CROP ROTATION PRIMER

Problem:     Growing the same crop in the same field year after year weakens the soil and promotes harmful insects and diseases.

Solution:     Plant a different crop each year.  Alternating unrelated species allows soil to rest and breaks reproduction cycles of diseases and pests.

Example:     Rather than sowing Wheat — Wheat — Wheat, grow Red Clover — Potatoes — Wheat.

Rotation Science:     Each species roots at different depth and takes varying amounts of minerals.  Rotating crops gives soil time to replenish these nutrients.  Every variety has its own cast of villainous insects and debilitating diseases.  Alternating different plants each season starves harmful organisms by denying them hosts on which to feed.

How To Do It:     Following is a list of strict rotation rules.  Obey these instructions and your crops will thrive.  Ignore the rules and you will spend unpleasant sums for costly pesticides, nematicides, and fungicides.

Rule-Of-Thumb:     Never follow a crop with a similar or botanically related species.  Thus:

Rule:     Never follow a grain crop with a grain crop.  Examples:  Oats & Wheat.  Maize & Barley.  Note:  This rule applies to all true cereals = grass crops.

Rule:     Never follow a leaf crop with a leaf crop.  Examples:  Spinach & Lettuce.  Cabbage & Chard.

Corollary:     Never follow a broad leaf plant with a broad leaf plant if there is a better alternative.  Example:  Sunflower & Collards.  Sunflower & Millet is a better choice (broad leaf plant followed by a narrow leaf = grass plant).  This rule is not always easy to follow but keep it in mind especially if nematodes are a problem.  Grasses suppress most nematodes.

Good Practice:     Rotate nematode resistant crops where these parasites cause economic losses:  Asparagus, Arugula, Barley, Broccoli, Cabbage, Castor Bean, Collards, Cowpea, Crimson Clover, Grasses (Poaceae), Hairy Vetch (winter vetch), Jack Bean, Joint Vetch, Kale, Lupine, Maize (corn), Marigold (Tagetes species), Millet, Mustard Greens, Mustard Seed, Oats, Partridge Pea, Rapeseed (canola), Rice, Rye, Sesame, Showy Crotalaria, Sorghum, Sudan Grass, Sunn Hemp, Velvet Bean, Wheat.

Rule:     Never follow a root crop with a root crop.  Examples:  Carrots & Potatoes.  Onions & Sugar Beets.  Note:  All roots, tubers, corms, and bulbs are called “root crops”.

Rule:     Never follow a fruit crop with a fruit crop.  Examples:  Tomatoes & Peppers.  Watermelons & Gourds.  Cucumbers & Eggplants.

Rule:     Never follow a seed crop with a seed crop.  Examples:  Buckwheat & Sesame.  Caraway & Fennel.  Note:  “Seed Crops” include “pseudo-cereals” (Quinoa & Amaranth) and “Oil Seeds” (Safflower, Flax, Sunflower).

Rule:     Never follow a flower crop with a flower crop.  Examples:  Poppies & Zinnias.  Marigolds & Nasturtiums.

Rule:     Never follow a vine crop with a vine crop.  Examples:  Gourds & Pumpkins.  Cucumbers & Squash.  Note:  Some rotation rules overlap.  This repetition is deliberate.  Gourds, pumpkins, squash, and cucumbers are fruit crops, vine crops, and in the same botanical family = 3 reasons not to follow these crops in close rotation.

Rule:     Never follow crops sharing common diseases or insect pests.  Example:  Tomatoes & Watermelons are both susceptible to anthracnose.

Rule-Of-Thumb:     Highly aromatic plants = herbs “cleanse” the soil.  Examples:  Basil, Oregano, Sage, and Thyme.  This rule dates back to the Middle Ages and is especially useful for market gardens and other small spaces.  If you cannot think of a better rotation follow cash crops with herbs or strongly scented flowers like Marigolds.

Rule:     Alternate legumes with cash crops whenever practical.  Examples:  Red Clover & Sweet Corn.  Crimson Clover & Cabbage.  Frost Beans & Green Peppers.  Why buy costly synthetic fertilizer when you can grow nitrogen-fixing legumes?  Let nature pay your fertilizer bills!

Corollary:     Plant legumes with cash crops whenever practical.  Growing 2 or more species together is called polyculture.  Examples:  Pumpkins & Dutch White Clover.  Barley & Chickling Vetch.  Sweet Corn & Pinto Beans.  Cotton & Crimson Clover.  Potatoes & Frost Beans.  Seed multiple species in the same row, in alternate rows, or broadcast together.  For best results use short or non-climbing legumes that will not interfere with harvesting equipment.

Rule:     Use 7-year rotations whenever practical.  Example:  Flax — Sweet Clover — Wheat — Lentils — Rapeseed (canola) — Pinto Beans — Sunflower.  Long rotations are essential to control insects and disease organisms that live in the soil.

Rule:     Alternate cash crops with forage crops whenever practical.  Examples:  Safflower — Winter Rye & Winter Vetch & Forage Turnips.  Winter Barley & Austrian Winter Peas & Tillage Radish — Sunflower.  Forage Maize & Velvet Bean — fall Broccoli or other cabbage family crops.

Good Practice:     German farmers have a long history of planting Landsberger Gemenge” = Hill Mixture = Mountain Mixture = Waste Land Mixture = multi-species forage crops sown on land unsuitable for plowing.  Typical mixes include 1 cereal or grass + 2 legumes + 1 cabbage family plant or root crop.  For example:  Winter Rye + Red Clover + Winter Vetch + Forage Kale or Turnips.  This combination of cereal, legume, forb, and root crops makes a balanced diet ideal for grazing animals.  Cattle gain 2.5 to 3.5 pounds daily when feeding on forage mixtures of 4 or 5 species.

Historical Note:     Farmers in the Middle Ages planted “The Twelve Apostles” = a mixed species forage crop with 4 grains + 4 legumes + 4 root or broad leaf crops.

Rule:     Practice sabbatical rotation whenever possible:  Let fields rest every seventh year.  Grow weeds or multiple species cover crops to restore soil structure and fertility.  Example:  Caraway Seed — Red Clover — Sunflower — Berseem Clover — Winter Rye — Soy Beans — Mixed Grass & Alfalfa Hay Crop.

Rule:     Grow crops in narrow strips rather than large fields.  Plant adjacent strips with unrelated species.  Adjust strip widths to fit planting and harvesting machinery.  For best results strips should not exceed 200 feet wide on flat land or 50 feet wide on hills or slopes.  Example:  4 rows of Sweet Corn — 4 rows of Snap Beans — 4 rows of Sunflower — 4 rows of Sweet Potatoes . . . .  Note how tall crops alternate with short crops.  This increases light penetration into the canopy and greatly reduces pest populations.

Rule:     Plant cash crops with companion plants whenever practical.  Use short cover crops that will not compete with taller cash crops.  Example:  Oats & Forage Peas & Turnips.  Harvest oats with a “stripper header” then graze peas & turnips.  Historical Note:  Farmers in the Middle Ages grew polycrops called The Holy Trinity = 1 cereal grain + 1 legume + 1 root crop.

Rule:     Include multiple species cover crops in farm rotations whenever practical.  Use multi-species cover crops just like legume cover crops.  Mixed species cover crops and legumes can be freely substituted in any crop rotation.  Growing multiple species cover crops is the best way to improve soil tilth and increase soil organic matter.

Good Practice:     Experience has shown that mixed species cover crops effectively control pests and diseases.  However, it is best to be cautious.  Thus, a corn and soybean farmer should not include either maize or soy in his cover crops.  This principle applies to all cash and cover crops.

Rule-Of-Thumb:     Mixtures of plants grow better than isolated species.  full synergistic effects require at least 8 cover crop species.  There is a certain minimum number of species that must be present before soil biology reaches maximum activity.  this “tipping point” appears to vary depending on location and plant varieties.  Some farmers include 30 species in their cover crop mixes.

Generic Cover Crop Mixture:     2 warm season grasses + 2 warm season legumes + 2 warm season broad leaf plants + 2 cool season grasses + 2 cool season legumes + 2 cool season broad leaf plants + 2 or more root crops = 14 or more species cover crop mix.  Broadcast not less than 20 pounds per acre or drill in 2-inch deep furrows spaced 7.5 inches apart.

Rule-Of-Thumb:     Include 50% legumes by weight in mixed species cover crops to provide sufficient nitrogen for following cash crop.

Science Note:     Cover crops containing many species can fix substantial amounts of nitrogen even if few or no legumes are present.  Agronomists speculate that this nitrogen comes from free-living soil bacteria.  Also, symbiotic bacteria fix more nitrogen when mixtures of legumes are grown with plants that do not fix nitrogen.  Maximum synergistic effects are noted in cover crops with 20 or more species.  Ideal number of species is not known.

Rule:     Reserve 5% to 10% of farmland for native weeds.  Grow weeds around fields and in narrow strips between cash crops.  Sow weeds in vineyards and orchards.  Mow weeds only when necessary = at harvest.  Example:  Obtain weed seeds = screenings from local grain elevators.  Sow wherever soil is bare.  Bale weedy fields.  Spread bales of “wildflower hay” wherever soils are weak or pests prolific.  Native weeds are essential to provide food, shelter, and alternate hosts for beneficial insects.  Biological pest control is not effective without native wees growing in close proximity to crops needing protection.

Rule:     Tolerate weeds in cash crops provided density does not exceed 2,500 to 5,000 weeds per acre = approximately 1 weed every 3 or 4 feet equidistantly.  Thin weeds as necessary to protect cash crops from excess competition.  Weeds provide food, shelter, and alternate hosts for predatory and parasitical insects.  Example:  Let weeds grow inside and around tomato fields.  Result:  Save $400 per acre on insecticide costs.

Rule:     For biological pest control, plant cash crops adjacent to native weeds and other plants with small flowers.  More weeds = more flowers = fewer pests = less crop damage.  Rule-Of-Thumb:  If you have a pest problem it means you do not have enough flowers.  Examples:  Plant wildflowers in your vineyard or buckwheat, hairy vetch, and turnips in your orchard.

Rule:     Reserve 5% to 10% of farmland for hedgerows, windbreaks, and wood lots.  For high biodiversity plant not less than 40 species per acre or linear mile.  for best results choose economic species that produce nuts, fruits, berries or other cash crops.  Rule-Of-Thumb:  Everything on a farm should produce income.  Example:  Wildflowers can be harvested for seed or rented to local bee keepers.

Rule:     Break any rule rather than do something stupid.  Rotation rules are based on centuries of practical experience.  Thus, think deeply before trying anything risky.  For example:  Crop rotation can be difficult or inconvenient in small spaces or market gardens.  Solution:  Compromise where needed and apply lots of compost = at least 1 inch deep = 1 pound per square foot.  Soils of high biological activity have strong resistance to pests and diseases.  Rule-Of-Thumb:  Plants with Brix readings above 12% dissolved solids are generally immune to most insects and pathogens.  High Brix levels are directly related to soil organic matter content.  Translation:  More compost = healthier plants = crop rotation is not always necessary all of the time.

Plant Families:     Following is a list of the top 10 botanical families most important to farmers and gardeners.  Use listed species to plan effective crop rotations.

Beet Family = “Chenopods” = Chenopodiaceae:     Amaranth, Beet, Lamb’s Quarters, Mangel-Wurzel (stock beet = forage beet), Spinach, Sugar Beet, Swiss Chard, Quinoa, Redroot Pigweed.

Cabbage Family = “Crucifers” = “Brassicas” = Cruciferae = Brassicaceae:     Arugula, Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, Cabbage, Chinese Cabbage (bok choy), Cauliflower, Collards, Garden Cress, Horseradish, Kale, Kohlrabi, Mustard (greens), Mustard (seed), Nasturtiums, Radish, Rapeseed (canola), Rapini, Rutabaga, Turnip, Water Cress, Woad (blue dye plant).

Agronomy Note:  Brassicas and Chenopods are good pioneer plants because they do not need mycorrhizal fungi in order to thrive.  Caution:  Do not plant Brassicas or Chenopods if you are trying to encourage beneficial fungi.  Brassicas and Chenopods will not feed mycorrhizal fungi.

Carrot Family = Apiaceae = Umbelliferae:     All plants in the Carrot Family have umbels = umbrella-like flowers composed of hundreds of tiny florets.  Small flowers are ideal “bee forage”:  Angelica, Anise, Caraway, Carrot, Celeriac, Celery, Chervil, Cilantro, Coriander, Cumin, Dill, Fennel, Lovage, Parsley, Parsnip, Wild Carrot (Queen Anne’s Lace).

Cucumber Family = “Cucurbits” = Cucurbitaceae:     Cantaloupe (melon), Cucumber, Cushaw (squash), Gourd, Honeydew (melon), Luffa (sponge), Muskmelon, Pumpkin, Squash (summer, winter, & spaghetti), Watermelon, Zucchini.

Daisy Family = Aster Family = Asteraceae = Compositae:     Artichoke, Calendula, Chamomile, Chicory, dandelion, Endive, Escarole, Everlasting (helichrysum), Lettuce, Marigold, Raddichio, Sunflower, Tansy, Tarragon, Wormwood, Yarrow.

Grain Family = Cereal Family = Grass Family = Gramineae = Poaceae:     Barley, Corn (maize), Durum (wheat) = Semolina = Kamut, Einkorn (wheat), Emmer (wheat), Fonio, Millet, Oat, Rice, Rye, Sorghum, Spelt (wheat), Teff, Triticale (rye x wheat hybrid), Wheat, Wild Rice.  Pseudo-Cereals are not grass plants but are grown and eaten like true grains:  Amaranth, buckwheat, Chia, and Quinoa.

Legume Family = Fabaceae = Leguminosae:     Any plant that has seeds in pods is called a legume.  All legumes fix nitrogen and can be grown as “green manure crops”:     Alfalfa (lucerne), Beans, Carob Tree, Chickpeas (garbanzo beans), Clovers, Cowpea, Castor Bean, Fenugreek, Hairy Indigo, honey Locust Tree, Jack Bean, Lentils, Lespedeza, Lupine, Partridge Pea, Peas, showy Crotalaria, Sunn Hemp, Vetches (tares).  Legumes grown for dry, edible seeds are called “pulses” or “pulse crops”.

Mint Family = Lamiaceae = Labiatae:     Basil, Bee Balm, Bergamot, Calamint, Catnip, Hyssop, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Marjoram, Mint, Oregano, Pachouli, Rosemary, Sage, Savory, Thyme.

Onion Family = Lily Family = “Alliums” = Alliaceae = Liliaceae:     Asparagus, Chives, Garlic, Hyacinth, Leeks, Lilies, Onions, Ramps, Scallions, Shallots.

Tomato Family = Solanaceae:     Eggplant, Peppers, Petunias, Potatoes, Tobacco, Tomatoes, Tomatillos.

Related Publications:     Biblical Agronomy; 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 crop rotation and Biological Agriculture 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).

Index Terms:     Biological Pest Control; Brix Levels (in crops); Companion Planting; Compost; Cover Crops; Crop Rotation; Holy Trinity (grain + legume + root crop polyculture); Landsberger Gemenge (mixed species forage crop); Mixed Species cover Crops; Multi-Species Cover Crops; Multiple Species Cover Crops; Polycrop; Polyculture; Sabbatical Rotation (fallow fields every 7th year); Strip Cropping; Stripper Header; Twelve Apostles (12 species forage crop mix); Weed Management; Wildflower Hay; and Wildflowers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:     Crop Rotation Primer; Biblical Agronomy; 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).