BIOLOGICAL AGRICULTURE IN TEMPERATE CLIMATES

A Seminar at Cornell University, Monday 19 November 2018. Sponsor: Norman Uphoff, Professor Emeritus, International Programs SRI Project, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Guest Speaker: Eric Koperek = erickoperek@gmail.com. Website: http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com

My ancestors were literally dirt poor = without soil. They farmed abandoned quarry land. Over the course of 8 centuries they created 10 to 15 feet of topsoil = 1/5 to 1/4 inch yearly. This is how they did it:

BIOLOGICAL AGRICULTURE PRINCIPLES

Copy Nature: “Gardeners are the best farmers”. Observe nature closely then mimic what you see. How do you grow your garden? What do you see in the forest? Copy this in your fields. The idea is to combine biological processes with labor efficient agricultural machinery.

Keep Fields Green: Fields should be covered with growing plants 365 days yearly. Do not waste sunlight. The goal is to produce the maximum possible amount of organic matter per square foot each year. More plants = more organic matter = increased populations of soil “critters” = faster nutrient cycling = higher crop yields. “Roots in the ground all year round”.

No Soil Disturbance: Avoid plowing, disking, harrowing, and cultivation whenever practical. Transplant crops or surface sow using pelleted seed and no-till equipment. Tillage kills earthworms and destroys fungal networks = lower crop yields. “Good farmers grow fungi. The fungi grow the crops”.

Keep Soil Covered: Use living mulches, dead mulches, or growing crops to keep fields covered year-round. Control weeds with Mulch-In-Place. Never leave soil bare not even for a single day. Harvest and replant fields the same day or try relay planting: Sow the following crop several weeks before the first crop is harvested.

Worm Farming:  Use earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) to till and fertilize fields. Earthworms are the key to biological soil management. Worms eat their weight in soil and organic matter daily. One million earthworms per acre = 1 ton of worm manure daily. More worms = more nutrients = higher crop yields. “Feed the worms and the worms will tend your crops”.

Increase Biological Diversity: Grow many crops rather than one crop. Plant polycultures whenever practical. Multiple crops diminish risk of crop failure. “Life breeds life”. More crops = more biological activity = higher yields.

Watershed Management: Agriculture is all about water management. Mind the water and everything else will fall in place. The goal is zero runoff = trap every drop of rain and flake of snow that falls on the land. Store water for dry seasons. Build ponds wherever possible. Irrigate whenever practical. Water is the best investment a farmer can make. One drought pays for an irrigation system.

Biological Nitrogen Fixation: Grow your own fertilizer. Rotate nitrogen fixing cover crops with cash crops. Plant small grains and clover together. Seed maize into roller-crimped Red Clover (Trifolium pratense). Transplant vegetables into Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens). Topseed cash crops with low growing legumes. Include 50% legumes in pasture and cover crop mixes.

Increase Edge Effects: Divide big fields into smaller fields. Plant hedgerows and windbreaks. Mix fields with pastures, orchards, hay fields and forest. Grow unrelated crops in narrow strips = strip cropping. Plant borders and head rows with clover and insectary crops. The idea is to attract and maintain large populations of beneficial insects. “The good bugs eat the bad bugs”.

Plant Multi-Species Cover Crops: Mixtures of plants repel insect pests, fix more nitrogen, better resist drought, and produce more organic matter than plants grown alone. Plants in mixtures cooperate with each other sharing water and nutrients through fungal networks. Multi-species cover crops can fix more than 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre; this nitrogen is not accounted by conventional soil tests. Mixed species cover crops promote maximum earthworm populations, up to 8 million worms (8 tons) per acre = 184 worms per cubic foot of topsoil.

Long Rotations Increase Yields: 7-year rotations best control soil diseases and insect pests. Never follow similar crops in sequence (oats & wheat; carrots & potatoes; lettuce & spinach). Never follow crops in the same botanical family (tomatoes & peppers; pumpkins & squash). Never follow plants sharing common pests or diseases.

Grass Crops Make Deep Soils: Integrate perennial grass crops into field rotations. This is called Ley Farming. Perennial pastures and grazing animals promote large earthworm populations = 1 ton per acre = 1 million worms per acre = 23 worms per cubic foot of topsoil = 120 miles of earthworm burrows per acre. Worms produce vast amounts of castings = manure, more than needed for any commercial crop.

Integrate Animals and Crops: Use grazing animals to fertilize fields. Practice Rotational Grazing, Mob Grazing, Stomp Seeding, Cattle Penning, and Folding = Yarding to improve fields and increase yields. Sustainable agriculture is difficult to achieve without farm animals.

Plant Weeds and Crops Together: Reserve 5% to 10% of farm for native weeds. Plant weeds in narrow strips within and around fields. Grow orchards and vine crops in weeds. Weeds provide food, shelter, and alternate hosts for beneficial insects that protect cash crops. “Weeds are the shepherds of the garden”. More weeds = less insect pests.

Plant Flowers with Crops: Most beneficial insects have small mouth parts and so they need tiny flowers on which to feed. Healthy farms grow many small-flowered plants to encourage maximum populations of helpful insects. For best results plant flowers and weeds next to crops needing protection. Sow flowers around fields, orchards, vineyards — anywhere there is open space. More flowers = less pests.

Making Sense of It All

Biological agriculture requires patience. Converting a field from conventional chemical agriculture usually requires 12 to 15 years before the soil is healthy enough to sustain commercial yields without added fertilizer.

Active biological soils easily produce 160 bushels (8,960 pounds) of maize per acre without plowing, fertilizer, herbicides, or cultivation. Irrigated fields can exceed 200 bushels (11,200 pounds) per acre.

On biologically managed soils, most Japonica rice varieties yield 3.5 ounces of grain per plant = 9,528 pounds per acre when plants are direct seeded 12 inches equidistantly on drip irrigated fields. (Indica rice varieties yield less, about 1.5 ounces of grain per plant = 4,083 pounds per acre).

Related Publications: The Twelve Apostles; Polyculture Primer; Strip Cropping Primer; Worm Farming; Managing Weeds as Cover Crops; Intensive Rice Culture Primer; Weed Seed Meal Fertilizer; Earthworm Primer; Planting Maize with Living Mulches; Living Mulches for Weed Control; Crops Among the Weeds; Forage Maize for Soil Improvement; Forage Radish Primer; The Edge Effect; Coppicing Primer; and Rototiller Primer.

Would You Like To Know More? Please contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need more information about Biological Agriculture.

Eric Koperek. Office Address: 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania, 15108 United States of America. Cellular Telephone Number: 412-888-7684. E-Mail Address: erickoperek@gmail.com. Website Address: http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com

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).





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5 thoughts on “BIOLOGICAL AGRICULTURE IN TEMPERATE CLIMATES

  1. Mr. Koperek, this site is full of info. I have one question: how would you go about planting small-seeds (eg. carrots) into an existing white clover field?

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    1. TO: Viktor Zsiday = zsidayv@gmail.com
      FROM: Eric Koperek = erickoperek@gmail.com
      SUBJECT: Planting Carrots into Dutch White Clover Living Mulch
      DATE: PM 4:17 Tuesday 19 Tuesday 2019
      TEXT:

      (1) Use pelleted seed so thinning is unnecessary.

      (2) Mow clover before seeding carrots.

      (3) Use a no-till seeder.

      (4) Watch field closely.

      (5) When the FIRST carrot seedling emerges, IMMEDIATELY flame weed the rows.

      (6) Flame weeding kills newly sprouted weeds in the row AND kills any clover growing over the rows. This gives slow-growing carrots just enough time to become established before clover starts growing again.

      (7) This is the best way I have found to grow commercial quantities of carrots in Dutch White Clover living mulch.

      (8) There is a similar method = STRIP TILLAGE.

      (9) Mow clover before tilling.

      (10) Use strip tillage equipment to open 4 inch wide furrows.

      (11) Wait until weeds start growing in tilled strips = weeds 1/2 to 1 inch high.

      (12) Flame weed furrows then IMMEDIATELY sow pelleted carrot seed with no-till planter.

      (13) Watch field carefully.

      (14) When the FIRST carrot seedling emerges, IMMEDIATELY flame seed furrows.

      (15) Flame weeding kills weeds in furrows so carrots have time to become established.

      (16) When carrots are well established, overseed furrows with plain = naked = not pelleted Dutch White Clover seed. This is OPTIONAL = at your discretion.

      (17) There is another alternative = SOW & MOW. This works best in late fall or early winter when weeds and clover are DORMANT or growing very slowly = weather must be reliably COLD.

      (18) Press PELLETED seed into the ground = surface seeding. Do NOT open a furrow. Do NOT disturb soil or clover living mulch. Any form of cultivation encourages weed growth.

      (19) After sowing carrots, IMMEDIATELY mow clover to cover and protect DORMANT carrot seeds. (This is why it is necessary to wait until weather is reliably COLD. You do NOT want carrots to germinate until spring).

      (20) Leave carrots ALONE until ready to harvest. Irrigate as necessary but do not disturb carrots or clover living mulch.

      (21) Please write to me if you have any questions or need more information.

      ERIC KOPEREK = erickoperek@gmail.com
      http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com

      end comment

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      1. Thank you Mr. Koperek for your very informative answer and your articles on this site! One final question if you do not mind. The use of black tarps for killing weeds and/or killing mowed/rolled cover crops (eg. white clover, vetch/rye,etc.) is spreading in small-scale (max 1-2 acres) organic market gardens. Have you tried this and if so what are your thoughts on this subject? Can you quickly and reliably kill white clover this way or just annual rolled/mowed cover crops, weeds?

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      2. TO: Viktor Zsiday = zsidayv@gmail.com FROM: Eric Koperek = erickoperek@gmail.com SUBJECT: “Black Tarps for Killing Weeds” DATE: PM 3:50 Wednesday 20 February 2019 TEXT:

        (1) “Black tarps” are effective weed killers but they do not work quickly. Allow 6 weeks = 42 days (or longer) before planting.

        (2) I managed my first farm when I was 12 years old: 10 hectares = 25 acres of raised beds hundreds of meters long. We did everything by hand. No horses or tractors, just dog and donkey carts. We used organic mulch and wood boards to control weeds. (Boards were our equivalent of black plastic which had not yet been invented). You can do the same: Cut scrap sheets of plywood to fit your raised beds. This works best if you standardize bed dimensions so boards, screens, cloches, and other equipment are easy to install and remove as needful.

        (3) Plastic pond liner is much more durable than “black tarps”, black plastic, or common weed blocking fabric. Use pond liner when you need to kill particularly aggressive perennial weeds, trees, or brush. Pond liner is HEAVY so it is best cut into small sections that can be handled by 1 or 2 men. With reasonable care, pond liner will last a lifetime (literally).

        (4) I like *geotextile = engineering fabric*. This is industrial strength weed blocking fabric used to build roads and stabilize soils. Geotextile is strong enough that you can drive heavy machinery over it without tearing the fabric. Engineering fabric is lightweight and much cheaper than pond liner. With reasonable care geotextile lasts nearly as long as pond liner. At season’s end, just roll up the fabric and store in shed or barn. Do NOT buy common weed blocking fabric; this tears easily and usually lasts only 1 season.

        (5) I prefer organic mulches whenever practical. Organic mulches feed the soil. Plastic and other synthetic mulches do not. Average organic market gardens typically have 8,000 pounds of soil “critters” per acre. Well tended gardens can easily have critter populations exceeding 16,000 pounds per acre. That is the equivalent of 16 dairy cows. This underground “herd” needs to be fed. My standard is 1 pound of organic matter per square foot per year = approximately 22 tons per acre.

        (6) We grow great heaping piles of carrots in raised beds: Pull aside mulch to expose a narrow strip of soil just wide enough for your finger = 1 inch. (Less soil exposed = fewer weeds). Sow pelleted carrot seed (so thinning is unnecessary). Gently press seed into soil surface then immediately cover furrow with wood board. (Do not disturb soil surface! Any form of tillage or cultivation will encourage weed growth). Board protects seed and keeps soil damp for high germination. Watch beds carefully. When the FIRST seed germinates, IMMEDIATELY remove boards so seedlings receive full sunlight. Directly carrots are well established tuck mulch up close to plant stems. Do not disturb mulch or soil until carrots are ready to harvest. Carrots can be stored in the ground by covering raised beds with 8 to 12 inches of hay, straw, leaves, pine needles, or similar organic mulch. Hay bales work well for this purpose. Baled hay keeps soil in raised beds from freezing. Plastic or burlap bags filled with leaves or wood shavings work equally well. Mulch insulates ground so carrots can be pulled throughout winter.

        (7) Please write if you have any questions or need more information.

        ERIC KOPEREK = erickoperek@gmail.com http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com

        end comment

        On Wed, Feb 20, 2019 at 4:39 AM worldagriculturesolutions wrote:

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