LIVING MULCHES FOR WEED CONTROL

Long before there were herbicides, diesel tractors, or rotary cultivators, smart farmers learned to manage their weeds.  How did they do it?  Here’s how:

Living mulches suppress weeds, reduce soil erosion, enhance soil fertility, attract beneficial insects, and help retain soil moisture.  The best living mulches are low-growing, nitrogen fixing legumes.  Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) is a good example.

Before seeding clover or any other living mulch, remember that two crops are growing on the same land at the same time — the mulch crop and a cash crop.  Success requires careful management or both crops may fail.

All living mulches compete with their companion crops.  The extent of competition and consequential yield loss vary with management and crop type.  For example, under drought conditions shallow rooted crops generally show more yield loss than deep rooted crops.  Low or slow growing crops may be overwhelmed by more aggressive companion crops.

As a general rule, living mulches are not recommended where drought is expected because yield losses are too high.  However, many crops benefit from clover mulches during dry conditions — the clover shades the soil, retards evaporation, and increases humidity around the cash crop.

Transplanting Vegetables into Clover

Dutch white clover makes good living mulch for TRANSPLANTED vegetable crops provided:  (1)  Crops are irrigated,  (2)  Crops are fertilized, and  (3)  Crops are protected for the first 4 to 6 weeks from competition by the clover.

1 to 2 inches of water are needed weekly to grow both clover and vegetables without undue competition for moisture.  If water is limiting, it is best to drip irrigate the cash crop rather than water the entire field.

Nitrogen fertilizer is not often required for small grains but is recommended for maize, fruits and vegetables.  The reason is that clover fixes about 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre but these nutrients are not immediately available — they are retained by the living mulch.  Phosphorous and potassium should be applied according to crop requirements along with lime to correct soil acidity.  Dutch white clover needs sulfur and responds well to powdered agricultural gypsum at 2 to 3 tons per acre.

Dutch white clover grows only 6 to 8 inches high so there is little competition for light except when crops are young.  Mow a narrow strip where transplants will be set, or apply a circle of mulch around transplants to give crops a head start.  Once crops are established they will overgrow the clover and produce normal harvests.

Aggressive, fast-growing crops like tomatoes, peppers, okra, melons, squash, sweet potatoes, gourds & pumpkins all do exceptionally well when transplanted into Dutch white clover.  Cucumbers are slower growing and require extra mulch to protect them from early season competition with the clover cover crop.

Stake-less = self-supporting tomato varieties (with thick upright stems) grow well in Dutch white clover.  The living mulch keeps fruits clean and allows easy harvest even in rain-soaked fields.

Once established, Dutch white clover is an aggressive mulch crop that blots out most weeds.  Walk the fields and hand pull any weeds that escape the clover.  Alternatively, thin weeds to at least 1 yard or 1 meter apart.  Thinly spaced weeds will not significantly affect quality or yields of cash crops (but will provide food and shelter for beneficial insects).  Weedy fields often require little or no insecticides to control crop pests.

Direct Seeding into Standing Clover

Dutch white clover is not well suited to direct-seeded crops, especially those with small seeds or slow germination.

Common potatoes are an exception, especially if whole tubers are planted to establish the crop.  Roto-till a narrow strip just wide enough to get the seed potatoes in the ground.  After planting, over seed tilled rows with additional clover seed to maintain soil coverage.  The potatoes grow through the clover without trouble.  Fall potatoes (planted after hard frost in November) averaged 22.8 tons per acre when grown in irrigated Dutch white clover.  Adjacent non-irrigated fields averaged 16.4 tons per acre, the yield loss due to water competition.

Costa Rican Indians grow dry beans by broadcasting seed into the weediest fields available.  The weeds are then hand cut and left as mulch to protect the germinating beans.  Yields are low, only 400 to 500 pounds per acre, but there are no costs other than labor for planting and harvesting.

The same technique works with Dutch white clover.  Spring turnips broadcast into standing clover averaged 10.8 tons per acre when the clover was intensively grazed for 3 days and the seed stomped into the soil by sheep.  Adjacent plots mowed 1-inch high averaged 14.3 tons per acre.  Control plots (no grazing or mowing) averaged only 0.90 tons per acre because of intense competition from the clover.  In comparison, winter turnips (sown after the first snow) averaged 13.1 tons per acre.

These results demonstrate the importance of timing when sowing any small-seeded crop into Dutch white clover.  Ideally, seed should be sown when the clover is dormant.  The next best choice is “sow and mow” (or sow and graze).

Direct seeding into standing clover is not recommended unless the clover is knocked back to reduce competition with the primary crop.

In non-irrigated, non-fertilized fields, flint corn transplanted on 40 inch centers into mown Dutch white clover averaged 68 bushels per acre (along with 1,300 pounds of dried beans and 9,600 pounds of pumpkins).  Adjacent fields transplanted into Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) were overwhelmed and failed to make a crop.

Careful timing is essential when planting mixed crops into living mulches or bare soil.  For example, in a maize-bean-pumpkin polyculture, the primary maize crop should be at least 18 inches high (4 to 8 leaves) before beans or pumpkins are sown, otherwise the grain will be smothered by the companion crops.

Strip cropping combines the pest control advantages of polycultures with the high efficiency of mechanized agriculture.  For example, fields seeded into mown Dutch white clover with 4-row strips of maize alternated with equal width strips of dry beans and winter squash (maize-beans-maize-squash, et cetera) out yielded individual crops grown as monocultures.  The yield advantage for maize alone averages 15% when grown in narrow 4-row strips with other companion crops.  Yield increases from strip-cropping are attributed to better light penetration into the maize canopy, and reduced pest populations in the beans and squash.

Living mulches work especially well with intensive horticulture systems like truck farms and market gardens where careful management and judicious cultivation (including mulching and mowing) prevent the companion crops from overgrowing the cash crops.  When crops are planted into living mulches, entire farms (up to 25 acres) can be run with only a small rear tined roto-tiller and common lawn mower.  Leaving strips of hay, wildflowers, and clover between cash crops and around field borders creates a sanctuary for beneficial predatory insects that help keep pest populations under control.

Seeding Small Grains into Clover

Seeding small grains into living mulches works best when:  (1)  The companion crop is dormant or its growth retarded by mowing, grazing, or rolling, and  (2)  The grain crop is selected for a competitive growth habit.  Heirloom (non-dwarf) varieties usually pair well with understory legumes like Dutch white clover.  Alternatively, clover can be broadcast into standing grain that is well established (8 to 12 inches high).  Again, careful timing is essential to prevent the cover crop from overwhelming the cash grain.

In non-irrigated, non-fertilized fields, fall seeded wheat averaged 28.1 bushels per acre when broadcast into dormant clover.  Spring seeded wheat averaged 21.6 bushels per acre when the crop was “frost seeded” (planted in frozen soil).  Late spring “sow & mow” wheat averaged 19.9 bushels per acre while wheat broadcast into standing clover barely made a crop, only 3.4 bushels per acre.  In comparison, broadcast planted spring wheat top-seeded with clover when the wheat was 8 inches high averaged 15.4 bushels per acre.  To put these yields in perspective, conventionally drilled & cultivated spring wheat (without clover) averaged 39.7 bushels per acre (without irrigation) and 78.5 bushels per acre (with irrigation).

Extra water and fertilizer reduces competition for moisture and nutrients resulting in higher yields.  In irrigated, fertilized fields, fall seeded wheat averaged 70.4 bushels per acre when broadcast into dormant clover.  Frost seeded spring wheat averaged 56.5 bushels per acre, while late spring (sow & mow) wheat averaged 61.9 bushels per acre.  Spring wheat broadcast into standing clover failed to make a crop, while clover sown into standing 12 inch high wheat averaged 74.7 bushels per acre.

Sometimes Old Ways are Best

The clover-wheat-turnips rotation common during the Renaissance is a good example of how cover crops and living mulches can be integrated with modern low-till and no-till agriculture.  Typically, the clover cover crop was “hogged down” (uprooted by foraging pigs); this eliminated the need to plow and harrow.  Wheat was then broadcast by hand and the seed trod into the ground by sheep or cattle.  Turnips were broadcast into the wheat as the heads were filling out, and clover was broadcast over the turnips a few weeks before harvest.  This rotation reliably averages 40 bushels of wheat per acre under European weather conditions without the need for irrigation, synthetic fertilizer, machinery, fossil fuels, or agrochemicals.  (Favorable rain or irrigation boosts this average to 80 bushels per acre).  Low production costs more than compensate for modest yields, a primary consideration for most farmers operating on slim profit margins.

Thoughtful Weed Management

The key point to intelligent weed control is to disturb the soil as little as possible, just enough to get a crop into the ground.

Remember that weeds have evolved specifically to rapidly colonize bare soil.  The more soil is tilled, the more weeds are stimulated to grow.  Conventional bare earth agriculture invites weed invasions.  In order for crops to coexist with weeds and living mulches, a different approach is needed.  Ideally, crops should be over seeded or transplanted with the minimum possible disruption to both soil and surface vegetation.  Often, specialized equipment is needed.  For example:  Why dig a long furrow when only a few discrete holes are needed for seeding?

Without irrigation and fertilization, competition between living mulches and cash crops can reduce yields 50% or more.  Poor judgment (such as seeding at the wrong time) can result in crop failure.

Clearly, there is significant competition from living mulches; the question is whether the savings from reduced tillage and other costs are outweighed by observed yield reductions.  These differences may not be significant depending on how the crops are marketed.  For example, the premium for “organic” produce and the profits from artisan breads are substantial.  In this case, lower yields are offset by higher margins from specialty products sold to niche markets.

Agronomy Notes

>>>  Dutch white clover and winter wheat can be seeded at the same time.  Remember to plant only after the Hessian Fly Date for your area.  This technique works well with all winter grains.

>>>  Top seeding Dutch white clover usually requires a separation of 7 to 14 days between plantings (about the time it takes for the cash crop to germinate).  Slower growing crops need more time to become established.  For example, sweet corn should be at least 6 inches tall before over seeding with Dutch white clover.  Rule-of-Thumb:  Maize should have 4 to 8 leaves (16 to 24 inches tall) before top seeding with Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) or any other type of tall growing clover.

>>>  Organic herbicide may be used instead of mowing, grazing or cultivation to control Dutch white clover prior to planting a cash crop.  For example, a narrow strip of clover can be killed with herbicide before transplanting vegetables.  Use spray shields to prevent herbicide drift.  It is important to disturb as little of the living mulch as possible — kill just enough clover to get the crop established.  Removing too much plant cover favors weed growth.

>>>  If clover seed is unavailable or too expensive, use weeds as living mulch.  This technique works best with fast growing vine crops.  For example:  Choose the weediest field available then transplant melon seedlings on 10 to 12 foot centers.  Mulch each transplant liberally with straw or any other convenient material.  Mulch is necessary to keep weeds at bay only until vines begin to run.  Once started, vines will overgrow the nurse crop.  Melons thrive in the light shade of weedy fields.  As an added benefit, vines growing among weeds rarely have insect problems.

>>>  Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) seed is usually less expensive than Dutch white clover (Trifolium repens).  Sweet corn, popcorn, flint corn, flour corn, pod corn, and dent corns all grow well when planted with red clover.  Top seed = over seed maize with red clover at the last cultivation or when plants have 4 to 8 leaves.  The corn plants are tall enough (about 1 1/2 to 2 feet high) so that competition with the living mulch is minimal.

>>>  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.

>>>  Maize 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.

>>>  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 is approximately 21,000 (17% field loss rate is common).  1 sack = 52 ears = 4 baker’s dozen = 21,580 marketable ears per acre.  Note:  Yield figures are discounted 50% for typical losses to crows, deer, groundhogs, coons, earworms, undersize or poorly pollinated ears, and other causes.

>>>  It is best to use pelleted seed when hand dropping or broadcast seeding into living mulches.  This is especially true for large-seeded crops like peas, beans, maize, melons, and squash.  Pelleted seeds greatly increase germination and stand establishment rates.

>>>  Seedling survival and stand establishment are optimal when planting is done with no-till equipment.  Expect 20% to 25% loss rates when broadcasting naked, unprotected seed into living mulches or other standing vegetation such as hay or weeds.

>>>  Biological agriculture is all about managing little details, for example, choice of companion crop:  Flour corn top seeded with sweet clover (Meliotus officinalis) was overwhelmed and failed to make a crop.  Flour corn planted with standard (tall) red clover yielded 37.4 bushels per acre.  Flour corn planted with medium red clover yielded 41.8 bushels per acre.  Flour corn planted with Dutch white clover yielded 47.6 bushels per acre.  Yield differences were entirely due to living mulch height.  Taller clovers compete more strongly with maize cash crops, especially when corn plants are young.

>>  Every farm has different soil and micro-climate.  Agronomic practices that work in one field may fail in another.  For best results, every farmer should maintain one or more research plots so that new methods can be tested and adapted to local conditions.

Related Publications

Crop Rotation Primer; Biblical Agronomy; The Twelve Apostles; Managing Weeds as Cover Crops; Weed Seed Meal Fertilizer; Trash Farming; No-Till Hungarian Stock Squash; Planting Maize with Living Mulches; Organic Herbicides; Pelleted Seed Primer; Crops Among the Weeds; Forage Maize for Soil Improvement; Forage Radish Primer; and Rototiller Primer.

 For More Information

Readers who have any questions or require additional information about living mulches should contact the Author directly:

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 = worldagriculturalsolutions@gmail.com

Most agricultural universities publish extensive literature on cover crops, nurse crops, living mulches, green manures, and crop rotation.  Contact your County agricultural extension agent or search the Internet for relevant publications.

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).

 

2012 ORGANIC CABBAGE TRIAL

This is a demonstration project:  A single field without controls or replications for statistical analysis.  The purpose of this trial is to explore possibilities before launching a full-scale research program.

Experimental Location:  Homestead, Florida, United States of America.  25.47 degrees North Latitude, 80.52 degrees West Longitude.

Climate:  Homestead has a semi-tropical monsoon climate with a hot, humid summer and a cooler, drier winter.  Average annual temperature = 74.8 degrees Fahrenheit = 23.75 degrees Centigrade.  Average annual rainfall = 58.23 inches = 147.90 centimeters.  Average January low temperature = 56 degrees Fahrenheit = 13.2 degrees Centigrade.  Average January high temperature = 77 degrees Fahrenheit = 24.8 degrees Centigrade.  Frost Free Growing Season = approximately 355 days.  Homestead gets about 5 to 10 frosts (36 degrees Fahrenheit) and freezes (32 degrees Fahrenheit) each winter.

Experimental Plot Size:  1 acre = 208 feet x 208 feet (approximately).

Soil Type:  Everglades Peat = Muck

Crop Rotation:  Sunn Hemp (Crotalaria juncea) was planted in spring 2012 to suppress weeds and control root knot nematodes.  Hemp cover crop was shredded with a forage chopper then Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum) was broadcast seeded over hemp mulched field.  Cabbage seedlings were transplanted into rotary mowed crimson clover in November 2012.

Tillage:  Field was mulched using a common silage chopper.  Crimson clover was cut with a rotary mower.  Cabbage seedlings were planted using a no-till transplanter with a fluted coulter.

Plants Per Acre:  Cabbage transplants were set 18 inches apart in rows 30 inches apart = approximately 11,000 plants per acre.  (138 plants per row x 83 rows per acre = 11,454 plants per acre exactly).  80% field survival is common so final plant density = approximately 9,000 plants per acre.

Crop Variety:  Brassica oleracea cultivated variety “Golden Acre”.  This is an early season (58 day) round cabbage with small heads averaging 3 to 4 pounds each.

Common Weed Varieties:  Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare), Coffee Senna (Senna occidentalis), Hemp Sesbania (Sesbania exaltata), Morning Glory (Ipomoea species), Lambs Quarters (Chenopodium album), and Pigweed (Amaranthus blitum).

Weed Management:  Sunn hemp cover crop and crimson clover living mulch eliminated most weeds.  Field was better than 95% weed free so no herbicides were used for this trial.

Weed Spacing:  Approximately 2,200 weeds grew above the crimson clover living mulch = approximately 1 weed per 19.8 square feet.  Clumps of weeds were hand thinned to single weeds spaced about 4 to 5 feet apart.

Irrigation:  Overhead sprinkler irrigation, 1 to 2 inches applied each week as needed.

Organic Fertilizers:  Greensand and colloidal phosphate rock were broadcast with sunn hemp seed according to soil test recommendations.  Hemp seed was covered with 20 tons = 40,000 pounds of composted stable bedding.  Fish emulsion and liquid seaweed (Kelp) were used as starter fertilizers for cabbage transplants.

Insect Control:  Cabbage plants were sprayed with a harmless biological insecticide “BT” = Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies kurstaki strain SA-12 every 7 to 10 days throughout the growing season.  BT is a naturally occurring bacterial disease that kills caterpillars = juvenile forms of moths and butterflies.

Cabbage Yield:  Approximately 9,000 marketable heads were harvested.  Average head weight = approximately 3.375 pounds = 3 pounds 6 ounces (normal range is 3 to 4 pounds).  Yield per acre = approximately 30,000 pounds = 15 tons.

Production Costs:  $5,924 per acre (mostly for amortized irrigation system and farm machinery).

Cabbage Income:  30,000 pounds cabbage (9,000 marketable heads) x $0.35 per pound organic produce premium wholesale price = $10,500 gross income.

Net Income:  $10,500 gross income – $5,924 production costs = $4,576 net income from 1 acre of organic cabbage sold wholesale.  ($4,576 net income / $10,500 gross income) x 100 = 43.58% before tax profit.  ($4,576 net income / $5,924 production cost) x 100 = 77.2451 = 77% gross return on investment.

Agronomy Notes:

>>>  Most south Florida soils are coarse sands with very low humus content (often less than 2%).  Large amounts of organic matter must be added to these soils to keep them productive.  Cash crops must be rotated with soil building cover crops in order to maintain humus levels at 3% or above.

>>>  Muck soils also require large amounts of organic matter to replace humus lost to accelerated decomposition when swamps are drained.  Drainage and cultivation expose peat soils to large amounts of oxygen.  Rapid oxidation causes soil subsidence if organic matter is not replaced.

>>>  Root knot nematodes are serious agricultural pests in south Florida.  The most economical control method is to rotate cash crops with highly nematode-resistant cover crops like Sunn Hemp (Crotalaria juncea), Velvet Bean (Mucuna deeringiana), Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), or Hairy Indigo (Indigofera hirsuta).

>>>  Sunn hemp, forage maize, and silage corn produce enormous amounts of organic matter for soil improvement (surface mulch or green manure).  Few farmers use hemp or maize as green manure or mulch crops because the plants must first be shredded in order to decompose quickly.  (If long-lasting mulch is desired, knock down cover crops with a roller-crimper then plant through dead mulch with a no-till seeder or transplanter).

>>>  Widely spaced weeds did not appear to have any negative effects on cabbage yield or quality.  Many cabbages growing near weeds were larger than those without any weed competition.  Light shade may be beneficial for cabbage growth.

>>>  Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum) is often sown along Florida highways because it has large flowers.  Crimson clover makes good living mulch because it normally grows only 6 to 12 inches high.  Ideal living mulches grow short so they do not compete with crop plants for light.

Would You Like To Know More?  Please contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need additional information about using living mulches for weed control.

Please visit:  http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.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 a plant breeder who farms in Pennsylvania during the summer and Florida during the winter.  (Growing 2 generations each year greatly speeds development of new crop varieties).

2012 TOMATO AND SWEET POTATO POLYCULTURE TRIAL

This is a demonstration project:  A single field without controls or replications for statistical analysis.  The purpose of this trial is to explore possibilities before launching a full-scale research program.

Experimental Location:  Butler County, Pennsylvania, United States of America.  40.8606 degrees North Latitude, 79.8947 degrees West Longitude.

Climate:  Butler County has a temperate climate with cold winters.  Average annual temperature = 48.75 degrees Fahrenheit = 9.3 degrees Centigrade.  Average yearly rainfall = 41.85 inches = 106.299 centimeters.  Average yearly snowfall = 37 inches = 93.98 centimeters.  Average Last Spring Frost (36 degrees Fahrenheit) = 26 May.  Average First Fall Frost (36 degrees Fahrenheit) = 23 September.  Frost Free Growing Season = 119 days (about 4 months).

Experimental Plot Size:  1 acre = 208 feet x 208 feet (approximately).

Soil Type:  Heavy Clay Loam

Crop Rotation:  Organic herbicide (vinegar & citric acid) applied spring 2011 followed by broadcast seeded buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) cover crop mowed at first flower then over-seeded with Dutch white clover (Trifolium repens).

Organic Herbicide:  10% Glacial Acetic Acid (liquid) + 5% Citric Acid (powder) + 83% Pure Water (rain water) + 2% Wetting Agent (surfactant) = 100% by weight.

Tillage:  Field rotary mowed prior to planting with a no-till transplanter.

Plants Per Acre:  Tomato transplants set 4 feet apart in rows 4 feet apart = 52 plants per row x 52 rows per acre = 2,704 tomato transplants per acre.  1 sweet potato transplant set every 2 feet between tomato plants in the row = 50 plants per row x 52 rows per acre = 2,600 sweet potato transplants per acre.

Crop Varieties:  Determinate, open pollinated, “Stake-Less” tomatoes (with thick upright stems).  “O’Henry” yellow sweet potato variety.

Predominate Weed Varieties:  Pigweed (Amaranthus blitum), Lambs Quarters (Chenopodium album), Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare), Foxtail Millet (Setaria species), and Morning Glory (Ipomoeae species).

Weed Management:  Organic herbicide, buckwheat cover crop, and Dutch white clover provided approximately 80% weed-free field for this trial.

Weed Spacing:  Clumps of broadleaf weeds were hand thinned to 1 plant every 3 feet.  Hand pruning weeds took the local scout troop (14 boys) about 4 hours.  Approximate weed density = 5,000 weeds per acre.

Irrigation:  Overhead sprinkler irrigation, 1 to 2 inches per week as needed.

Fertilizer:  Soluble nitrogen (62 pounds), phosphorous (76 pounds), potash (359 pounds), and magnesium (38 pounds) applied with irrigation water according to soil test recommendations.  Clover living mulch supplies about 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre.  2 tons of agricultural gypsum applied in spring 2011 to provide adequate sulfur for Dutch white clover.

Tomato Yield:  Approximately 51,000 pounds = 25.5 tons of marketable fruit per acre = 19 pounds per plant (pick-your-own).  High yield = 37 pounds per plant (controlled harvest).  Low yield = 7 to 8 pounds per plant (destructive harvest).

Sweet Potato Yield:  Approximately 10,000 pounds = 5 tons of marketable, first-grade roots per acre = 3.8 pounds per plant.

Planting Cost:  $4,025 per acre (mostly for amortized irrigation system and deer fencing).

Harvest Cost:  $1,810 per acre.  Sweet potato harvest took the local
Scout troop (14 boys) three days or approximately 300 hours to lift and sort roots by hand.

Marketing Cost:  $2,900 per acre (mostly for sales labor, newspaper advertisements, and post card mailings to previous customers).

Total Production Costs:  $4,025 planting cost + $1,810 harvest cost + $2,900 marketing cost = $8,735 total cost to grow and sell vegetables.

Tomato Income:  Fruits sold for canning at $0.25 per pound pick-your-own x 51,000 pounds harvested = $12,750 gross income.

Sweet Potato Income:  Roots sold for $1.50 per 5-pound bag.  10,000 pounds of number 1 roots harvested / 5 pounds per bag = 2,000 bags x $1.50 per bag = $3,000 gross income.

Net Income:  $15,750 income from vegetable sales – $8,735 cost to grow and market vegetables = $7,015 net income per acre.  $7,015 net income / $15,750 gross income = 0.4453968 x 100 = 44.5% profit.  [$7,015 net income / $8,735 cost] x 100 = 80.30% return on investment.

Agronomy Notes:

>>>  Dutch white clover living mulch normally provides 90% to 95% weed-free fields.  This season’s relatively poor 80% control rate is unexplained but provided an opportunity to examine the effect of weed spacing on crop growth and yields.  Widely spaced weeds (3 feet apart) appeared to have little or no effect on crop yields but did lower tomato hornworm populations — insecticides were not needed for the 2012 crop year.

>>>  Sweet potato yields were 50% less than normal because of low plant density; transplants were set only within tomato rows, not between tomato rows.

>>>  Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) is an ideal cover crop for non-chemical weed control.  Buckwheat grows very quickly (8 inches per week) to a maximum height of approximately 50 inches (4 feet 2 inches) in 6 weeks.  Seeds ripen at 10 to 11 weeks.  (Buckwheat must be cut at flowering to prevent reseeding).  Buckwheat’s fast growth and dense shade eliminate most weeds.

>>>  Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) make good living mulch:  They thrive in poor soil, require no insecticides, and established plants overrun most weeds.

Would You Like To Know More?  Please contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need additional information about using living mulches for weed control in vegetable crops.

Eric Koperek = worldagriculturesolutions@gmail.com

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 greatly speeds development of new crop varieties).

UPSIDE DOWN POTATOES

“That’s no way to grow tatters — they’re upside down!”

What Is It?  Conventional potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are grown under the soil surface, usually 8 to 12 inches below grade.  Upside down potatoes are planted on or above ground.

History:  Surface planting dates back to 16th century Europe when small farmers had to grow food without the aid of draft animals or manure fertilizer.  Digging by hand was hard work; growing potatoes on top of the ground was much easier.

Tillage:  Conventional farm equipment is not needed to grow upside down potatoes.  The soil is not plowed, harrowed, or cultivated.  If desired, weeds or cover crops may be mowed to facilitate planting.  For household or market gardens, only the most simple hand tools are required:  A lawn rake for collecting leaves and a hay fork or stable fork for spreading mulch.

Crop Rotation:  To avoid spreading disease, do not plant potatoes following any crop in the botanical family Solanaceae:  Tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, tobacco, petunias, or ground cherries = husk tomatoes = tomatillos (Physalis pubescens).  Avoid ground where lawns, meadow, or cereal crops have grown recently as these soils contain wireworms that will tunnel into developing potato tubers.  Do not plant potatoes on soil treated with lime or wood ash; potato scab flourishes in alkaline soils.  For best results plant potatoes following clover or other nitrogen-fixing cover crop.

Plant Spacing:  3 feet between rows (69 rows per acre) x 1 foot between plants (208 plants per row) = 14,352 plants per acre.  For equidistant spacing, 20 to 21 inches between plants is recommended for optimal yield.  If smaller potatoes are desired, increase plant density to 15 inches equidistant spacing or 2 feet between rows (104 rows per acre) x 9 inches between plants (277 plants per row) = 28,808 plants per acre.  High density plantings (8 inch equidistant spacing = 98,000 plants per acre) produce very small “baby” potatoes ideal for soup, stew, or steaming.

Seeding Rate:  23 pounds of potato sets (cut tubers) per 208 foot row = 1,600 pounds per acre.  Up to 46 pounds of whole (uncut) seed potatoes per 208 foot row = 3,174 pounds = 1.6 tons per acre.  Ideal sets or seed potatoes are egg-sized, have 2 or 3 eyes = buds, and weigh approximately 1.75 to 3.5 ounces.  Remember to cure potato sets in a warm, dry, airy place for at least 7 days so cut surfaces can heal.  Uncured sets will rot.

Greening Seed Potatoes:  Place cut potato sets or whole seed potatoes in bright, diffuse light at 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit for 6 weeks prior to planting.  Potato skins will turn green and buds will start to grow.  “Greened” potatoes grow faster and are more resistant to rot and insect pests.

Organic Fertilizer:  On soils of average fertility, potatoes grown following a clover cover crop will not require supplemental plant food.  For weak soils, apply 1 to 2 pounds of compost or composted manure per plant = 7 to 14 tons per acre.  (Deposit a forkful of compost in a small mound then place a seed potato on top of the compost).  Alternatively, broadcast 1 ounce per square foot = 2,700 pounds per acre of a general purpose organic fertilizer (2 parts weed seed meal or cottonseed meal + 1 part phosphate rock or bone meal + 2 parts greensand, granite dust, or potash rock = 5 parts by weight).

Chemical Fertilizer:  Provide synthetic fertilizers according to soil test recommendations; chemical nutrients are best dosed in small amounts throughout the growing season, ideally dissolved in irrigation water.  The average potato crop requires 9 pounds of nitrogen, 12 pounds of phosphorous, 8 pounds of potassium, and 0.50 pound of zinc per ton of expected yield.

A 40,000 pound crop = 20 tons of potatoes needs 9 x 20 = 180 pounds of nitrogen, 12 x 20 = 240 pounds of phosphorous, 8 x 20 = 160 pounds of potassium, and 0.50 x 20 = 10 pounds of zinc per acre.

For household or market gardens, apply 3 pounds of 10-10-10 (10% nitrogen + 10% phosphorous + 10% potassium by weight) or other general purpose fertilizer per 100 square feet = 1,300 pounds per acre.  For best results broadcast fertilizer in 3 split applications:  1 pound at planting, 1 pound when vines are 2 feet long, and 1 pound when potatoes flower.

Irrigation:  Potatoes need 1 to 2 inches of water weekly for best growth and highest yield.  Ample moisture is especially important when plants are flowering as this is when tubers form.  Drip irrigation is recommended to keep leaves dry.  Dry vegetation is necessary to prevent foliar diseases.

Mulching:  If soil is light and well drained, potatoes can be placed directly on the soil surface then covered with 8 to 12 inches of leaves, straw, spoiled hay, or similar mulch.  If soil is heavy or poorly drained, apply 8 inches of leaves then place sets or seed potatoes on top of the leaves = plant above the soil surface.  Cover planted potatoes with 8 to 12 inches of leaves, straw, or similar organic material.  (Apply mulch generously as it will settle to approximately half of its original volume).  On ground of average fertility, potatoes will obtain all of the nutrients that they need from the topsoil and rotting mulch.  If soil is poor, fertilizer can be broadcast directly on the mulch or soil surface.

Planting Date:  Potatoes require a long, cool growing season.  Maximum tuber formation occurs between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  Tubers will not form if soil temperatures exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit (which is why deep mulches are so important to keep earth cool).  In temperate climates potatoes are usually planted 5 to 6 weeks before the average last frost in spring.  In subtropical climates plant potatoes immediately weather turns reliably cool.  In cool climates, time planting so potatoes mature 3 to 4 weeks before average first frost in fall.  In warm climates, plant potatoes in the “cool” season so that tubers can be lifted before weather turns hot.

Fall Planting:  In areas with mild winters, potatoes can be fall planted, usually after the first hard frost = killing frost.  Fall planted potatoes remain dormant over winter then resume growth early in spring.  Fall planting has numerous advantages:  Early emergence allows potatoes to outgrow most weeds, and plants make most of their growth when water is abundant and temperatures are cool.  Fall potatoes normally out-yield crops planted in spring or early summer.

Disease Control:  Potato diseases are best avoided by long rotations (7 years is ideal).  Slightly acidic soils prevent scab from growing on potato tubers.  If necessary, adjust soil pH with agricultural sulfur:  Broadcast 1 to 2 pounds of sulfur per 100 square feet = 500 pounds per acre (for sandy soils), 1,000 pounds per acre (for loams), or 2,000 pounds per acre (for clay soils).  If earth is especially cold, wet, or heavy, dust potato sets or whole seed potatoes with powdered sulfur before planting.  To help prevent foliar diseases keep potato plants dry by watering with drip irrigation hose laid directly on the soil surface.  Control potato blight by spraying foliage with microfine wettable sulfur.

Insect Control:  Upside down potatoes rarely have insect problems unless the plants are over-fertilized or grown in vast monoculture fields.  Pests are best avoided by growing potatoes in narrow strips (not more than 4 rows wide) with unrelated crops planted on each side.  Potatoes grown in weedy fields do not often require insecticides because weeds provide food and habitat for beneficial predators.  Thin clumps of weeds to single plants spaced approximately 3 feet apart = 5,000 weeds per acre.  Widely spaced weeds do not appear to slow potato growth or decrease yield.

Potato Bugs:  Colorado Potato Beetles (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) are the most troublesome pests of potatoes because they reproduce quickly and rapidly develop resistance to chemical insecticides.  Beetles are best controlled with floating row covers of spun-bonded polyester, or use an approved organic insecticide.  Synthetic pesticides provide uncertain control unless different classes of chemicals are rotated with each spray application.  Following are specific control recommendations:

>>>  Potato beetle populations are rarely suppressed by a single control method.  For effective results, multiple control measures are required.

>>>  Potatoes have considerable tolerance to most insect pests.  1/3 of a potato plant’s foliage can be consumed by insects before yield declines.  Potato plants are most vulnerable when flowering as this is when tubers form.  For highest yields, concentrate control efforts to protect flowering crops.

>>>  For efficient control of potato bugs, monitor pest populations regularly.  1 potato beetle per plant is the approximate economic threshold for cost-effective pest management.  2 beetles per potato plant is a significant infestation that requires immediate pesticide application or other control measure.

>>>  Crop rotation is a primary defense against potato bugs.  Plant tomato family crops together as a group and rotate field as far away as possible from previous season’s location.  Eliminate nightshade (Solanum ptychanthum) and ground cherry = husk tomato = tomatillo (Physalis species) as potato beetles eat these weeds.

>>>  Potato bugs prefer plants grown with chemical fertilizers.  To reduce crop damage, use organic plant foods.  Manure is the most effective fertilizer for controlling potato bugs.

>>>  Lady Beetles (Coleomegilla maculata) are major predators of immature potato bugs and their eggs.  To attract lady beetles plant flowers around and between potatoes and other tomato family crops.  Lady beetles eat pollen and nectar when potato bugs or other prey are scarce or absent.  (If flower seed is not available, plant weeds to provide food for beneficial insects).

>>>  Azatin is an “insect growth regulator” = a synthetic juvenile hormone that prevents young potato bugs from maturing into adults and laying eggs.  Spray crops weekly to break the potato bug’s reproduction cycle.

>>>  Beauveria bassiana is a pathogenic fungus that kills potato beetles.  Spray fields after each rain or every 7 to 10 days, preferably in the morning or evening when temperatures are cool and leaves are damp.

>>>  “BT” = Bacillus thuringiensis variety tenebrionis is a natural bacterial disease that kills Colorado potato beetles.  Apply every 7 to 10 days as necessary.

>>>  Neem Seed Oil (Azadirachta indica) is a natural insect repellent that makes potato leaves taste bad.  Spray fields weekly to prevent potato bugs from feeding.

>>>  Pyrethrin is a short-lived contact insecticide that can be applied up to day of harvest.  Originally extracted from the Pyrethrum Daisy, pyrethrin is available in both natural = organic and synthetic forms.  Apply pyrethrin only as needed to control severe potato bug infestations.

Weed Control:  Upside down potatoes do not require herbicides or mechanical cultivation.  Weeds are controlled by thick layers of mulch that prevent unwanted plants from obtaining light.  If a weed pokes up above the surface, pull it by hand or smother it with a forkful of mulch.  Alternatively, just let the weeds grow; weedy fields rarely require insecticides.  Thin clumps of weeds to single plants spaced about 3 feet apart = 5,000 weeds per acre.  Widely spaced weeds will not harm tuber quality or yield.  Note:  Remove tall weeds from under floating row covers to prevent potato beetles from laying eggs on crop foliage.

Harvest:  Potatoes are best left undisturbed until they are fully mature, about 120 to 140 days after planting.  Gather main crop = storage potatoes 2 to 3 weeks after the vines yellow and die back naturally in the fall.  New potatoes may be harvested when the plants start to bloom.  Harvesting upside down potatoes is simple:  Just pull aside the mulch and pick the tubers off the ground.  No digging is required!

Potatoes are best harvested when the soil and weather are dry.  Newly lifted potatoes have tender skins that are easily damaged.  For highest quality, handle tubers gently and set them on the soil surface to cure for several hours.  Exposure to air and sunlight will dry and toughen skins.  Well cured potatoes are more resistant to bacterial and fungal infection during storage.

Yield:  Potatoes grown underground normally yield more than tubers planted on the soil surface.  However, surface grown tubers are of much higher quality:  Clean, well-formed, and damage free.  Significant losses occur when underground potatoes are harvested; one quarter of the crop may be bruised, chipped, cut, split, or punctured.  Upside down potatoes rarely have harvest damage.

On unfertilized, non-irrigated fields, potatoes grown on the soil surface yield approximately 1 pound per plant = 14,000 pounds or 7 tons per acre.  Expect about 200 pounds = 3.5 bushels of potatoes from a 208 foot row.  Note:  1 bushel of potatoes = 60 pounds.

Irrigated, fertilized potatoes grown on the soil surface yield 2 to 3 pounds per plant = 28,000 to 42,000 pounds or 14 to 21 tons per acre.  Expect approximately 400 to 600 pounds or 7 to 10 bushels per 208 foot row.

Non-irrigated, unfertilized potatoes grown above the soil surface = on 8 to 12 inches of leaves typically show a yield increase of 3 to 5 ounces per plant over potatoes grown on the soil surface.  Expect approximately 8 to 9 tons per acre or 4 to 5 1/2 bushels per 208 foot row.

Irrigated, fertilized potatoes grown above the soil surface = on 8 to 12 inches of leaves usually show a yield increase of 11 to 15 ounces per plant over potatoes grown on the soil surface.  Expect about 19 to 27 tons per acre or 9 to 13 bushels per 208 foot row.

>>>  The average potato plant sets 20 or more tubers but develops only 5 to 10 potatoes.  (The rest of the tubers are absorbed by the plant).  These values remain relatively constant regardless of whether potatoes are grown under the ground, on the soil surface, or above the soil surface.  Growing conditions must be ideal for a plant to yield more than 10 tubers.

>>>  Fall planted potatoes grown on the soil surface typically yield 9 to 14 ounces of tubers per plant (without irrigation, fertilizer, herbicides or insecticides).  Set small = 2 ounce seed tubers on the ground then cover with with 8 inches of leaves.  Let weeds grow wherever they rise above the mulch.  Expect about 2 to 3 bushels per 208 foot row — 4 to 6 tons per acre.

Storage:  On well-drained sandy soils potatoes can be stored in the field or garden.  Cover rows with a 1 foot thick layer of straw to keep soil from freezing.  Alternatively, use hay bales or bags of leaves to insulate potatoes.  Harvest potatoes only as needed; tip over bales or move bags aside, lift potatoes, then replace insulation to keep soil warm.

Potatoes keep better if they are cured before storage.  Curing toughens and thickens skins so tubers can better resist rot and bruising.  Handle tubers gently and place in a dark, well ventilated barn or garage for 2 weeks.  Ideal curing temperature is cool but not cold = 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit.  After curing, move potatoes to a deep root cellar for long-term storage.

Root Cellars:  Large amounts of potatoes are best kept in a frost-free root cellar that is dark, cold, and well ventilated.  Ideal storage conditions are 38 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 85% relative humidity with good air circulation.

A traditional root cellar built 15 feet underground maintains 50 to 55 degree Fahrenheit temperatures year round.  This is sufficient to hold tubers 3 to 9 months, depending on variety.

A small root cellar is easily made by burying a garbage can up to its lid.  Gently fill can with potatoes, close lid, then cover with hay bales or bags of leaves to prevent freezing.  (Potatoes can be cushioned with dry sawdust or wood shavings, straw, peat moss, rice hulls or similar materials.  Apply packing materials loosely around each tuber as can is filled).

How To Build A Potato Clamp:  If a root cellar is not practical, store potatoes in a clamp above ground:  Start with a 6 to 8 inch layer of brush for aeration and drainage.  Gently pile potatoes on top of the brush then cover tubers with a 1 foot thick layer of straw, leaves, or similar organic material.  Cover mulch with turf, burlap, or landscape fabric to keep wind from blowing away insulation.  Alternatively, shred mulch before application; shredded materials will not blow away. For convenience, potato clamps can also be constructed from bales of straw or hay.

Cost Per Acre:  It costs approximately $5,700 to grow an acre of upside down potatoes in Butler County, Pennsylvania (40.8606 degrees North Latitude, 79.8947 degrees West Longitude).  Figure on spending about $1,100 per acre for labor; $2,000 per acre for variable expenses; and $2,600 for machinery, deer fencing, and irrigation systems.

Would You Like To Know More?  Please contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need additional information about growing upside down potatoes.

Eric Koperek = worldagriculturesolutions@gmail.com

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 greatly speeds development of new crop varieties).

CROPS AMONG THE WEEDS

As I sit here at my drafting table, the local code enforcement officer is looking askance at my “lawn” which is not mowed at the regulation height of 6 inches or less.  Instead, I have 2 research plots in front of my office, both planted with Peruvian land race potatoes.  One plot is mulched with stable bedding, the other plot covered with weeds up to 4 feet high.  The mulched potatoes are riddled with flea beetles; there are so many holes that the leaves look like window screening.  3 feet away, potatoes growing in weeds have only a few scattered holes in their leaves.  These results are typical of crops grown au naturel = in the wild.

When I was young, “good” farmers were judged by the straightness of their furrows and the cleanliness of their fields.  Bare earth and weed-free crops were the standard of good agricultural practice at that time.  Contrarian that I am, my fields were always less than pristine.  Many decades later, my crops are still a herbicide salesman’s nightmare.  The reason is that I have long since stopped trying to eradicate weeds.  Now, I manage them.  I encourage them.  I even plant weeds because I never seem to have enough wild plants in my fields.

Am I daft?  Certainly.  I am also wealthy because I don’t have big pesticide bills to pay.  My crops may not make record yields, but I am not aiming for a blue ribbon at the County Fair.  I measure success on the bottom line.  Who wants to spend $2,000 to plant a half acre of peppers?  I gladly trade low production costs over huge input bills.  I make more money by saving money.  As an added benefit, my customers can pick vegetables without worrying about being poisoned by agricultural chemicals.  I don’t need “organic” certification.  My customers pay me not to spray.  That’s good business any way you figure it.

Down the road I have a wilderness of citrus interspersed with live oaks, Spanish moss, and pangola grass.  It’s an old orchard that is long overdue for rotation, but it still makes me money because I spend almost nothing to maintain the trees.  Every now and then I spread some racetrack manure.  The irrigation system turns itself on and off.  The weeds grow 6 feet high.  Once a year, right before harvest, I mow between the trees — just enough so folks can pick the fruit.  Result:  No bugs on my trees.  Across the hedgerow of old-fashioned hibiscus, my neighbor clean cultivates his orchard and sprays with robotic frequency.  Every spider mite in the district comes to eat his leaves.  Chemical companies use his orchard to test new pesticides.  The mites don’t seem to mind; they eat insecticide like salad dressing.

Up the road are stake-less tomatoes (with thick, upright stems) transplanted into Berseem = Egyptian clover (Trifolium alexandrinum).  I used to walk the fields pulling any weed not blotted out by the clover.  Now, I don’t bother.  I let the weeds grow wild.  Occasionally, I thin the weeds if they grow too thick.  My fields look messy but I rarely see a hornworm.

Across the lane is my pride and joy: A jungle of weeds and melons.  The weeds grow over my head and the melons grow over the weeds.  The trick is to mulch the young melons (or mow the weeds) just until the vines start to run.  After the melons are well established, the crop fends for itself.  Vine crops thrive in the light shade cast by nearby weeds; the best fruits come from the weediest parts of the field.  Insect pests don’t like the broadleaf jungle so I never have to spray vine crops grown in weeds.

Intelligent Weed Management

Tired of getting sick every time you spray a field?  Use the following rules-of-thumb to create a healthy cropping system tailored to your local soil and climate:

>>>  Weeds are a type of living mulch:  Plants grown to reduce soil erosion, enhance soil fertility, attract beneficial insects, and help retain soil moisture.  Before planting into weeds or any other living mulch, remember that two crops are growing on the same land at the same time — the mulch crop and a cash crop.  Success requires careful management or both crops may fail.

>>>  All living mulches compete with their companion crops.  The extent of competition and consequential yield loss vary with management and crop type.  For example, under drought conditions shallow rooted crops generally show more yield loss than deep rooted crops.  Low or slow growing crops many be overwhelmed by more aggressive companion crops.  As a general rule, living mulches are not recommended where drought is expected because yield losses are too high.  However, many crops benefit from living mulches during dry conditions — the companion plants shade the soil, retard evaporation, and increase humidity.

>>>  Weeds make good living mulches for transplanted vegetable crops provided:  (1)  Crops are irrigated,  (2)  Crops are fertilized, and  (3)  Crops are protected for the first 4 to 6 weeks from competition by the weeds.

>>>  1 to 2 inches of water are needed weekly to grow both weeds and vegetables without undue competition for moisture.  If water is limiting, it is best to drip irrigate the cash crop rather than water the entire field.

>>>  Weeds grow quickly so there is often intense competition for light when cash crops are young.  Mow or roll a narrow strip where transplants will be set, or apply a circle of mulch around transplants to give crops a head start.  Once crops are well established they will usually hold their own.  If necessary, prune or thin weeds to increase light penetration for cash crops.

>>>  Roller-crimpers are better than mowers for weed management.  Mowing stimulates plant regrowth; crimping does not.

>>>  Aggressive, fast-growing crops like tomatoes, peppers, okra, melons, squash, sweet potatoes, gourds and pumpkins all do exceptionally well when transplanted into weeds.  Cucumbers are slower growing and require extra mulch to protect them from early season competition with weedy nurse crops.

>>>  As a general rule, broadleaf weeds make better nurse crops than wild grasses which are more competitive and difficult to manage.  Where weedy grasses are a problem, burn the fields or treat with organic herbicide before transplanting cash crops.

>>>  It is good practice to leave strips of meadow, weeds, wildflowers, cover crops, or other living vegetation between or around fields of cash crops.  These buffer strips act as refuges for beneficial insects needed to control crop pests.  The best refuge plants have small flowers so that good bugs can easily obtain pollen and nectar.  Examples include buckwheat, turnip, rape, clover, and any member of the botanical family Apiaceae = Umbelliferae = carrot family = Anise, Dill, Angelica, Chervil, Celery, Caraway, Coriander, Cumin, Carrot, Fennel, Lovage, Parsnip, and Parsley.

>>>  As a general rule, it is unwise to harvest fields all at once.  Divide fields into strips or parcels then harvest each sequentially.  Leaving un-harvested areas allows predatory insects to migrate from disturbed spaces.  The idea is to preserve a balance between predator and prey to prevent sudden population crashes.  Translation:  You want a resident population of good bugs waiting to eat any bad bugs that fly into your fields.

>>>  If weedy fields are unavailable for planting, seed conventional cover crops.  The best living mulches are low-growing, nitrogen fixing legumes like Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens), Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum), and Red Clover (Trifolium pratense).  Remember to inoculate legume seeds with compatible nitrogen-fixing rhizobium bacteria.

>>>  Where land is weak or vegetation sparse, plant weeds to restore soil health.  Spread weedy hay over sick fields.  Seed wildflowers adapted to your local climate.  Broadcast grain elevator screenings liberally; screenings are dirt cheap (often free) and contain many weed seeds.  If necessary, seed a nurse crop of common rye (Secale cereale) or millet (Panicum miliaceum) to help establish a vigorous weed population.

>>>  Where agriculture is problematic (bare soils, unfavorable climate, no water or fertilizer) it is best to seed mixed cover crops to mimic the diversity of naturally weedy fields.  Choose 2 cool season grasses + 2 cool season broadleaf plants + 2 cool season legumes + 2 warm season grasses + 2 warm season broadleaf plants + 2 warm season legumes.  Include 2 root crops (forage radish, turnip, or stock beet) to help break up compacted soil layers.  Total:  14 different cover crop species.  Plant at least 20 pounds of mixed cover crop seed per acre = 23 kilograms per hectare.

>>>  Weeds are nature’s band-aid; they are specifically evolved to rapidly cover disturbed soils.  Tillage encourages weed germination and stimulates weed growth.  Consequently, to manage weed populations avoid tillage whenever practical.

>>>  It is best not to disturb healthy populations of weeds or cover crops once they are well established.  Broadcast, transplant, or drill cash crops into surface vegetation.  Use equipment specifically designed for no-till planting on trashy, high-residue fields.  For surface (broadcast) planting, increase seeding rates to maximum levels or use clay pelletized seed.  (Pelleted seeds greatly increase plant survival).

>>>  Weeds are most efficiently controlled by using the natural competitive abilities of crop plants.  For example, top seed forage radish (Raphaus sativus variety longipinnatus) over oats when they start to head out.  The radish understory crop grows slowly until grain harvest.  After oats are combined, radish growth explodes quickly covering the field and blotting out nearly all competing plants.  Weeds never have a chance to get established.  Top seeding into standing vegetation is a great way to grow small-seeded crops without using herbicides.

>>>  Grind weed seeds into flour and use like cotton seed meal as a cheap, slow-release organic fertilizer.  1 ton of weed seed meal supplies approximately 54 pounds of nitrogen, 18 pounds of phosphorous, and 18 pounds of potassium (2.7% nitrogen, 0.9% phosphorous, and 0.9% potassium by weight).  Note:  There is no standard analysis for weed seed meal.  NPK values vary depending on the mixture of species in local samples.

>>>  Every farm has different soil and micro-climate.  Agronomic practices that work in one field may fail in another.  For best results, every farmer should maintain one or more research plots so that new methods can be tested and adapted to local conditions.

>>>  Effective weed management requires careful observation and close attention to detail.  Every farmer must become a weed biologist.  Timing of field operations is critically important.  Planting 2 weeks earlier or later can result in stunning success or dismal failure.  Continuous experimentation  is needed to develop weed control programs for each individual crop, field, and farm.

Organic No-Till Weed Control

Conventional no-till agriculture relies on synthetic herbicides to control weeds.  Following no-till method uses an all-natural herbicide substitute made from acetic acid (vinegar) and citric acid (lemon juice).  Combination makes a non-selective vegicide that works like Roundup (glyphosate) to kill both grasses and broadleaf weeds.

Organic Herbicide Formula By Weight For Farming

10%          Glacial Acetic Acid (liquid)               100 grams

5%            Citric Acid (powder)                         50 grams

83%          Water                                                 830 grams

2%            Wetting Agent (surfactant)            20 grams

100%       TOTAL PARTS BY WEIGHT        1,000 grams

This is a non-selective herbicide = kills everything.  Wetting agent is essential for herbicide to stick to leaves.  For best results, apply herbicide on a warm, sunny day when weed leaves are dry.  Herbicide works best on annual broadleaf weeds and grasses 6 inches or less in height.  This is a burn down herbicide; only surface vegetation is killed.  Herbicide will not kill perennial weeds with deep taproots or grasses with growing points below soil surface.  Herbicide is not translocated to roots or other plant parts.  Weeds die from water loss through their leaves.  Caution:  Glacial acetic acid (industrial strength vinegar) is strongly corrosive.  Protect skin and eyes from acid.  Wear gloves and goggles when mixing and spraying herbicide.  Rinse with pure water if necessary.

Organic Herbicide Formula By Volume For Gardening

This formula uses common vinegar (5% acetic acid) and bottled lemon juice (3% to 8% citric acid) that can be purchased from neighborhood grocery stores.

1,250 milliliters          Common White Vinegar          5 Cups

250 milliliters            Bottled Lemon Juice                 1 Cup

30 milliliters              Dish Washing Detergent          2 Tablespoons

1,530 milliliters        TOTAL VOLUME                     6 1/8 Cups

Above concentration will kill annual broadleaf weeds and grasses 6 inches or less in height.  For best results apply herbicide on a warm, sunny day when weed leaves are dry.

Organic No-Till Procedure

This technique works best with small grains, turnips, and other crops that can be broadcast rather than drilled.

(1)  Select ground with good weed or crop cover.  Weeds or nurse crop will be used as mulch to protect germinating cash crop.  (2)  Broadcast seed into standing weeds or cover crop.  (3)  Kill weeds or nurse crop with organic herbicide.  (4)  Mow weeds or nurse crop when dead.  (5)  If desired, top seed established crop plants with Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), Crimson Clover (Trifolium pratense),  or other low growing legume.

Mulch-In-Place

>>>  It is impractical to mulch large fields by hand because the volumes required are too large.  The solution is to grow a mulch crop then kill it by mowing, crimping, or spraying with herbicide.  Seeds or transplants are then set through the surface mulch.

>>>  8,000 to 10,000 pounds of straw mulch per acre are needed to achieve 90% weed control.  A crop of rye grain (Secale cereale) 5 to 6 feet high normally yields 4 to 5 tons of biomass per acre.  Most mulch-in-place systems use grass crops because cereal straw decomposes slowly.  Broadleaf cover crops rot faster leaving holes in the mulch through which weeds grow.

>>>  Mowed fields are best transplanted by hand because no-till planters often get clogged by loose plant materials.  Sickle-bar mowers are better than rotary or flail mowers because they do not chop or scatter the mulch.  Good weed control requires a dense layer of long straw which blocks sunlight and acts as a physical barrier to weed emergence.

>>>  Rolling down a cover crop is faster than mowing.  Roller-crimpers are cheaper than mowers and cost less to operate.

>>>  Roller-crimped fields are ideal for no-till seeders and transplanters.  Always work “with the grain” = in the same direction as the cover crop or weeds are rolled.  Never work against or across the grain or surface mulch will clog planting machinery.

>>>  Mulch crops are best killed when in full flower or early seed set.  Earlier harvest reduces mulch yields and increases chances of regrowth.  (You do not want the cover crop competing with the cash crop).  Late harvest risks reseeding by the mulch crop.  (Seed carryover between seasons turns a good mulch crop into a bad weed problem).  For example:  The best time to kill cereal rye is when the seeds are in their milk or soft dough stage.  Harvest at this time guarantees maximum straw yield and zero regrowth.

>>>  It is good practice to top seed a low growing legume like Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) immediately after seeding or transplanting cash crops.  Clover plants fill any holes in the mulch and increase biodiversity in the field.

>>>  To make your own roller-crimper, start with a steel cylinder 12 to 24 inches diameter, like a lawn roller.  The cylinder can be any convenient length; 8 to 10 feet long is the smallest roller recommended for efficient commercial farming.  Weld dull blades of 1/4 inch steel to the roller.  Each blade should be 4 to 5 inches high.  Space blades 7 to 8 inches apart.  Angle blades across the cylinder in a wide V-shape like a chevron; this prevents roller from bouncing around and greatly improves crimping effectiveness.  Mount roller on frame attaching to a 3-point hydraulic hitch on tractor front.  When finished, roller and frame should weigh 3,000 pounds; this weight is necessary to thoroughly crimp mulch plants so they do not regrow.  If desired, roller can be designed to hold water ballast so that weight can be increased for tough-stalked mulch crops like forage maize.  Detailed plans for roller-crimpers are available from the Rodale Institute = http://www.rodaleinstitute.org

Medieval No-Till

Plowing in the Middle Ages was hard, slow work.  Heavy wood plows were ponderous, inefficient, and difficult to turn.  A man with a team of 2 oxen took 3 whole days to plow and harrow a small 1-acre field just 22 yards wide x 220 yards long.  The alternative was even worse:  Digging by hand was back-breaking labor requiring at least 30 days to till 1 acre with spade or fork.  It did not take long for farmers to figure out easier ways to grow crops.  The Dutch were the first to apply the new agricultural technology which married free-range pig ranching with a clover-wheat-turnips rotation:

In spring, fence off plot of Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) and turn in swine.  (Pigs like Dutch clover because it is sweet.  Do not put rings in hogs’ snouts or they will not be able to root).  Pigs “plow” soil like a rototiller, uprooting all vegetation.  Broadcast spring wheat onto pig-tilled earth then drive sheep back and forth across land.  Sheep stomp wheat seeds into ground.  When wheat starts heading out (or at least 2 weeks before harvest) broadcast turnip seed over standing grain.  After wheat is cut, fast-growing turnip leaves carpet field overwhelming competing plants.  About 2 weeks before turnip harvest broadcast clover seed over standing foliage.  When roots are lifted, young clover plants blanket field, blotting out most weeds.  Clover cover crop protects and fertilizes soil until following spring when rotation cycle is repeated.

On a typical farm in northern France or upstate New York, no-till clover-wheat-turnips reliably yields 40 bushels of wheat per acre (2,400 pounds per acre = 2,694 kilograms per hectare) without hybrid varieties, irrigation, tractors, diesel fuel, chemical fertilizers, synthetic herbicides, insecticides or fungicides.  (Note:  This rotation works equally well with Oats = Avena sativa, Barley = Hordeum vulgare, Rye = Secale cereale, or Millet = Panicum miliaceum).

Sow-And-Go

No-Till agronomy is not a new idea; no-till was practiced in the Middle Ages (and probably earlier).  Then, no-till was used mostly by small farmers who did not own draft animals — or — as an emergency measure practiced only when primary crops failed or when an army swept through the district (stealing all of the food and farm animals).  Medieval records indicate that no-till was a desperation technology often used by peasants to prevent starvation:

Foul weather prevailed through spring.  Fields could not be plowed so farmers sowed in the rain, scything weeds to hide the seed from birds and mice.  By Divine Grace a crop was made, only two thirds of normal harvest but sufficient to forestall general famine among the tenants.  Tithes were not collected this autumn and the Church distributed alms and acorns to the poor.  Annals of the Abbey of Saint Marien [Lake Constance, Germany] Anno Domini 1340

How To Do It:  Find the weediest field possible.  Broadleaf weeds are best and thistles best of all.  (Thistles indicate fertile soil).  Broadcast seed directly into standing weeds.  (Pelleted seed greatly increases seedling survival, especially for large-seeded crops like peas and beans).  Mow down weeds with a scythe (or use a lot of people with sickles or machetes).  Cut weeds act as mulch for germinating crop.  Pray for rain.  Come back at harvest time and hope for the best.  Yields are low but surprisingly economic (because there are no costs other than seeding and harvest).

Medieval No-Till Yields of Dry Peas:  Poor Crop:  4 to 5 bushels = 250 to 300 pounds per acre.  Average Crop:  6 to 8 bushels = 400 to 500 pounds per acre.  Good Crop:  10 to 13 bushels = 600 to 800 pounds per acre.

Medieval No-Till Yields of Spring Wheat:  Poor Crop:  4 to 6 bushels = 275 to 400 pounds per acre.  Average Crop:  7 to 10 bushels = 440 to 650 pounds per acre.  Good Crop:  11 to 17 bushels = 660 to 1,040 pounds per acre.

Sow-and-Go planting is ancient technology adapted for modern machinery.  In India it is called Zero Budget Natural Farming.  Australians use the term No-Kill Cropping.  Some call it Do Nothing Farming, Zero Petroleum Agriculture, or Minimum Effort Agronomy.  Less charitable souls use the term Subsistence Agriculture.  Regardless of label, the principle remains identical:  Sow seed (without tillage or any other investment) then forget about the crop until harvest time.  Small fields are hand planted, large areas seeded with no-till drills.  The trick is to sow when plants normally drop their seeds, usually during the dry or cold season when weeds are dead or dormant.  Native vegetation is left standing; this is necessary to prevent erosion, feed soil organisms, aid water infiltration, slow wind speed, provide shade, increase humidity, improve biodiversity, and trap snow.

Sow-and-Go agronomy is particularly suited where climate or soils are problematic, especially drought-prone, semi-arid regions like Australia and the western prairies of North America.  Old farms, hay fields, pastures, range lands, or any relatively flat area of grass or weeds is suitable for Sow-and-Go planting.  For best results, no-till planters should have razor sharp coulters to slice through surface vegetation, chisel tines or cultivator shoes to open a narrow slot for seeding, and double press wheels to ensure good seed to soil contact.  Minimal soil disturbance is essential for success.  Pelleted seeds are recommended for broadcast planting or land restoration.

In years with good rainfall, Sow-and-Go crops typically yield 60% to 70% of conventionally grown plants.  Translation:  Expect 40% yield losses compared to full-tillage or herbicide treated crops.  Higher yields are sometimes possible on particularly deep or fertile soils.  Drilled crops generally yield more than broadcast seeded crops, especially when seeds are large, weather is dry, or when planting naked seeds.

Sow-and-Go cereal culture is the wave of the future.  Farmers should set aside a few acres to test this new biological technology which can be used to grow any kind of small grain including pseudo-cereals like amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus), buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), and quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa).  If weedy fields are not available, seed mixed cover crops of annuals or perennials then plant into this artificial prairie.  Soil fertility and structure improve rapidly under continuous vegetation, especially if legumes and root crops are included in the mix.  Each year planting becomes easier and yield potential increases.  Results are often surprising and cannot be easily predicted because of complex interactions between many species in a new, “designer ecology”.  Careful observation, precise timing, and constant adjustment are needed to “tweak” the system to favor particular crops.  Real ecological management is required — the very opposite of robotic, spray-by-calendar conventional agriculture.  Sow-and-Go farmers are never bored; they are always making new discoveries in their fields.

Related Publications

Crop Rotation Primer; Biblical Agronomy; The Twelve Apostles; Managing Weeds as Cover Crops; Weed Seed Meal Fertilizer; Trash Farming; No-Till Hungarian Stock Squash; Planting Maize with Living Mulches; Organic Herbicides; Pelleted Seed Primer; Living Mulches for Weed Control; Forage Maize for Soil Improvement; Forage Radish Primer; and Rototiller Primer.

For More Information

Readers who have any questions or require additional information about growing crops in weeds should contact the Author directly:

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).

FORAGE MAIZE FOR SOIL IMPROVEMENT

What Is It?     Forage maize is a type of corn (Zea mays) grown to provide fresh fodder = green chop for grazing animals like dairy cows and beef cattle.  Forage maize is specially adapted for dense plantings and maximum yield of leaves and stalks per acre.  Fast growth, dense shade, and high tonnage make forage maize an ideal cover crop for weed control, surface mulch, and green manure.

Crop Height:     Forage maize typically grows 12 to 15 feet tall.  High growth enables forage maize to kill the most aggressive weed vines.

Growth Rate:     Under favorable conditions forage maize grows 2 to 2.5 inches per day = 1.8 to 2 tons of biomass (leaves & stalks) per acre per week.  Fast development allows forage maize to out-compete most temperate and tropical weeds.

Plants Per Acre:     Unlike silage corn that has ideal populations of 30,000 plants per acre (for milk production) or 40,000 plants per acre (for maximum biomass), forage maize is planted at much higher densities:  80,000 to 100,000 plants per acre.  Tall growth and close spacing create deep shade that kills most weeds.

Plant Spacing:     9 inch x 9 inch equidistant spacing = 77,440 plants per acre.  8 inch x 8 inch equidistant spacing = 98,010 plants per acre.  If rows are spaced 15 inches apart then plants must be spaced 4 to 5 inches apart within rows.  166 rows per acre (15 inches between rows) x 624 plants per row (4 inches between plants) = 103,584 plants per acre.  166 rows per acre (15 inches between rows) x 499 plants per row (5 inches between plants) = 82,834 plants per acre.

Seeding Rate:     Forage maize has an average seed weight of approximately 100 seeds per ounce or 89,600 seeds per bushel = 8 gallons = 56 pounds.  At 80% standard field survival, drill or broadcast 1.25 bushels = 10 gallons = 70 pounds of forage maize seed per acre to obtain a final population of 89,600 plants per acre.

Hybrid Seed:     There is no advantage to planting hybrid forage maize seed.  Open pollinated seed is significantly less expensive and equally effective for animal fodder, weed control, surface mulch, or green manure.  Note:  Brown mid rib forage maize varieties are preferred for green chop because they are more digestible.

Broadcast Seeding:     Most corn is planted with a grain drill or seeder.  Forage maize can also be broadcast with a rotary spreader.  For best results, mix live seed with feed corn that has been baked in shallow 2-inch deep pans to kill the seed.  (2 hours baking at 300 de3grees Fahrenheit is sufficient).  Dilution of live seed with non-viable filler provides extra volume for easier and more accurate distribution.  Divide seed mixture into 2 equal portions.  Seed up and down the length of the field then broadcast from side to side.  Seeding from 2 directions gives the most uniform plant spacing.  Rototill or harrow seed 2 inches deep then irrigate to firm and moisten seedbed.

Yield:     Forage maize reliably produces 18 tons = 36,000 pounds per acre of biomass at 65% moisture content in 70 days = 10 weeks (from seeding to harvest).  Yields exceeding 30 tons per acre are commonly obtained from long-season crops of 120 days or more.

Fertilizer:     Apply fertilizer according to soil test recommendations for silage corn of equivalent tonnage.  To reduce fertilizer cost plant forage maize following a nitrogen-fixing cover crop like Sunn Hemp (Crotalaria juncea) or Red Clover (Trifolium pratense).  Either organic or synthetic fertilizers are equally effective; nutrients are most efficiently applied in irrigation water.

Nutrients Required Per Ton Of Biomass:

Fertilizer Element               Pounds of Fertilizer Needed                                                                                                                           Per Ton of Forage Maize Harvested Per Acre.

Nitrogen                                  10.36

Phosphorous                         1.6

Potassium                             9.2

Sulfur                                    0.92

Zinc                                      0.02

A 30-ton expected yield of forage maize per acre requires 30 x 10.36 = 310.8 pounds of nitrogen, 30 x 1.6 = 48 pounds of phosphorous, 30 x 9.2 = 276 pounds of potassium, 30 x 0.92 = 27.6 pounds of sulfur, and 30 x 0.02 = 0.60 pound of zinc per acre.  Note:  Remember to subtract nitrogen fixed by preceding legume cover crop (if any).

Irrigation:     Forage maize needs 1 to 2 inches of water weekly for optimum growth rate and yield.  Adequate soil moisture is essential for quick germination and rapid crop development.  Forage maize seedlings must have sufficient water in order to outgrow weeds.

Weed Control:     Spray weeds or cover crop with organic herbicide (10% glacial acetic acid liquid + 5% citric acid powder + 2% wetting agent + 83% pure water = 100% by weight.  Wetting agent is necessary so herbicide sticks to leaves).  If desired, dead weeds or cover crop can be mowed to facilitate planting.  Alternatively, use a roller-crimper to kill vegetation.  Seed forage maize with a no-till planter then irrigate promptly to speed germination.  Forage maize will outgrow most weeds.  Once maize reaches 6 inches high the crop can fend for itself.

Harvest:     Forage maize can be harvested whenever convenient; it is not necessary for ears or grain to develop.  (Forage maize can even be left standing in the field over winter).  Harvest at any season is most efficient with a common forage chopper.  If desired, harvester discharge chute can be modified to deposit shredded vegetation into windrows for mulching.  Alternatively, green chop can be blown directly into a wagon, truck, or mulch spreader for transport and application in another field.  Forage maize can also be flattened with a roller-crimper or cut with a sickle-bar mower to make dense, slowly decomposing mulch ideal for vine crops.  (Set transplants immediately then top-seed with a low-growing clover).

Green Manure:     Forage maize must be shredded or it will not rot quickly.  Do not plow stalks into the soil; whole stalks will take 2 or more years to decompose.  For best results, harvest forage maize with a silage chopper.  Disperse shredded vegetation evenly, spread fields with phosphate rock or other fertilizers, then incorporate soil amendments by rototilling or disking 8 inches deep.  If a rototiller or tandem disk harrow is not available, double plow using a common moldboard plow.  (Bury green manure under the soil then plow it back up again).

No-Till Farming:     Leave forage maize (shredded, rolled or mown) and broadcast fertilizers on soil surface.  Do not plow, harrow, or cultivate as this will stimulate weed germination.  Over-seed surface mulch with grain, turnips, or other small seeded crop; seeds will work their way into the soil.  Irrigate immediately to speed germination.  When cash crop reaches 6 inches high top-seed with Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) or other low-growing legume.  Note:  Winter grains and clover can be seeded at the same time.  Alternatively, use a no-till planter to drill seeds through the mulch.  (Tip:  Always work “with the grain” = in the same direction as the mulch is rolled or mown.  Seeding cross-grain will clog seeder with mulch).

Cost per Acre:     Forage maize costs about $18 per ton to make a crop in Butler County, Pennsylvania.  At 2015 prices, a 30-ton forage maize crop costs approximately $540 per acre for seed, fertilizer, fuel, and other out-of-pocket expenses.  This works out to $0.009 = 0.9 cents per pound of harvested vegetation.

Would You Like To Know More?     Please contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need additional information about using forage maize for weed control, surface mulch, or green manure.

Eric Koperek = worldagriculturesolutions@gmail.com

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 plant varieties).

 

 

FORAGE RADISH PRIMER

What Is It?     Forage Radish is a fast growing, frost-tender annual crop with long, thick taproots that penetrate deep into the subsoil.

Common Names:     Fodder Radish, Forage Radish, Deep-Rooted Radish, Tillage Radish, Groundhog Radish, Deep-Rooted Daikon, Japanese Radish.

Latin Name:     Raphaus sativus variety longipinnatus [radish edible v. long rooted]

Do Not Confuse With:     Oilseed Radish = Raphaus sativus variety oleiferus.  Oilseed radish has short, knobby roots unsuitable for deep tillage.

Terminology Note:     Forage radish, cow horn turnip (Brassica rapa subspecies rapa), and stock beet = mangel wurzel (Beta vulgaris) are types of “tillage crops” grown to penetrate subsoils and break up hardpans = compacted soil layers.  Modern farmers and agronomists often use the synonyms bio drills = bio-drills when speaking or writing about tillage crops.

Historical Note:     Since the Middle Ages, farmers without draft animals have used daikon, cow horn turnip, and mangel wurzel as tillage crops to “plow” their fields.

Tap Root Dimensions:     10 to 24 inches long; 2 to 4 inches diameter.

Rooting Depth:     6 to 7 feet

Foliage Height:     1 to 2 feet

Growth Rate:     Forage radish germinates and grows so rapidly that it overwhelms most weeds and companion crops.  Most forage radish varieties grow 0.40 to 0.50 inches per day, depending on cultural conditions.

When To Plant:     Forage radish is best planted in middle to late August as decreasing day length stimulates plants to form large tap roots.  Spring planted forage radish has short, thin tap roots unsuitable for deep tillage.

Days To Maturity:     60 days (approximately) after seeding.

Yield:     10 tons = 20,000 pounds (dry weight) of biomass (taproots & foliage) per acre.

Planting Depth:     1/2 inch deep

Buying Seed:     There are hundreds of varieties and land races of Daikon = Japanese Radish.  Make certain to purchase only named varieties specifically selected for deep taproots.  Do NOT buy VNS = Variety Not Stated seed as generic daikon is rarely suited for deep tillage.

Seeding Rate:     8 to 15 pounds per acre for non-irrigated fields; 6 pounds per acre for irrigated fields.  Add 2 extra pounds per acre for broadcast seeding.  Use 5 pounds per acre for mixtures.

Fertilizer:     300 pounds of 20-20-20 (20% nitrogen + 20% phosphorous + 20% potassium) per acre = 0.11 scale ounce per square foot.  Alternatively, spread 3 to 6 tons = 6,000 to 12,000 pounds of cow manure per acre = 2.2 to 4.4 scale ounces per square foot.

How To Use Forage Radish:     Forage radish winter-kills then rots quickly leaving clean fields of soft soil with many thousands of deep holes that trap water and sediment.  Fields planted with forage radish have minimal water runoff or soil erosion.

Forage radish creates mellow, well aerated soil that is easy to plant.  Crops following forage radish establish quickly and grow strongly.

Forage radish has an extensive root system that adds substantial amounts of organic matter to the subsoil.  Decomposing radish tissue feeds millions of earthworms that help aerate and fertilize lower soil layers.

Forage radish has a deep root system which absorbs and holds nutrients that would otherwise leach away.  Forage radish is an ideal cover crop for recycling excess nitrogen and other fertilizer elements that may contaminate surface and ground waters.

Living Mulch:     Forage radish blots out most weeds but is sensitive to field traffic.  Consequently, hand transplanting is recommended.  Tall, fast-growing cash crops like tomato, pepper, and okra are best suited for growth among spring planted forage radish.  Alternatively, transplant cash crops first then immediately top seed with forage radish or a mixture of forage radish and Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens).

Field Trials:     In a 4-year study on 4 farms in each of 4 counties, non-irrigated upland rice yields increased 14.9% on average following cover crops of forage radish.  Yield increases were attributed to additional soil moisture (more rain soaks into soil planted with forage radish).

Farming Without Horses Or Tractors:     Fence field and turn in hogs to dig up soil.  (Do not put rings in hogs’ noses or they will not be able to root).  Broadcast forage radish in middle to late August.  Run sheep or other livestock over field to stomp seed into the ground.  When hard frost kills radish plants, broadcast any kind of winter grain and low growing clover — or — wait until spring then frost seed spring grain and clover as early as practical.

Be A Good Neighbor:     Decomposing forage radish has a sulfur-like smell similar to rotting onions or natural gas.  The odor dissipates quickly but the brimstone smell can annoy homeowners if fields are planted too close to property lines.

Would You Like To Know More?     Please contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need additional information about growing forage radish for soil improvement.

Eric Koperek = erickoperek@gmail.com

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

Reinventing the Wheel

There is very little that is “new” in agriculture.  Most agricultural problems were encountered and solved centuries ago.  These proven technologies have been largely forgotten or dismissed as “subsistence agriculture” or various other pejorative tags such as the dreaded “organic farming”.  Modern agronomists are constantly “going back to the future” = rediscovering the knowledge of our Great-Great-Great-Great grandfathers.  For example, “no-till agriculture” was widely practiced in the Middle Ages.  Back then, no-till was done by hand.  Today, farmers use high-tech machinery to do the same work.

It takes a whole lot of theories to fill a bushel.

This website is not about positions or labels; our blogs are about real-world results.  We don’t rant about chemical vs. biological agriculture.  We don’t take sides as in “Monsanto versus The World”.  If you want political advice, you have come to the wrong shop.  However, if you have a “sick field” or other down-to-earth problem, we can help.  Send your questions to the Editor at:

worldagriculturesolutions@gmail.com  — or —  erickoperek@gmail.com

or browse these free how-to articles and research papers:

CROP ROTATION PRIMER; THE TWELVE APOSTLES; BIOLOGICAL AGRICULTURE IN TEMPERATE CLIMATES; STRIP CROPPING PRIMER; MAIZE POLYCULTURE TRIAL 2007-2016; WORM FARMING; “CAN SUNNHEMP OUTGROW MORNING GLORY?”; MANAGING WEEDS AS COVER CROPS; INTENSIVE RICE CULTURE PRIMER; HOT VERSUS COLD COMPOSTING; WEED SEED MEAL FERTILIZER; ORGANIC HERBICIDES; TRASH FARMING; WATER WARS; NO-TILL HUNGARIAN STOCK SQUASH; EARTHWORM PRIMER; PLANTING MAIZE WITH LIVING MULCHES; PELLETED SEED PRIMER; LIVING MULCHES FOR WEED CONTROL; 2012 ORGANIC CABBAGE TRIAL; 2012 TOMATO & SWEET POTATO POLYCULTURE TRIAL; UPSIDE DOWN POTATOES; CROPS AMONG THE WEEDS; FORAGE MAIZE FOR SOIL IMPROVEMENT; FORAGE RADISH PRIMER; THE EDGE EFFECT; COPPICING PRIMER; and ROTOTILLER PRIMER.

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