BIBLICAL AGRONOMY

“Plant a garden and you work hand in hand with God”.

What Is It?     “Biblical Agronomy” is a philosophy of agriculture, a system of farming based on the Christian bible and practices of the early Catholic Church.  Over time these precepts have evolved into a new way of thinking, a unique form of Biological Agriculture.

How To Do It:     Following are Bible passages with agricultural commentaries to help farmers apply biblical principles in a modern world:

“Thou shalt not kill”.  Exodus 20 : 1 – 17.   Editor’s Note:  This injunction from the “Ten Commandments” is the first principle of Biblical Agronomy and the hardest concept for most farmers to practice.  Modern industrial agriculture is largely negative.  It proceeds from the assumption that nature must be subdued.  Soils must be plowed.  Weeds must be eradicated.  Insects must be exterminated.  Farmers spend much of their time spraying deadly chemicals:  Herbicides, insecticides, fungicides — a laundry list of toxins.  Conventional agriculture is all about killing things.  Biblical agronomy takes the opposite approach:  Agriculture is about life, not death.  Farmers concentrate on genesis = creating life.  Biology replaces chemicals.  Earthworms replace plows.  Plants replace petroleum.  “Let nature do the heavy lifting”.  The principle distinction between Biblical Agronomy and conventional agriculture is that when problems arise farmers ask:  “How do I solve this without killing anything?”

“Speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee”.  Job 12 : 8.  Editor’s Note:  Successful farmers copy nature in their fields.  Two thousand years ago Roman farmers practiced “Cultura Promiscua” = companion planting:  Olives, pomegranates, figs, grapes, cereals, legumes, and vegetables were grown together on small, 5-acre farms worked by hand.  Today, we call this “agroforestry”.  Back then, it was practical husbandry.  Planting mixtures of crops without plowing was the easiest way to maintain soil fertility and prevent erosion.  Native fields and forests have no bare ground.  The earth is constantly covered with mixtures of plants.  Observe nature closely then copy what you see.

“If you enter your neighbor’s grain field, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to  his standing grain”.  Deuteronomy 23 : 25.  Editor’s Note:  The poor have the right to eat from your fields but not the right to harvest for profit.  Over the centuries this rule has evolved into the practice of leaving some part of a field unharvested so beneficial insects and wildlife have something to eat.  Modern custom is to reserve 5% to 10% of crops for “Nature’s Pantry”.  The alternative is buying costly insecticides.

“If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket”.  Deuteronomy 23 : 24.  Editor’s Note:  Eat your fill but do not carry any away.  Hospitality to all in need was official Church doctrine during the Middle Ages.  The right of the hungry to eat from the fields was part of the social safety net for the poor.  This practice was later codified in various “laws of hospitality”.  Modern farmers plant hedgerows and “insectary crops” to feed beneficial wildlife.  Biologically managed vineyards are sown with legumes and wildflowers.  Flowers replace insecticides.

“Do not plant two kinds of seed in your vineyard; if you do, not only the crops you plant but also the fruit of the vineyard will be defiled”.  Deuteronomy 22 : 9.  Editor’s Note:  Modern agronomists interpret this rule as a general injunction against mixing varieties of the same open pollinated species.  Isolation distances must be preserved to prevent cross-pollination so varieties remain pure.  (This rule does not apply to self-pollinated species because out-crossing rarely occurs).

“Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him.”  Genesis 26 : 12.  Editor’s Note:  Historical seed to harvest ratios of 1 : 100 are not inconceivable.  Roman farmers routinely harvested 40 bushels of wheat per acre.  80-bushel yields were common when irrigated grain followed nitrogen-fixing cover crops of lentils, lupines, clover, or vetch.  Modern wheat varieties regularly produce 100-bushel yields.  The keys to bumper grain crops are no tillage, live soils, wide spacing of individual plants, living mulches to control weeds, companion plants to increase biodiversity, and irrigation to prevent water competition between grain and cover crops.  Farmers in the Middle Ages planted the “Holy Trinity” = 1 grain + 1 legume + 1 root crop.  For example:  Wheat, clover, and turnips.  Seeded at 50 pounds of wheat per acre, this polycrop easily yields 3,000 pounds (50 bushels) per acre = 1 : 60 seed to harvest ratio.

“But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it.  This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”  Matthew 13 : 33.  Editor’s Note:  Plant most any heritage variety of winter wheat in your garden, for example, Red Fife.  Space plants 1 foot apart equidistantly.  Mulch the ground and water as needed.  Each plant will yield 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 ounces of grain on average = approximately 1,305 to 2,175 seeds per plant = 68 to 113 bushels per acre.  You do not need “improved” or “hybrid” varieties to obtain high yields.  Good growing conditions are the most important factors.

“When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it.  Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands”.  Deuteronomy 24 : 19.  Editor’s Note:  Modern farmers plant wildlife food plots or leave border rows unharvested.  Biological agriculture practice requires that farms be managed as ecosystems rather than individual fields.  The idea is to encourage large populations of many beneficial species.  More biodiversity = healthy ecology = better plant growth = higher yields.

“Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen.  Leave them for the poor and the foreigner”.  Leviticus 19 : 10.  Editor’s Note:  Today, “good farming practice” means leaving as much plant residue as possible to prevent erosion and feed soil critters.  Grain fields are harvested with “header reels” to leave standing straw to slow wind and trap snow.  Farmers plant mixed species cover crops to feed earthworms over winter.  Fallen fruits are grazed, composted, or burned to break insect and disease cycles.  Vineyards and orchards are sown with weeds, legumes, wildflowers, and insectary crops to support large populations of beneficial insects.  More flowers = fewer pests.

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest”.  Leviticus 19 : 9.  Editor’s Note:  The right of the poor to glean fields is common to many cultures.  Modern farmers leave border rows unharvested.  Head rows are planted with “bee pasture”.  Strips of weeds, wildflowers, and insectary crops are sown within fields to feed beneficial insects.  Wildlife food plots and “insect refuges” are seeded in odd corners of land.  The idea is to encourage maximum populations of useful species.

Social Commentary:  In this modern world farmers comprise less than 2% of the United States population.  Most farms are located far from cities.  Fields are harvested by machines.  Thus, there are few rural poor and hardly any crops to glean.  This is in stark contrast to biblical times when 98% of the people were farmers, many of them hungry.  Today, feeding the urban poor is not easy.  Rural labor shortages mean there are few hands to pick fruits and vegetables.  Surplus crops often rot in the fields while Food Banks go empty.  The Bible is easy to read but difficult to practice.

“You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together”.  Leviticus 19 : 19.  Editor’s Note:  Ancient Jews had a passion for keeping everything separate.  This extended to cooking (do not mix meat and milk) and marriage (do not marry “gentiles” = non-Jews).  Modern agronomy has turned the old rules upside down.  Farmers now plant hybrid seeds and graze hybrid cattle on multiple species forage crops.  Science and practical experience have taught us that mixtures grow better than individual species grown separately.  Polycrops are the new “best practice”.  Grains and legumes are sown together.  Fields are planted with strips of unrelated crops.  The goal is maximum biodiversity.  Biology, not chemistry, keeps soils fertile and pests under control.

“But during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard”.  Leviticus 25 : 4.  Editor’s Note:  Long rotations break insect and disease cycles.  For example:  Farmers in Argentina rotate 7 years of field crops with 7 years of pasture.  (Alternating pasture and row crops is called “ley farming”).  7-year rotations are ideal for restoring soil structure and fertility.  Rule-of-Thumb:  Never plant the same crop on a field more than once every 7 years.  Reserving 1/7th = 14% of cropland for annual fallow is a great way to support large populations of wildlife and beneficial insects.

“A king who cultivates the field is an advantage to the land”.  Ecclesiastes 5 : 9.  Political Commentary:  Humility precedes learning.  There is much advantage in keeping leaders humble.  From a practical standpoint, a king busy growing his crops has little time for mischief.  Most people care not who runs the government as long as it leaves them alone.  “God bless us with a king who rules and does nothing”.  (Farmers around the world have inherent distrust of government.  This reticence comes from long experience:  When officials arrive, bad things happen).  Farmers who practice Biblical Agronomy tend to be independent spirits.  Many live off-grid.  The majority are socially conservative.  Most have root cellars or can their own vegetables.  Large numbers store a 2-year food supply.  “Biblical” farmers are much like the Amish:  They are part of our modern culture yet live apart from it.

“But on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat.  You are to do the same with your vineyard and olive grove”.  Exodus 23 : 11.  Editor’s Note:  Planting monocrops year after year depletes soil fertility and promotes outbreaks of pests and diseases.  Farmers practicing Biblical Agronomy avoid these problems by keeping 7-year rotations and planting polycrops.  For example:  “The Twelve Apostles” is a multi-species forage mix including 4 grains + 4 legumes + 4 root or forb crops.  Mixed species produce more nutritious forage and higher yields.  “Tithing” 1/7th = 14% of cropland for annual fallow (weeds or mixed species cover crops) promotes large numbers of beneficial insects.  The good bugs eat the bad bugs.

“I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land”.  Ezekiel 34 : 15.  Editor’s Note:  “Mixed Farming” = growing plants and animals has been the foundation of agriculture since historic times.  The reason is simple:  Plants and animals have evolved to grow well together.  While it is possible to raise plants and animals separately, monocultures are much more susceptible to insects, diseases, and environmental stress.  Biological balance is a key principle of Biblical Agronomy.  Pastures grow better when grazed.  Crops yield more when dunged.  Animals stimulate plants to grow better.  Healthy plants keep animals in good condition.

“What the cows eschew the goats relish.  That which the goats ignore the sheep enjoy.  Upon what the sheep leave the birds feast.  Whatever the fowl demurs the worms delight.  In this way the land feeds all”.

“Thirty milking camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys”.  Genesis 32 : 15.  Editor’s Note:  Smart farmers use rotation and polycrops to control pests and diseases.  The same principles apply to raising animals.  Herds should be rotated to improve pastures.  Mixed species control weeds and parasites.  For example:  Range chickens 3 or 4 days behind cattle.  Chickens eat fly maggots and keep pastures sanitary.  Every mouth eats something different and so the whole farm produces more food.

“The best medicine is the watchful eye of the herdsman”.

“Know well the state of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds”.  Proverbs 27 : 23.  Editor’s Note:  Anciently, herds grazed randomly and were moved irregularly.  Plants were overgrazed and pastures declined.   Modern farmers practice “Intensive Rotational Grazing”:  Animals are crowded into small paddocks then moved to fresh pasture every 12 to 24 hours.  Each meadow is rotated on a 30-day or longer calendar so plants have time to regrow.  Pasture rotation produces more forage and breaks parasite reproduction cycles.

“The sea coast will be pastures, with cottages for shepherds and folds for flocks”.  Zephaniah 2 : 6.  Editor’s Note:  Piling, carting and spreading manure is hard work.  “Sheep Folding” is easier:  Flocks are crowded into small fields at dusk where they urinate and defecate all night long.  At dawn, animals are turned into fresh pasture.   Fertilized ground can then be plowed and sown.  Alternatively, broadcast seed into standing vegetation then fold animals overnight.  Hooves trod seed into ground.  Trampled plants cover and protect germinating crops.  This is called “Stomp Seeding”.  Roman farmers averaged 40 to 50 bushels of wheat per acre using these methods.  Biblical Agronomy is all about balance.  Plants and animals grow well together.

“I shall become enlightened for the sake of all living things”.

Ten Agricultural Commandments:  Following is a list of biological principles for Biblical Agronomy.  Use these guidelines to make farm management decisions.

I.  Do Not Kill.  Find another way.  Use the least intrusive methods.  “Walk lightly upon the land”.

“Farmers are keepers of the earth”.

II.  Keep the Agricultural Sabbath.  Follow 7-year rotations.  Long rotations control most insects and diseases without need for human intervention.  Crop rotations improve soil tilth and fertility.

“At Nature’s table all are welcome”.

III.  Tithe for Nature.  Provide hospitality to all in need. Leave border rows unharvested.  Plant wildlife food plots.  Reserve 5% to 10% of farmland for hedgerows, windbreaks, and wood lots.  Wildlife are an essential part of the agricultural ecosystem.

“God loves all his creatures, even bugs”.

IV.  Feed the Insects.  Reserve 5% to 10% of cropland for native weeds, insect refuges, bee pasture, and insectary crops.  Conventional monocrop farms are “green deserts” without nectar or pollen for beneficial insects.  Feed the good bugs and they will protect your crops.

V.  Sow Polycultures Whenever Practical.  Plant the “Holy Trinity” and “The Twelve Apostles”.  Mixed species are the key to soil fertility and high yields.

VI.  Do Not Plow.  Practice zero-tillage whenever possible.  Symbiotic fungi are essential to plant health and nutrition.  Beneficial fungal networks must be protected at all times or soil ecology will collapse.

VII.  Keep Soil Covered at All Times.  Soil is a living organism that requires air, water, food, and shelter.  Keep it warm during winter and cool over summer.  Do not let topsoil dry out.  Prevent crusting and compaction so soil can breathe and rain can enter.  Protect fields with mulch or live plants 365 days yearly.  “Keep fields green”.

“Good farmers grow fungi.  The fungi grow the crops”.

VIII.  Feed the Fungi.  Plants feed sugar to fungi.  Fungi provide water and minerals to plants.  Trading requires live roots or fungi die or go dormant.  Plant productivity is directly related to the number and extent of fungal networks.  More fungi = higher yields.  Good farmers keep their fields covered with growing plants year-round.

“Roots in the ground all year round”.

IX.  Encourage Maximum Biodiversity.  Genesis is the heart of Biblical Agronomy.  Agriculture is all about creating life.  Ecosystem productivity and stability are directly related to number of species.  More species = healthy ecology = higher yields.  Good farmers plant many varieties to provide food and shelter for all God’s creatures.

X.  Grow Crops and Animals Together.  Plants and animals are like two sides of an arch:  Remove one and the other falls.  Mixed farms have more biological stability and greater resilience to environmental stress and economic change.  Wide diversity protects farmers from crop failures and uncertain markets.

“The Lord gave the word and great was the company of the creatures”.

The Eleventh Commandment:     “Thou shalt inherit the holy earth as a faithful steward conserving its resources and productivity from generation to generation.  Thou shalt safeguard thy fields from soil erosion, thy living waters from drying up, thy forests from desolation, and protect thy hills from overgrazing by the herds, that thy descendants may have abundance forever.  If any shall fail in this stewardship of the land, thy fruitful fields shall become sterile stony ground or wasting gullies, and thy descendants shall decrease and live in poverty or perish from off the face of the earth”.  [Walter Clay Lowdermilk, soil conservationist, radio broadcast from Jerusalem, June 1939].

Wrapping It Up:     Biblical Agronomy is not so much a rigid set of rules but rather a way of thinking about biology.  Adapt basic principles to fit local conditions.  The key is to be practical rather than zealous.  God will not smite you if you spray the locusts.

Agronomy Notes:

Bee Pasture = Plants selected for long flowering seasons and large amounts of nectar and pollen.  Wild bees and other native insects provide most of the pollination for agricultural crops.  Good farmers sow 5% to 10% of farmland with bee forage.  (If you cannot afford seed plant native weeds).

Border Rows = Crops growing along field edges.  Farmers often leave 2 to 4 rows unharvested to feed wild animals.  Border row dimensions are determined by the width of planting and harvesting machinery.

Head Rows = Empty space at field ends used for turning tractors and farm equipment.  On conventional farms head rows are covered with sod or left bare.  On biologically managed fields head rows are planted with clover, wildflowers, native weeds, or other “bee forage”.  The idea is to provide food and shelter to encourage large numbers of beneficial insects.

Hedgerows = Narrow lines of small trees or shrubs planted to contain animals, slow wind, trap snow, moderate micro-climate, and provide food and shelter for beneficial wildlife.  Ideal hedgerows are composed entirely of economic species that can be harvested for nuts, berries, fruits or other cash crops.  Plant 40 or more species per linear mile for high biodiversity.  Hedgerows support large populations of insect eating birds.

Insectary Crops = Plants with many small flowers ideal for feeding beneficial insects.  For example:  Anise, buckwheat, caraway, clover, coriander, dill, and fennel.  These can be combine harvested and the seed sold for profit.

Insect Refuges = Standing crops left unharvested so insects have undisturbed habitat for feeding and breeding.  For example:  If you mow a hay field all at once the insects have nowhere to go and nothing to eat.  The solution is to leave a strip of meadow unharvested so insect populations are preserved.  (If land is scarce sow native weeds in odd corners or other spaces unsuitable for farm machinery).

“Rotational Grazing Rule-Of-Thumb:  Eat 1/3, Stomp 1/3, Leave 1/3”.

Intensive Rotational Grazing = Crowding animals into small paddocks then moving herd to fresh pasture every 12 to 24 hours.  Pastures are rotated on 30-day or longer cycles so plants have time to regrow.  Rotational grazing produces large amounts of highly nutritious forage.  400% yield increases are possible with mixed species forage crops. Long rotations break insect, disease and parasite reproduction cycles.  (Mob grazing is a similar practice).

Ley Farming = Rotating pasture and field crops to control weeds and fertilize soil.  Combining animals in farm rotations boosts crop yields.  Manure stimulates plant growth more than equal weights of fresh or composted grass.  (Strange things happen in a cow’s stomach.  Grass goes in and super-charged fertilizer comes out.  How this happens is scientific mystery).

Living Mulches = Short plants sown to cover the soil and prevent weed growth.  Cash crops are seeded or transplanted into the living mulch using no-till equipment.  For example:  Peppers can be transplanted into an established sward of Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens).  The clover smothers weeds and feeds nitrogen to the cash crop.

Mixed Farming = Growing a wide variety of plants and animals on the same farm.  Including pasture and hay in crop rotations.  Grazing herds on harvested fields.  Using animals to control weeds.  Spreading manure to fertilize cash crops.  Mixed farms are more biologically stable and much less susceptible to economic and environmental changes.

Mob Grazing =  Concentrating very large herds on small pastures is called “Mob Grazing”.  Density is about 800 to 1,000 cows per acre and animals are shifted every 1 or 2 hours.  Meadows are rotated on long 6 to 12 month cycles so plants regrow.  High density and long rotations mimic natural migration of buffalo and other vast herds on prairie ecosystems.  (Intensive Rotational Grazing is a closely related practice).

Mulch-In-Place = Sow a fast-growing cover crop that produces large amounts of biomass (stems and leaves).  Kill the mature cover crop with a roller-crimper or sickle-bar mower.  Seed or transplant through the mulch using no-till equipment.  Mulch-In-Place provides 90% to 95% weed control, as good or better than glyphosate (Roundup) or other conventional herbicides.

Multiple Species Cover Crops = Mixtures of plants grown to control weeds, feed livestock, and fertilize fields.  For best results sow many species to enhance biological synergy.  Mixed plants feed soil bacteria and support vast networks of beneficial fungi.  The fungi provide water and nutrients to the plants.  Basic cover crop mixes include:  2 cool season grasses + 2 cool season legumes + 2 cool season broad leaf plants + 2 warm season grasses + 2 warm season legumes + 2 warm season broad leaf plants + 2 or more root crops = 14 or more species.  Use no-till equipment to drill 20 pounds of seed per acre in 2-inch deep furrows spaced 7.5 inches apart.

Polyculture = Growing 2 or more species together.  Polycrops greatly reduce insect pests and produce large amounts of sugar to feed soil bacteria and fungi.  Most soil humus is made by bacteria that eat sugar exuded by plant roots.  Agricultural productivity is directly related to the number of polyculture species.  More species = more leaves and stems = more photosynthesis = more sugar exuded by roots = larger populations of soil microbes = faster nutrient cycling = higher yields.  Some farmers plant cover crops with 60 species!  “There is strength in numbers”.

Strip Cropping = Polyculture system adapted to farm machinery.  Divide farms or fields into narrow strips following land contours.  Plant adjacent strips with unrelated crops to maximize edge effects and increase biodiversity.  Adjust strip widths to match planting and harvesting equipment.  For best results strips should not be wider than 200 feet on flat land or 50 feet on hillsides.  Planting a variety of crops spreads economic and biological risk.  Strip cropping supports large populations of beneficial insects that keep pests under control.

Weed Farming = Manage weeds just like any other cover crop.  (A)  Fertilize and irrigate weeds to promote maximum growth, then flatten with a roller-crimper or sickle-bar mower.  Immediately seed or transplant through the weed mulch using no-till equipment.  (B)  Overseed native weeds with clover or other legumes to make a cheap multi-species cover crop.  (C)  Harvest weeds like silage using a forage chopper.  Use chopped weeds to mulch cash crops.  (D)  For biological pest control, plant weeds next to crops needing protection.  Alternatively, mow strips through tall weeds then plant cash crops down the rows.  Crops grown in weeds rarely have pest problems.  (E)  Native weeds support enormous populations of beneficial insects.  Good farmers reserve 5% to 10% of cropland for weeds.  For best results grow weeds in narrow strips within fields and around field borders.  (F)  Sow weeds to heal bare or worn-out soils.  Wildflower hay can be baled and spread for this purpose or haul weed seeds from the nearest grain elevator.  (G)  Grind weed seeds in a roller mill to make free fertilizer.  Use weed seed meal just like cotton seed meal or other organic plant food.  (H)  When insects threaten to overwhelm, soak chopped weeds in water, strain, then spray “weed tea” on plants.  Weed juice chases away most bugs.

Wildlife Food Plots = Small fields planted with grains, legumes, forbs, and root crops to feed deer, pheasants, turkeys, rabbits, and other game animals.  Wildlife plots are typically seeded on poor, wet or rocky land unsuitable for hay or cash crops.

Windbreaks = Rows of trees, shrubs, perennial Pampas grass, or other vegetation planted to slow wind, stop erosion, trap snow, and moderate micro-climate.  For best results plant windbreaks no closer than 50 feet nor farther than 150 feet apart.  Effective wind protection extends downwind 10 times average tree height.  Plant 40 species per linear mile for high biodiversity.  Windbreaks increase average yields 15% by reducing water loss from crop leaves.  (Common synonyms include:  Greenbelts, Hedgerows, and Shelterbelts).

Wood Lots = Small areas of forest grown to provide firewood.  For highest yield manage trees by coppicing:  Cut down 7-year old trees then harvest on 7-year cycles when stump or root sprouts reach 2 to 3 inches diameter.  Divide forest into 7 sections then harvest each part sequentially.  Coppiced trees live hundreds of years because the are constantly renewed.

Related Publications:     Cover Crop Primer; The Twelve Apostles; Biological Agriculture in Temperate Climates; Polyculture Primer; Strip Cropping Primer; Worm Farming; Managing Weeds as Cover Crops; Earthworm Primer; Planting Maize with Living Mulches; Living Mulches for Weed Control; Crops Among the Weeds; The Edge Effect; Organic Herbicides; Forage Maize for Soil Improvement; Coppicing Primer; Forage Radish Primer; Weed Seed Meal Fertilizer; Intensive Rice Culture Primer; Trash Farming; Pelleted Seed Primer; Upside Down Potatoes; Maize Polyculture Trial 2007 – 2016; No-Till Hungarian Stock Squash; and the Rototiller Primer.

Would You Like To Know More?     For more information on biological agriculture and practical polyculture please visit:  http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com  — or —  send your questions to:  Eric Koperek, Editor, World Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania, 15108 USA.

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).

TRASH FARMING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELATED PUBLICATIONS:     The Twelve Apostles; Managing Weeds as Cover Crops; Weed Seed Meal Fertilizer; No-Till Hungarian Stock Squash; 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?     Contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need additional information on growing crops and weeds together.

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 each 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:     The Twelve Apostles; 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).