A Plethora of Pineapples

I recently received a gift of more than 100 fresh pineapples from an anonymous donor.  Every square foot of horizontal surface in my office is now covered with pineapples.  Truly, I have a most welcome surplus of fruit (which I really need as I am greatly over-weight).  So now begins my “pineapple diet”.  Can Eric eat 1 pineapple a day until his prodigious mass declines to reasonable proportions?  This should be an interesting experiment.

Seriously, one of the simple pleasures of farming is being able to share my knowledge and experience with other people.  That is why I maintain this website, to help other growers solve their problems (and to cut down on the dozens of e-mails that I receive daily.  Better that folks read a canned article than I explain the same thing over and over again).

I am well and truly humbled by the generosity and support of my esteemed clients.

God bless you all.

ERIC KOPEREK, editor.

 

 

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WATER WARS

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:  http://www.agriculturesolutions.wordpress.com  — or — http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.wordpress.com  — 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 = worldagriculturesolutions@gmail.com

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).

 

 

 

 

 

NO-TILL HUNGARIAN STOCK SQUASH

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); Growing Butternut Squash in Weeds (1976-2015); Managing Weeds as Cover Crops; Weed Seed Meal Fertilizer; Trash Farming; Earthworm Primer; Planting Maize with Living Mulches; Living Mulches for Weed Control; Organic Herbicides; Pelleted Seed Primer; Crops Among the Weeds; Forage Maize for Soil Improvement; Forage Radish 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 Hungarian Stock Squash.

Please visit:  http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com  — or — send your questions to:  Eric Koperek, Editor, World Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania, 15108 United States of America  — or — send an e-mail to Eric Koperek = worldagriculturesolutions@gmail.com

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

PLANTING MAIZE WITH LIVING MULCHES

What Is It?     Living mulches are cover crops grown to control weeds without herbicides or mechanical cultivation.  Seeds or transplants are set through the living mulch using no-till equipment.  Alternatively, fields can be planted by hand.  The best living mulches are low-growing nitrogen fixing legumes like Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens).  Tall-growing legumes like Lucerne = Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) or Biennial Yellow Sweet Clover (Meliotus officinalis) also make good living mulches if managed carefully.

I’ve been working with Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) the past 40 years because the seed is less expensive than Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens).  Sweet corn, popcorn, flint corn, flour corn, pod corn, dent corn, and oil corns all grow well when planted with standard red clover or medium red clover.

How To Do It:     Any type of maize can be top seeded = over seeded with red clover at the last cultivation.  The corn plants are tall enough (about 2 feet high) so that competition with the living mulch is minimal.

Rule-Of-Thumb:     Top seed = over seed maize with tall varieties of clover when corn plants have 4 to 8 leaves = 18 to 24 inches tall.  Maize should be 12 inches high before over seeding with Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum), Sub Clover (Trifolium subterraneum), Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) or other types of low growing legumes.

Mow Low & Keep On Mowing:     Any type of maize can be seeded directly into standing red clover using a no-till planter with a fluted coulter.  Two weeks later the field should be closely mowed with a swathing board and divider to keep the clover from falling on the planted rows of corn.  Alternatively, clover can be mowed directly before seeding.  Watch regrowth carefully; a second mowing may be required 2 weeks later.  No herbicides are needed if maize is planted into standing clover; nitrogen fertilizer is not required if clover has grown on the land for 1 or more years.

Feed & Water Liberally:     Corn is sensitive to drought, especially during pollination and when ears are filling out.  For highest yields apply 1 to 2 inches of water weekly to prevent moisture competition between crop and living mulch.

Always remember that 2 crops are growing on the same field at the same time:  The mulch crop and the cash crop.  Careful management is required or both crops may fail.  Fertilize and irrigate generously to reduce competition between crops.

Sweet Corn Yields:     Planting hybrid sweet corn into standing red clover yields about 415 sacks per acre on average when sweet corn is seeded 8 inches apart within rows and 30 inches between rows = 25,979 seeds per acre.  Actual plants per acre ~ 21,000 (17% field loss rate is common).  1 sack = 52 ears = 4 baker’s dozen.  1 baker’s dozen = 13 ears.  415 sacks = 1,660 baker’s dozen = 21,580 marketable ears per acre.  Note:  Yield figures are discounted 50% for typical losses to crows, deer, groundhogs, coons, ear worms, under size or poorly pollinated ears, and other causes.

Critter Control:     Raccoons (Procyon lotor) are a big problem in my area; unprotected fields are ravaged.  It is not uncommon to have 50 coons in a field of sweet corn each night.  To control coons, I use battery powered radios set to all-talk stations.  Move the radios to a different location every day.  As a last resort, dissolve 1 level teaspoon = 5 milliliters of Blue Streak Fly Bait in 1 can of regular Coca Cola and pour contents into a shallow bowl.  Set bait dishes along field boundaries to intercept coons before they get into the corn.  Note:  Blue Streak is a powerful poison that will kill any animal that ingests it.  Make sure to tie up your farm dogs to keep them safe.

Ideally, sweet corn fields should be protected with deer fencing.  If this is not practical, enclose fields with a low barrier just high enough to contain hounds.  Each field needs at least 4 deer hounds or similar large breed for adequate security.  Small breeds or lone dogs are likely to get mobbed by browsing deer that travel in herds of 40 or more animals.

Mulch-In-Place:     Buying and spreading mulch is too expensive for field scale agriculture.  It is far less costly to grow a mulch crop on the field needing weed control.  When mature, the mulch crop is killed by roller-crimping or mowing with a sickle-bar mower.  No-till equipment is then used to set seeds or transplants directly through the dead surface mulch.  Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) or other low growing legumes can be over seeded at the same time cash crops are planted.  Small clover seeds fill any gaps in the mulch aiding weed control and increasing field biodiversity.

Most mulch-in-place crops are cereals because grass plants decompose more slowly than broad leaf species.  4 to 5 tons = 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of long straw per acre are needed to provide 90% weed control in field crops.  Sow Common Cereal Rye = Winter Rye (Secale cereale) at 3 bushels per acre.  Roller-crimp or sickle bar mow when rye reaches 6 feet high or when seeds reach the soft dough stage.  Transplant or seed cash crop immediately.  Rye mulch provides effective weed control for 6 to 8 weeks; this is sufficient time for crop to establish and start to close the leaf canopy over the field.  Once crop canopy closes any weeds in the field will be shaded and minimally competitive.

Weed Farming:     It is possible to grow maize in weeds although this requires careful management.  Select a field with dense, luxuriant weed growth at least 3 feet tall (5 or 6 feet high is better).  Broadcast Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) or other low-growing legume into standing weeds.  Kill weeds with a sickle bar mower or flatten with a roller-crimper.  Seed maize with a no-till planter when the soil is warm = at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit.  Irrigate immediately or wait for rain.  You are now in a race against time.  Watch field diligently for corn germination and weed density.

It may be necessary to mow field 2 weeks after seeding if surface mulch is not thick enough to suppress weed growth.  Mow field as close to the soil surface as practical.  If weeds regrow quickly, mow field again 2 weeks later.  Adjust mower height to prevent killing corn seedlings.

The trick here is to germinate the corn as fast as possible — which is why irrigation is so profitable.  If maize seedlings have a few days head start over the weeds they will make a good crop.

The secret to weed farming is to manage wild plants just like any other mixed species cover crop.  Fertilize and irrigate weedy fields to encourage maximum growth.  More biomass (leaves & stems) = more mulch and better weed control.

Maize Polycultures:     Planting corn, beans, and squash together in the same field is rarely practiced nowadays because interseeding is difficult to mechanize successfully.  Consequently, most traditional polycultures are seeded by hand.

Space maize widely so beans and squash get enough light to make a crop.  40 inches between rows and 12 inches between plants within each row is traditional practice = 62 rows x 208 plants per row = 12,896 plants per acre ~ 3.3 square feet per corn plant.

Use a lawn mower to clip living mulch before seeding beans and squash.  Alternatively, wait until the last cultivation (when corn plants are 2 feet tall) then over seed field with Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) directly beans and squash are planted.

Wait until soil temperatures reach at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit and corn plants have 8 leaves ~ 24 inches high before planting pole beans and squash.  Earlier plantings are rarely successful because beans and squash overrun short maize stalks.  Soak bean and squash seeds in warm water overnight to speed germination.  Plant 2 or 3 beans close to each corn stalk.  Thin later to 1 strong seedling per maize plant = 12,896 pole bean plants per acre.  Seed squash every other corn row and 6 feet between plants within row = 31 rows per acre x 34 plants per row = 1,054 squash plants per acre.  Irrigate immediately beans and squash are planted.

Strip Cropping:     Strip cropping combines the pest control advantages of polycultures with the efficiency of modern farm machinery.  The idea is to divide farms or fields into long, narrow strips 4 to 16 rows wide depending on the crop and available machinery.  Like ribbons each strip wends its way across the countryside following land contours.  Strips on either side are planted with unrelated crops.  Long fields are good for mechanical efficiency (fewer turns) while narrow fields maximize biological edge effects (fewer pests).

For example, instead of growing corn, soybeans, sunflowers and alfalfa in separate fields plant each crop in narrow strips:  4 rows of corn + 4 rows of soybeans + 4 rows of sunflowers + 4 rows of alfalfa.  (Try to make each strip about the same width).  Repeat this pattern across the field or over the entire farm.  Note how tall and short crops are alternated for better light penetration.  Legumes are paired with non-legumes.  Each crop is unrelated to its neighbors.

Growing different row crops close together mimics the biological diversity of companion planted gardens and traditional polycultures.  Translation:  Insect pests go somewhere else for lunch.

Build-A-Toy:     No-till equipment is costly.  If you are mechanically minded you can build an inexpensive no-till seeder in your own garage.  At minimum, you need 5 things:  (1)  A large (20 inches or more in diameter) coulter with a razor sharp edge to cut through standing vegetation.  You can use a fluted coulter at your discretion.  (2)  Adjustable depth 3/4 inch or wider blade to open a slot for seeding.  A fertilizer knife, cultivator shovel, or chisel tine can be used for this application.  (3)  A delivery tube to drop seed into opened soil.  Tube can be any convenient dimension (up to 3 or 4 inches diameter to plant potatoes or set transplants).  (4)  Double press wheels to ensure good seed-to-soil contact.  (5)  Removable iron weights to adjust planter mass so coulter cuts through surface trash and seeding knife penetrates the soil.  Other items can be added to the basic rig as needful.  For example, add a seat then a child can manually drop seeds, potatoes, or transplants.

Related Publications:     Managing Weeds as Cover Crops; Weed Seed Meal Fertilizer; Trash Farming; No-till Hungarian Stock Squash; Living Mulches for Weed Control; Organic Herbicides; Pelleted Seed Primer; Crops Among the Weeds; Forage Maize for Soil Improvement; Forage Radish Primer; and Rototiller Primer.

Would You Like To Know More?     Please contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need additional information about growing maize in living mulches.

Please visit:     http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com  — or —  send your questions to:  Eric Koperek, Editor, World Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania, 15108 United States of America  — or —  send an e-mail to:  Eric Koperek = worldagriculturesolutions@gmail.com

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