Ask your local soil conservation officer about government services, grants, and low-interest loans for landholders.

Vote with Your Feet:      Sometimes the least expensive way to win a water war is to change jurisdiction.  Move across the border to another province or onto an Indian reservation.  Every state has different laws and Indian lands are governed by Tribal Councils.  What is unlawful in one jurisdiction is legal in another.  Shop around for a location with the most favorable water regulations.  Big corporations do this routinely, and for good reason.  Choose the wrong state and your farm or business could lose vast sums.

Cute Furry Animals:     Supporting local wildlife is politically correct.  Nobody says no to Bambi, not even the water police.  Take all of your land that is not good for crops or grazing.  On many farms and ranches, problem lands take up half or more of total area.  Incorporate these “useless” acres as wildlife preserves.  (Nature reserves are tax exempt and eligible for government environmental subsidies, low-interest loans, and grants).  Now you can thumb your nose at the water police because they will not fight the State Fish & Game Commission.  Build as many ponds, dams, and weirs as you want — just make certain all “water control structures” are included in the watershed management plan for your deer park.  The water police will be powerless to stop you.

The key to success is your official = government approved watershed plan.  The goal is to trap every drop of rain that falls on your land = zero runoff.  Of course there are ulterior motives here.  You are not just signing away half of your farm for nothing.  Supporting wildlife is just an excuse to do what you want = provide water for agriculture and grazing.  This is accomplished by recharging the aquifer = raising water tables.  Use bad land like a giant sponge to soak up and store water.  Sink wells down slope to extract water for crops and animals.  (Drilling horizontal wells avoids pumping costs).  This game works because most states either do not regulate or weakly control ground water.  In most jurisdictions, farmers can draw unlimited amounts of underground water — even in states with highly restrictive surface water laws.

The Spirit vs. the Letter of the Law:     The Government forbids irrigation but you have 27 acres and need to feed your family.  What do you do?  Solution:  Redefine “irrigation”.  Install 27 wildlife drips, one for each acre.  At each water point plant a single fruit or nut tree, berry bush, grape vine, sweet potato, squash or melon.  Surround each plant with a blanket of mulch 8 inches thick to prevent weed growth and soil water evaporation.  Runoff from each drip waters adjacent crop plant.  Thus, you can obey the spirit of the law yet avoid the wrath of the water police.  Talk to your local conservation agency and they might even pay you to install watering points for wildlife.  Birds, toads, rabbits, snakes, mice, chipmunks, bees and other critters all need to drink — especially during a drought.  (You can play the same game with stock watering tanks.  Overflow from each tank waters an apple or almond tree).

Recycled Water:     Why fight for water when you have already won the war?  If you are lucky enough to own land near a wastewater treatment plant, you can get vast amounts of irrigation water super cheap or free-of-charge.  You may have to pay for piping and hook-up to the local municipal water system but this is far less costly than buying water rights or canal shares.  For less than it costs to drill a deep well you can own a water utility company with a single customer — you.  Negotiate a long-term contract to protect your water supply.  Ask to see a water analysis to prevent contaminating your land with unsafe amounts of heavy metals.  Sign a municipal agreement to recycle treated sewage effluent and the water police will leave you alone.  (Act now before some other clever farmer stakes claim to this water bonanza).

Beneath Government Radar:     The water Nazis will not let you build a pond.  Do not blow up and cuss them out.  Cursing the mindless robots is but a momentary pleasure.  Instead, smile sweetly then rent a trenching machine.  Cut narrow trenches 4 to 6 inches wide every 50 feet across your land.  Follow hillside contours or dig trenches perpendicular = at 90 degree angle to water flow across your fields.  Dig trenches as deep as machinery reaches, 4 to 8 feet depth is ideal.  Trenches intercept water and sediment before they run off your land.  Use a back hoe to dig 12 inch wide trenches across canyon floors every 50 feet down the watershed.

A similar technology uses rotary post-hole diggers to excavate a sponge-like matrix across each field.  Fill holes with compost or similar media then plant with deep rooted crops like squash or melons.  Trenches and holes trap vast amounts of water for subsoil storage.  6-inch rains disappear like water in a colander.  Aquifers rise and crops become nearly drought proof.  Subsoil moisture is more important than surface water.

Another related technique is subsoil ripping or keyline plowing.  For this you need 3/4 inch wide blades 12 to 16 inches long spaced 2 feet apart on a tractor tool bar.  Till fields and pastures yearly along contour lines to increase air and water penetration into the subsoil.  Digging trenches, drilling holes, or cutting slits across fields and pastures trap vastly more water than any farm pond.  So let the local water police have their petty victory.  You do not need a pond if your aquifer is bursting beneath your feet.  Sink a well and draw all the water you need.  No government regulation required.

On Again, Off Again:     Streams that are dry part of the year are called seasonal or intermittent waterways.  Seasonal creeks are often exempt from local water laws which concentrate primarily on “permanent” streams, rivers and lakes that are wet year-round.  In desert and semi-arid climates, most canyons = arroyos = wadis = coulees = gullies = washes are seasonal watercourses that run primarily during the winter or monsoon months.  In a good year, a gully might flood 4 to 6 times during the summer.  In a bad year, the same stream might flow only once or twice in a growing season.  Under most canyons are subsurface streams that can flow 5 years between rains.

The best way to manage seasonal creeks is to build small weirs = check dams every 50 to 100 yards down the entire length of the wadi system.  Dump baskets of rocks across stream beds until weirs are 3 feet high.  No mortar or concrete required.  (If stones are small use wire gabions to hold rocks so they do not wash away).  Weirs slow floods so water has more time to soak into ground.  Slow moving water drops sand, silt, and clay behind each weir.  Plant drought-resistant trees in sediments collected behind each check dam.  Every pocket of soft soil acts like a giant sponge holding water and nutrients for improved crop growth.

Canyon systems collect and concentrate runoff from vast areas, effectively multiplying rainfall 10 to 20 times average precipitation rates.  Thus, 1 inch of rain in the uplands = 10 to 20 inches of water in a coulee.  The trick is to get all of this water to soak into the ground as fast as possible.  Dry land agriculture is all about managing water tables.  The aquifers below each arroyo support trees and crops during summer months or extended droughts.

Working at Cross Purposes:     Many water districts have conflicting regulations that a clever attorney can argue in his client’s interest.  What do you do when local ordinances forbid digging ponds yet, at the same time, prohibit landholders from discharging runoff from their property?  Situations like this frequently involve several government departments (irrigation, sanitation, and conservation) each with their own often contradictory edicts.  The best solution is to seek regulatory protection with the strongest local agency then let the bureaucrats fight among themselves.  Divide and conquer.  Build an “erosion control basin” and watch the water police slink away.  Irrigation districts rarely cross swords with municipal water authorities or conservation agencies, and no judge will rule against a property owner who tries in good faith to comply with government regulations.

Go with the Flow:     Some water laws are so strict they ban anything that impounds = stops water flow.  Impound does not mean impede, restrict, or delay.  As long as water continues to flow (however slowly) the landholder is exempt from water regulations.  So if the water police forbid building a pond that does not prevent you from irrigating fruit trees with runoff from household downspouts.  Turn your garden into a giant sponge.  Dig out the topsoil and replace with 100% compost or peat moss.  Organic matter holds 10 times its weight in water.  Channel all runoff to your garden and your crops will be nearly drought proof.  There are many ways to “go with the flow”.  For example, you could build a series of “reflection pools” with 1/4 inch diameter drains.  As long as the water continues to flow 24 hours a day = without stopping your wonders of hydraulic engineering will remain on the right side of the law.

Gresham’s Law:     Whatever the King does not specifically forbid, a citizen may do.  Whatever the King does not specifically command, a citizen need not do.  The key word here is “specific”.  If the government does not explicitly define, require, or limit an action, a landholder is free to do whatever he wants.  Translation:  The Government cannot prosecute a person unless his action violates a previously published law that exactly defines the offense.  Always remember Gresham’s Law when reading or interpreting water laws.  Pay special attention to legal definitions as law is all about little details.  For example, a “swimming pool” is not an “irrigation pond” if it is used primarily for recreation (which does not prevent draining pool weekly to control algae and mosquitoes.  This is part of good pool maintenance practices which are not often regulated by local ordinance.  How drained water may be used is also not controlled in most jurisdictions.  Thus, you can irrigate your garden with drain water from a swimming pool unless this action is specifically prohibited by law, regulation, or ordinance.

Would You Like to Know More?     Please contact the author directly if you have any questions or need additional information about water rights and riparian law.

Please visit:  — or —  — or —  send your questions to:  Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania 15108 United States of America  — or —  send an e-mail to:  Eric Koperek =

About the Author:     Mr. Koperek is an international consultant with many decades of experience developing agricultural water projects.  Between business trips, Mr. Koperek breeds open-pollinated Indian corn, winter squash, and melons.  Mr. Koperek farms in Pennsylvania during the summer and Florida during the winter.  (Growing 2 generations each year speeds development of new crop varieties).







SUMMARY:     What happens when you poke squash seeds into cow manure pats in pristine Alpine meadows?  This experiment documents 27 years of traditional squash cultivation techniques by farmers who have been practicing no-till agriculture since the Middle Ages.

EXPERIMENTAL LOCATION:     Salzburg, Austria.  47.48 degrees North Latitude; 13.0 degrees East Longitude.

CLIMATE:     Salzburg has a temperate mountain climate with cold winters.  Elevation = 1,476 feet = 450 meters above sea level.  Average annual temperature is 46.4 degrees Fahrenheit = 8 degrees Centigrade.  Average yearly rainfall = 46 inches = 116.84 centimeters.  Average snowfall = 39.8 inches = 101 centimeters.  Average Last Spring Frost (36 degrees Fahrenheit) = 30 May.  Average First Fall Frost (36 degrees Fahrenheit) = 30 September.  Frost Free Growing Season = 4 months = 123 days.

PLOT SIZE:     1 hectare research plots = 100 meters long x 100 meters wide = 2.47 acres.  1 acre = 43,560 square feet = 4,840 square yards ~ 0.404 hectare.

CROP VARIETY:     Hungarian Stock Squash (Cucurbita moschata) is a heritage variety noted for reliable yields and long storage life.  Nowadays, stock squash are rarely planted.  To save the variety from extinction, open pollinated seed was collected from 26 farms surrounding Lake Balaton in Hungary.  40 seeds from each farm were mixed and planted to provide landrace seed for this experiment.  Traditionally, American farmers grew pumpkins and European farmers grew squash.  (The reason for this is a historical mystery).  Field pumpkins and stock squash were grown to feed cattle and other livestock over winter.  Widespread use of agricultural machinery has made squash cultivation obsolete.  Modern farmers now grow hay and silage for winter fodder.  Most stock squash are now planted by small landholders who do not own tractors or draft animals.

DAYS TO MATURITY:     110 to 120 days from seeding, depending on sunlight hours, soil and air temperatures.  Squash thrive in warm sunny weather.

PLANT SPACING:     4 x 4 meters ~ 13 x 13 feet apart = 625 plants per hectare ~ 253 plants per acre.  16 square meters ~ 169 square feet per plant.

TILLAGE:     No plowing, disking, harrowing, cultivation, or tillage of any kind = 100% no-till.  Note:  Austria has had strict environmental regulations since the Middle Ages.  Plowing or clear cutting slopes is banned to prevent landslides and avalanches from destroying valley homes and fields.

FERTILIZER:     25 metric tons cow manure per hectare ~ 11 American tons per acre.  Squash were direct seeded into hills of cow manure ~ 3 bushels ~ 40 kilograms ~ 88 pounds per hill = mound approximately 60 centimeters diameter x 30 centimeters deep ~ 2 feet across x 1 foot high.  1 bushel = 8 gallons ~ 32 liters ~ 29 pounds ~ 13 kilograms of cow manure.  Cow manure average analysis = 0.5% nitrogen : 0.5% phosphorous : 0.5% potassium by dry weight = 125 kilograms each of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium per hectare ~ 110 pounds N-P-K per acre = 200 grams N-P-K per plant ~ 6.95 ounces of N-P-K per plant.  Note:  Natural Alpine meadows are protected environments.  Use of agricultural chemicals (including synthetic fertilizers) is prohibited to safeguard public water supplies.

PLANTING METHOD:     Squash seeds were soaked overnight in warm water to speed germination.  Seeds were hand planted, 3 seeds per hill, each seed set 2 inches deep.  Hills were hand thinned to the strongest plant when seedlings developed their first true leaves.  Note:  Some farmers just poke seeds into individual “cow pies” = dung piles.  Other farmers use manure forks (or their hands) to gather nearby dung into larger mounds.  Farmers plant in both fresh and dried manure.  Dried manure is crumbled by hand before seeding.  Manure piles act like mulch to keep weeds at bay until squash vines start to run.

IRRIGATION:     No irrigation was used for this experiment.  Squash relied on natural rainfall.  Salzburg gets 46 inches of rain yearly so crops rarely want for moisture.

WEED MANAGEMENT:     No hand weeding, mulching, mowing, mechanical cultivation, or herbicides were used for this experiment.  Squash vines were left to fend for themselves.  Squash require no attention as vines climb over and smother broadleaf weeds and grasses.  Squash are tolerant of light shade and weedy fields do not significantly lower yields.  Largest fruits are typically found in fields with the most broadleaf weeds.

INSECT CONTROL:     Agricultural chemicals are banned in Alpine pastures to protect water supplies and comply with organic certification.  No insecticides of any kind were used in this experiment.  Cold winters and broad biodiversity of mountain pastures keep pest populations below economic levels.

DISEASE CONTROL:     This experiment was conducted in natural Alpine pastures.  Synthetic chemicals are prohibited to keep the environment pristine.  No fungicides of any kind were used for these trials.

PRODUCTIVITY:     Traditional Alpine squash cultivation yields 12 to 29 metric tons per hectare = 5 to 12 American tons per acre.  Fruit weight ranges from 25 to 60 pounds at wide spacing (13 x 13 feet = 169 square feet per plant) and 8 to 20 pounds at close spacing (2 x 6 feet = 12 square feet per plant).  Average plants yield 2 or 3 fruits when widely spaced but only 1 fruit when seeded closely.  Note:  These yields may seem low by modern standards but they are obtained at no cost and with minimal hand labor.  Alpine agriculture is ruthlessly practical because most work is done by hand and everything must be carried on your back or by dog or pony cart.  Level fields are rare and small (about the size of a tennis court or 2-car driveway) so even midget tractors are impractical.  On most farms the largest piece of machinery is a lawnmower or rear-ended rototiller.  In some areas all internal combustion engines are banned (to prevent air and noise pollution, and to protect against winter avalanches).  Strict environmental regulations support the market for natural Alpine cheese, the principal “cash crop” for mountain farmers.

DATA COLLECTION:     Fields were hand harvested 120 days after seeding.  Fruits were weighed on manual platform scales accurate to 1/100 kilogram = 10 grams ~ 1/3 ounce.  All yields are rounded down to the nearest kilogram.

NO-TILL HUNGARIAN STOCK SQUASH YIELDS:     27 years of field data are tabulated below.

Year                    Yield  in Kilograms per Hectare          Yield in Pounds per Acre

2015                     20,887                                                            18,604

2014                    25,394                                                             22,619

2013                    25,122                                                             22,376

2012                   18,375                                                             16,367

2011                   18,388                                                             16,378

2010                  18,940                                                            16,870

2009                 25,141                                                             22,393

2008                 24,310                                                            21,653

2007                 23,298                                                           20,752

2006                 25,108                                                           22,364

2005                 23,070                                                          20,549

2004                 20,945                                                          18,656

2003                 18,162                                                           16,177

2002                 16,830                                                          14,991

2001                 19,408                                                          17,287

2000                27,001                                                          24,050

1999                 23,421                                                          20,861

1998                 20,643                                                         18,387

1997                 20,350                                                         18,126

1996                 15,398                                                          13,715

1995                 17,737                                                         15,799

1994                 18,212                                                         16,222

1993                 15,856                                                         14,123

1992                 16,185                                                         14,416

1991                 21,376                                                         19,040

1990                 17,132                                                         15,260

1989                 24,071                                                        21,440

Total                560,760 kilograms                                449,475 pounds

Average          20,768 kilograms / hectare                18,499 pounds / acre

Average          20.768 metric tons / hectare             9.2495 tons / acre

Lb/plant          —–                                                            73.11 pounds / plant

Kg/plant          33.22 kilograms / plant                      —–

Conversion Constants:     1 kilogram = 1,000 grams = 2.2 pounds.  1 megagram = 1 million grams = 1,000 kilograms = 1 metric ton.  1 American ton = 2,000 pounds.  1 pound = 454 grams.  1 hectare = 100 meters x 100 meters = 10,000 square meters = 2.47 acres.  1 acre = 43,560 square feet = 4,840 square yards ~ 0.404 hectare.  1 meter = 39.37 inches.  1 bushel = 8 gallons ~ 32 liters of air dried cow manure ~ 29 pounds ~ 13 kilograms.

COMMENTARY:     Hungarian Stock Squash yields vary widely depending on management and climate:  Squash planted 1 seed per cow manure pat (~ 4 to 4.66 pounds of manure per cow pat) yields only 5 to 6 tons per acre at 13 x 13 foot spacing.  Squash spaced 2 feet apart within rows x 6 feet apart between rows ~ 3,536 plants per acre can yield over 30 TONS per acre when planted into Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens), irrigated (1 inch per week), and fertilized (22 tons of composted cow manure per acre).  Yields in northern Germany can be half the harvest of southern Italy or Sicily.  Squash do best in climates with at least 4 months of hot weather and clear sunlight.

RELATED PUBLICATIONS:     Stock Pumpkin Yield Trial 2014; Butternut Squash Plant Spacing Trial (1972-1981); Butternut Squash Mulch-In-Place Trial (1975-1986); and Growing Butternut Squash in Weeds (1976-2015).

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?     Please contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need more information about Hungarian Stock Squash.

Please visit:  — or —  — or — send your questions to:  Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania, 15108 United States of America  — or — send an e-mail to Eric Koperek =

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:     Mr. Koperek is a plant breeder who farms in Pennsylvania during the summer and Florida during the winter.  (Growing 2 generations per year speeds development of new crop varieties).








“Biological Agriculture” relies on earthworms and other soil critters to do what plows and synthetic chemicals do in conventional agronomic systems.  Follow the advice below to encourage worm populations in your fields:

–>     There are many species of earthworms around the world.  The most common agricultural species in North America and Europe are the Common Garden Earthworm = Nightcrawler = Lumbricus terrestris, and the Manure Worm = Redworm = Eisenia foetida.  These are the most prevalent species sold by worm hatcheries for fish bait and farming.

–>     Nightcrawlers dig vertical burrows deep into the subsoil.  At night the worms rise to the soil surface to feed = they drag bits and pieces of leaves and other organic matter down into their tunnels.  Walk through a field at night with a flashlight and you will see many earthworms.

–>     Manure worms live close to the soil surface and do not dig vertical burrows.  Redworms are specialized to eat manure and so they are rarely seen except around the base of compost piles or in fields where many animals graze.

–>     31 nightcrawlers or manure worms per ounce; 500 worms per pound; 1,000,000 worms = 2,000 pounds = 1 ton.  1 average earthworm (Lumbricus terrestris) or manure worm (Eisenia foetida) from a commercial hatchery weighs 0.002 pound = 0.032 ounce = 0.9072 gram.

–>     Active, adult earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) eat their body weight in soil and organic matter daily.  Sluggish worms, immature worms, and worms of other species may eat only 10% to 30% of their body weight each day.  1,000,000 common earthworms per acre (about 23 worms per square foot of topsoil 12 inches deep) = 1 ton of earthworm castings = worm manure DAILY during the growing season.

–>     Usage Note:  1 earthworm cast, 2 earthworm casts, many earthworm castings.

–>     Average daily worm cast is about 0.90 gram although weight of surface casts is considerably greater and varies widely.  Average surface cast weight is approximately 10 to 14 grams or about 0.30 to 0.50 ounce.  Surface worm cast weight ranges up to about 2 ounces in temperate climates and considerably more in tropical areas, depending on worm species, soil type, and available food.  For example, 1 average adult earthworm (2 to 3 years old) living in a bed of compost in a tropical climate can produce 10 pounds = 4.54 kilograms of castings annually ~ 12.4 grams ~ 0.43 ounce of castings daily.

–>     Average surface cast volume is approximately 1 Tablespoon = 15 milliliters (plus or minus 7 milliliters).

— >     Earthworms are most active in early spring and mid fall when weather is cool and moist.  Ideal soil temperature = 65 degrees Fahrenheit.  Earthworms are less active during hot, dry summer months.  Earthworms rise to the surface to feed at night then sound to lower soil depths each morning when temperatures rise.

–>     Do not plow in spring or fall if practical as this kills many worms.  Do not plow, cultivate, or spray in early evening, after dark, or early in the morning as this kills many worms.  The best time to till, cultivate, or spray is in the afternoon when temperatures are highest and worms have retreated to cooler soil depths.

–>     Keep fields planted with cover crops in spring and fall to feed worms.  They need much food at this time.

–>     Don’t leave soil bare over winter.  Protect winter fields with an insulating blanket of crop residues, mulch, or cover crops.  1 or 2 inches of organic matter can double earthworm populations.

–>     Earthworm populations increase in direct proportion to the amount of organic matter on the soil surface = leaves, twigs, straw, et cetera.  More cover = more protection & more food = higher worm populations.  Keep the soil mulched or covered with growing plants at all times.  2 inches of mulch double worm populations compared to cornfields where whole stalks are left on soil surface.

–>     Baby earthworms when they hatch from their cocoons = egg cases are very small, only 1/2 to 3/4 inch long.  Earthworms are extremely vulnerable when first hatched.  Do not plow, cultivate, or spray when worms are hatching.

–>     Earthworms need protein in their diet.  Worm populations double on legume fields compared to grass fields.  Earthworms especially favor clovers, particularly white clover.  Include legumes in field rotations, pastures & hay fields, cover crop mixes, and living mulches.

–>     Earthworms breed and grow very slowly.  Baby worms take 2 to 3 years to mature.  A plentiful, steady food supply is essential to support maximum breeding and population growth.  More organic matter (roots, stems, leaves) = more food = faster population growth = more worms.

–>     Earthworms do not spread rapidly.  A worm colony might spread 3 feet in a year.  That’s as fast as earthworms go.  To “seed” worms drop 6 nightcrawlers every 30 feet then immediately cover with a generous heap of mulch, compost, or manure = whatever worms are used to eating.  It takes at least 10 years for worm colonies spaced 30 feet apart to spread across an acre-sized field.  1 acre = 43,560 square feet = 4,840 square yards ~ 0.404 hectare.

–>     Adult worms are particularly sensitive to dietary changes.  For example, worms raised in hatcheries die if placed in corn fields because they have problems adapting to new, strange foods.

–>     Do not try to seed Manure Worms = Eisenia foetida in crop fields.  The manure worms will die because they are not adapted to this environment.  Use only nightcrawlers = Lumbricus terrestris for agricultural development, mine reclamation, terraforming, reforestation, and similar environmental restoration projects.

–>     If you need to seed worms, talk to the hatchery and ask for their best deal on earthworm cocoons.  Baby worms adapt quickly to any food available.  Mix egg cases gently with screened peat moss, corn meal, sifted compost, or similar carrier then “plant” with a common grain drill.

–>     Switching from conventional tillage to no-till does not happen overnight.  Conversion speed is entirely dependent on earthworm food supplies.  There is no solution for worms’ low natural reproduction rates.  Buying more worms or egg cases won’t make the process go any faster.  You can’t fix this problem by throwing money at it.  Patience is required.  You won’t see substantial improvements in soil structure or fertility until the fourth or fifth year of no-till ~ 2 earthworm generations.  Dramatic differences become smack-upside-the-head obvious by the 7th or 8th year without plows ~ 4 worm generations.  Conversion speed is controlled by how many tons of organic matter are added to each field.  Start looking at crops in terms of their biomass production.  This game is all about weight.  The farmer with the most tons wins!

–>     Tillage kills earthworms.  Loses depend on plow type, tillage depth, and time.  Chisel plows are the most destructive, disk plows slightly less so.  Old fashioned moldboard plows are the least destructive of all conventional tillage implements.  Chisel plows kill 3 times as many earthworms as moldboard plows.

–>     RULE:  Less tillage is better than more tillage.  Shallow tillage is better than deep tillage.  “Warm tillage” (afternoon & summer) is better than “cool tillage” (spring, fall, morning, evening, and night).

–>     Till just enough to get your crop in the ground.  Disturb the soil as little as possible.  All you need is a small hole to set transplants or a narrow slot to sow seeds.  It is rarely necessary to till more than 2 inches deep (unless you are planting potatoes).

–>     No-Till is better than strip till which is better than ridge till which is better than whole surface conventional plowing.

–>     Rear mounted rototillers are ideal tools for shallow tillage.  For example:  Broadcast winter wheat and Dutch White Clover = Trifolium repens into standing weeds or cover crop.  Mow vegetation then rototill only 2 inches deep to get seeds into the ground.  Irrigate to firm seedbed or wait for rain.  Your field will look rough and trashy but the litter is necessary to prevent wind and water erosion.  Some seeds will be buried too deep, others too shallow, but enough will germinate and survive to produce a good crop.  If soil is too wet, omit rototilling.  You will still make a profitable crop.  Small seeds do not absolutely need to buried in earth.  Cut weeds or nurse crop will cover and protect seed.

–>     Earthworms do not “like” to eat maize leaves and they especially dislike whole corn stalks and cobs.  Continuous corn = planting maize in the same field year after year reduces earthworm populations to minimal levels.  For best results use a stalk chopper or forage chopper to shred dead corn plants so they decompose faster.  Plant maize into a living mulch of Red Clover = Trifolium pratense or other nitrogen fixing legume.  Follow corn with fall turnips or other cover crop to feed and protect worms over winter.  Rotate corn with legumes or other broad leaf cover crops.  Do not follow maize with a grass or cereal crop unless also planted with a companion crop of clover or other legume.  Broad ecological diversity favors large earthworms populations.  Translation:  Worms like a varied, balanced diet.

Example:     Plant forage maize at 80,000 to 100,000 seeds per acre to kill weeds.  Flatten with a roller-crimper or cut with a sickle bar mower after 70 days (18 tons biomass) or approximately 110 days (30 tons biomass per acre).  This is called Mulch-In-Place.  Direct seed pumpkins or squash through the corn mulch with a no-till seeder.  At the same time, broadcast Dutch White Clover = Trifolium repens or other low growing legume over field.  Clover fills any gaps in the mulch and provides earthworms with a “balanced diet”.  Result:  95% or better weed control and few insect pests.  Mulch keeps fruits clean so farmer gets premium prices for his pumpkins.

Note:     Mulch-In-Place is used to grow crops without herbicides.  Popular mulch crops include Winter Rye = Cereal Rye = Secale cereale in temperate climates and Sunn Hemp = Crotalaria juncea in tropical and subtropical climates.

–>     Adult earthworms can live 9 or more years in captivity.  How long worms live in the wild is unknown.

–>     Worms constantly maintain their burrows which often extend 5 to 6 feet into the subsoil.  About the diameter of a pencil, worm holes are essential for aeration and drainage of natural soils.  Fields with populations of 1 million earthworms per acre typically contain approximately 900 to 1,200 MILES of tunnels.  These tubes are lined with “earthworm cement”, a natural glue that keeps tunnels open many years after resident earthworms have died.  Plant roots follow earthworm burrows deep into the subsoil where moisture levels are relatively constant.  This is why crops grown in biologically managed fields have considerable drought resistance.  (Crop roots also follow weed roots into the subsoil, especially weeds with deep taproots.  This is why melons grown in weeds make a crop in dry years while clean cultivated vines shrivel and die).

–>     If agricultural wastes are plentiful earthworms can be fed just like crop plants on an irrigation schedule.  Apply weed seed meal, spoiled corn meal, dried brewer’s grains or similar DRY organic “fertilizer” at 2 Tablespoons (1/8th cup) per square foot ~ 1 ounce per square foot ~ 5 pounds per 100 square feet ~ 1 ton (2,000 pounds) per acre.  Apply WET materials like spent brewer’s grains or fresh cow manure at 8 Tablespoons (1/2 cup) per square foot ~ 4 ounces per square foot ~ 25 pounds per 100 square feet ~ 5 tons per acre.  Broadcast worm food on soil surface.  Reapply as needed when food is eaten = no longer visible on soil surface.

–>     Ammonia based nitrogen fertilizers kill earthworms.  The worst form is anhydrous ammonia gas.  Liquid ammonia fertilizers are far less injurious.  Note:  Organic fertilizers can also be lethal.  Excessive amounts of manure lagoon effluent decimate worm populations.  It is good practice to irrigate before applying ammonia or any fertilizer, chemical or organic.  (Irrigation prevents plants from absorbing too much fertilizer at once.  Over-fed plants attract insect pests).

–>     RULE:  Chemical fertilizers (or manure lagoon effluents) are best applied in small amounts throughout the growing season, ideally diluted in irrigation water.  For best results do not apply fertilizers to bare soils; apply nutrients only to growing plants.  Earthworms are quite sensitive to concentrated chemicals, organic or synthetic.

–>     To stabilize ammonia in animal manures mix with 5% phosphate rock powder by weight (100 pounds of phosphate rock per ton = 2,000 pounds of manure).  Store under cover until needed.  Spread or incorporate manure on field then immediately seed with Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) or other phosphorous absorbing cover crop.  (Mixing phosphate rock with manure greatly increases phosphate availability to crops.  Organic acids in manure make phosphorous soluble).

–>     Concentrated chemical fertilizers (especially nitrogen) decrease soil organic matter and earthworm populations.  Spread supplementary organic matter on fields where chemical nutrients are applied.  Whenever practical use organic fertilizers to encourage earthworm growth.

–>     How Earthworm Populations Vary by Soil Type and Land Use

50,000 worms/acre ~ 1  worm/square foot:  Moldboard Plowed Continuous Corn; Acid Peat Soils.

80,000 worms/acre ~ 2 worms/square foot:  No-Till Continuous Corn with Herbicide.

150,000 worms/acre ~ 3 worms/square foot:  Fine Gravel Soils; Coarse Sandy Soils; Medium & Heavy Clay Soils.

170,000 worms/acre ~ 4 worms/square foot:  Bare Earth Orchards (Conventional Cultivation); Alluvial = Silt Soils; Light Clay Soils; Heavy Loam Soils.

225,000 worms/acre ~ 5 worms/square foot:  Medium Loam Soils; Fine Sandy Soils.

250,000 worms/acre ~ 6 worms/square foot:  Chisel Plowed Corn & Soybeans Rotation; Chisel Plowed Continuous Soybeans; Light Loam Soils.

500,000  worms/acre ~ 12 worms/square foot:  No-Till with Herbicides.

650,000 worms/acre ~ 15 worms/square foot:  Moldboard Plowed Continuous Soybeans.

1,000,000 worms/acre ~ 23 worms/square foot:  Biological No-Till (Rye Mulch-In-Place); Orchards with Mixed Grass & Legume Sod; Undisturbed Tall Grass Prairies & Hay Fields; Natural Alpine Meadows.

1,300,000 worms/acre ~ 30 worms/square foot:  Biological No-Till with Mixed Species Cover Crops; Fields Fallowed 5 Years (Mostly Broad Leaf Weeds).

2 million worms/acre ~ 46 worms/square foot:  Continuous Clover Living Mulch; Organic Gardens; Dairy Pastures; Manure Fertilized Fields (22 Tons per Acre Yearly).

3 million worms/acre ~ 69 worms/square foot:  Year-Round Mulch 8 Inches Thick (Vineyards & Berry Farms); Sheet Composting 12 Inches Thick (Orchards); High Humus Organic Gardens; Raised Beds Filled with Compost, Leaf Mold, or Manure.

4 million worms/acre ~ 92 worms/square foot:  Undisturbed Temperate Deciduous Forests with Deep Leaf Litter; Intensively Grazed Alpine Pastures.

5 million worms/acre ~ 115 worms/square foot:  Temperate Rain Forests in Oregon & Washington.

6 million worms/acre ~ 138 worms/square foot:  Intensive Rotational Grazing Dairy Pastures; Manure Fertilized Fields (44 Tons per Acre Yearly).

7 million worms/acre ~ 161 worms/square foot:  Greenhouse Beds 3 Feet Deep Filled with Composted Manure.

8 million worms/acre ~ 184 worms/square foot:  New Zealand Sheep Pastures (Intensive Rotational Grazing).

Note:     Numbers are approximate.  Expect considerable variation between countries, climatic zones, elevation above sea level, and land management practices.  Earthworms do not thrive in acidic soils, poorly drained soils, rocky or sandy soils, or tight heavy clays.  The most important environmental factor for earthworm survival is ORGANIC MATTER.  Earthworm numbers increase or decrease dramatically depending on the amount of available food.  Highest populations occur on soils where plants grow year-round, and on soils covered with substantial depths of leaf litter or other plant materials.  To estimate worm populations use a tape measure and straight-edged garden spade, dig a 1 cubic foot soil sample, then carefully break apart the soil and tally earthworm numbers.  Multiple samples per acre yield more accurate estimates.

–>     1 million earthworms per acre is the Holy Grail for most farmers.  This goal is unreachable with conventional farming practices.  To increase worm populations on a field-scale basis requires a long-term soil conservation strategy including crop rotations, cover crops, living mulches, and reduced tillage.  Additional measures such as improved drainage (vertical mulching or tile lines), increased aeration (subsoil ripping or keyline plowing), and erosion control (terraces, contour planting and strip cropping) may also be required.  Overriding all is the logistics of food supply = providing sufficient tonnage of organic matter to feed an army of earthworms and other soil critters.  This is rarely accomplished unless the soil is covered with growing plants 365 days each year.

–>     A watershed management plan is recommended as more water = more vegetation = higher earthworm populations.  The goal is to capture and store every drop of rain that falls upon your land.  Passive or active irrigation may be needed to maintain worm populations at desired levels.

–>     Reaching the goal of 2 or 3 million earthworms per acre is nearly impossible without some form of “mixed agriculture” = crops and farm animals.  Animals provide manure needed to feed large numbers of worms.

–>     Cow manure applied at 1 pound per square foot ~ 22 tons = 44,000 pounds per acre yearly is sufficient to maintain populations of 1 million earthworms per acre (on fields where plants are grown year-round = 365 days annually).

–>     Earthworm populations soar when pastures are managed by intensive rotational grazing or mob grazing.  High concentrations of livestock (300 to 1,500 Animal Units per acre per day) deposit vast quantities of manure.  Fresh manure is excellent worm food.  (1 Animal Unit = 1 AU = 1,000 pounds of live animal weight, regardless of species).

–>     The ancient Roman practice of cattle penning relies on earthworms to help restore “tired”, “weak”, or “sick” fields.  Erect temporary fencing around land to be healed.  Broadcast seed or spread wildflower hay over soil.  Fill enclosure with livestock until land is “well crowded” = animals have just enough room to turn around ~ 8 x 8 feet = 64 square feet per cow ~ 680 cows per acre.  Feed livestock in pen until land is “well dunged and trodden” = 1/2 to 1 pound of manure per square foot ~ 10 to 20 tons of manure per acre = move livestock to new pen every day or every other day.  Cattle stomp seed into earth.  Earthworms and dung beetles till soil.  Manure and urine fertilize ground.  Pastures or fields are “enlivened” = revived by intensive dose of organic matter which causes soil critter populations to soar.  Soil organisms jump start biological nutrient recycling system which supports land revegetation.  Earthworms provide natural soil restoration without tractors, diesel fuel, or synthetic chemicals.

–>     Greek philosophers first noted the link between earthworms and improved crop growth.  This observation led to the development of worm farming practiced by cottagers and other small landholders who did not have cows or draft animals to produce manure for fertilizer.  In spring spread cut weeds and other green plant materials over garden.  Apply mulch thickly = 8 inches deep.  This was the original green manure.  In fall, rake tree leaves and spread over garden 8 inches deep.  Keep garden covered with weeds and leaves year-round.

The night before planting, take a lantern and collect earthworms from hay fields or pastures.  Put worms in a pail with damp moss or leaf mold to keep the “wrigglers” from drying out.  Set several worms with each seed or transplant.  cover immediately with soil and just enough mulch to lightly shade the soil.  When plants are established tuck mulch close around their stems.  Water garden as needed.  Do not spade, fork, plow, till, hoe, or cultivate soil — just plant, mulch, and harvest.  Continuous mulch feeds and protects earthworms and topsoil.  You can run entire farms on nothing but fresh cut weeds and native earthworms.  Space rows widely so there are sufficient weeds to mulch crops liberally.

–>     Over a typical 5 to 6 month growing season, 1 million earthworms per acre will excrete 150 to 180 TONS of worm casts.  These are deposited throughout the soil profile from the surface to approximately 6 feet deep.

Note:  This is a vast amount of nutrients ~ 6.88 to 8.26 pounds of earthworm castings per square foot!  Where does all the fertilizer go?  There are far more available nutrients than any crop could possibly absorb.  This is a mystery.  Nutrient recycling must be extremely rapid with most of the fertilizer elements held within soil critters and organic matter.

–>     Fertilizer Analysis of Surface Earthworm Casts Collected Nightly for 31 Days in July 2011 from 16 Organic Farms in Austria:

2.56% Nitrogen : 1.31% Phosphorous : 1.56% Potassium: 3.69% Calcium = 51.2 pounds Nitrogen + 26.2 pounds Phosphorous + 31.2 pounds Potassium + 73.8 pounds Calcium per ton of earthworm casts.  Average organic matter content of earthworm casts sampled = 7.1% by dry weight.  50 casts bulked for each sample.  16 farms x 31 days = 496 samples total.

–>     Average Nutrient Concentration in Earthworm Casts:

5x Nitrogen (500% more N than found in parent soil)

7x Phosphorous (700% more P than found in parent soil)

10x Potassium (1,000% more K than found in parent soil)

1.5x Calcium (150% more Ca than found in parent soil)

3x Magnesium (300% more Mg than found in parent soil)

Earthworms are living fertilizer factories.  They ingest their weight in soil and organic matter daily then excrete manure containing concentrated plant nutrients.  These nutrients are highly available = easily absorbed and will not “burn” plant roots.  Earthworm casts are rich sources of essential plant micro-nutrients.  These trace elements are often “tied up” = unavailable in parent soils but highly soluble in earthworm casts.  Plants fertilized with earthworm casts rarely require additional nutrients.  This is why earthworm casts have been the standard natural greenhouse fertilizer since the 17th century.

Would You Like To Know More?     Contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need additional information about managing agricultural earthworm populations.

Please visit:  — or —  — or —  send your questions to:  Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania, 15108 United States of America  — or —  send an e-mail to:  Eric Koperek =

About The Author:     Mr. Koperek is a plant breeder who farms in Pennsylvania during summer and Florida during winter.  (Growing 2 generations yearly speeds development of new crop varieties).