STRIP CROPPING PRIMER

What Is It?     Strip cropping is a natural way to control pests without using insecticides.  Unrelated crops are grown in narrow strips to increase biodiversity and maximize edge effects.  Beneficial insects flourish and eat harmful bugs.

The Edge Effect:     Life increases proportionately to the boundary area between different environments.  For example, a meadow and a hedgerow are unique ecologies.  Each has its own mixture of species.  There is an abundance of food and shelter along the edge where the two environments meet.  Interaction along this edge promotes large populations and increased diversity.

Ecology Math:     Square fields have less edge than rectangular fields.  For example, a square field measuring 300 feet on each side has 1,200 feet of edge (300 feet per side x 4 sides = 1,200 feet).  Take the same field and stretch it into a rectangle 100 feet wide x 900 feet long.  Both fields have the same area (90,000 square feet) but the rectangular field has 2,000 feet of edge (900 + 900 + 100 + 100 = 2,000 feet).  The perimeter of the rectangular field is 40% larger than the square field.  More edges = more food and habitat = more species and larger populations.  Hunters understand this instinctively.  Long, narrow fields have more browse (twigs and buds) along their perimeter.  More hedgerow = more browse = more food = more deer.

Agricultural History:     Farming in the Middle Ages was not easy.  Wood plows were heavy and difficult to turn.  The solution was to make long, narrow fields.  Long fields required fewer turns.  Each field was one “furrow” long = 1 furlong = 1/8th mile = 220 yards long x 22 yards wide = 4,840 square yards = 1 acre.  A man with a team of oxen took a whole day to plow 1 acre.  Adjacent fields were planted to unrelated crops, for example:  Peas, Wheat, Turnips, and Pasture.  Narrow strips and diverse crops increased edge effects supporting large populations of beneficial insects.  The good bugs ate the bad bugs.

Agroecology:     Wind the clock back to when knights went clanking around in armor.  Northwest France (Normandy) was divided into thousands of little fields surrounded by hedgerows.  Each field measured about 1 1/4 acres.  This mixture of small fields and hedgerows is called bocage.  The bocage landscape contains hundreds of miles of biological edges = vast populations of predatory and parasitic insects.  Modern farmers in the bocage rarely have pest problems.  Significant outbreaks occur about once every 20 years and are mostly self-correcting without insecticides.

“Altering the geometry of fields costs nothing and can reduce or eliminate pesticide use.”

Practical Polyculture:     Plant 4 rows of corn then 4 rows of soybeans.  Repeat this pattern across fields and farms following land contours.  Result:  Pests go down 50% and corn yields go up 15% (because of increased light penetration into the crop canopy).

  • Alternate tall and short crops.  Insect pests do not like fields with mixed light and shade.  Example:  Sunflowers — Alfalfa — Barley — Lentils
  • Adjust strip widths to fit planting and harvesting equipment.  Try to keep strip widths as narrow as mechanically practical.  Narrow strips better control insect pests.  Plant strips no wider than 200 feet to encourage rapid movement of beneficial insects into fields.  Example:  Hay (150 feet) + Soup Beans (75 feet) + Safflowers (75 feet)
  • Plant adjacent strips to unrelated crops.  Plant as many different crops as economically practical.  Diverse crops reduce insect pests and spread market risk.  Example:  Wheat — Peas — Flax — Soy Beans — Barley — Alfalfa
  • Seed grains and legumes together.  Legumes fix nitrogen, protect soil and control weeds.  Example:  Winter Wheat + Dutch White Clover  — or —  Field Corn + Red Clover  — or —  Oats + Forage Peas  — or — Winter Rye + Winter Vetch
  • Alternate legumes with non-legumes.  Legumes improve soil, feed earthworms and attract beneficial insects.  Example:  Canary Seed — Lentils — Barley — Soy Beans — Wheat — Field Peas — Flax — Alfalfa
  • Plant windbreaks not closer than 50 feet nor farther than 150 feet apart.  Windbreaks increase biological diversity and help crops grow better.  Windbreaks do not have to be great belts of trees.  A single row of shrubs or perennial pampas grass will slow wind and increase crop humidity.  Example:  Trees (25 feet wide) + Cropland (150 feet wide)  — or —  Shrubs (10 feet wide) + Cropland (100 feet wide)  — or — Pampas Grass (3 feet wide) + Cropland (50 feet wide)
  • Alternate strips of native weeds with cropland.  Space weed strips not farther than 200 feet apart.  Weeds should comprise at least 5% to 10% of total cropland.  Native weeds are essential to provide food and shelter for beneficial insects.  Example:  Weed Strip (15 feet) + Cropland (135 feet)
  • Plant several varieties of the same crop together.  Choose varieties that have the same harvest date.  Varieties can be mixed or drilled in separate rows.  Alternatively, plant similar species that ripen together.  For example:  Winter Wheat + Winter Rye.  Genetic diversity reduces the chances of crop failure due to weather, disease or insects.

Try This On Your Farm:     Divide big fields into narrow strips and watch your pest problems go away.  Strip cropping combines the biological advantages of polycultures with the economic efficiency of farm machinery.

Related Publications:     Maize Polyculture Trial 2007-2016; Managing Weeds as Cover Crops; Trash Farming; No-Till Hungarian Stock Squash; Planting Maize with Living Mulches; Living Mulches for Weed Control; 2012 Tomato and Sweet Potato Polyculture Trial; Crops Among the Weeds; and The Edge Effect.

Would You Like To Know More?     Contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need more information about polycultures or strip cropping.  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:  http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com

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

 

 

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WORM FARMING

“The best farmers are gardeners.”

What Is It?     Worm farming is an ancient gardening technology dating back to the Middle Ages.  The earliest written records appear 8 centuries ago.  Back then wealthy farmers fertilized their fields with animal manure.  Poor folks used mulches and earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) to keep their gardens productive.  Today we call this Continuous Mulching = Year-Round Mulching = Sheet Composting.

What Do I Need?     Only simple hand tools are required:  Lawn rake, mulch fork, garden cart, 8-quart pail, flash light or lantern, and a scythe or machete to cut grass and weeds.  For large gardens or truck farms a lawnmower or forage chopper are helpful.

How To Do It:     Keep soil covered with at least 8 inches of mulch year-round = 365 days annually.  Do not leave soil bare, not even for a single day.  Pull aside mulch just enough to sow seeds or set transplants.  When plants are established pull mulch close around their stems.  Apply mulch periodically to maintain 8 to 12-inch depth.  (Mulch settles to half its original depth in a few weeks).

“Feed the worms and the worms will tend your crops.”

Pile It On!     Weeds, tree leaves, spoiled hay, straw, grass clippings, hedge trimmings, garden wastes, stable bedding, wood chips, saw dust, bark or other natural plant materials all make good mulch.  Fresh vegetation is ideal as green leaves rot quickly and contain the most nutrients.  If possible, use a variety of mulches to provide plants and earthworms with a balanced diet.

Fertilizer Not Required!     Soil amendments are rarely needed if garden is covered with a mixture of plant materials.  (Each type of mulch contains an assortment of nutrients).  Sprinkle lime, wood ash, rock dust, or other plant food over mulch as desired.  Water fertilizer into mulch or wait for rain.  Cover manure with mulch to eliminate odor and keep flies away.

“Weeds are the shepherds of the garden.”

Weed Management:     If any weeds poke through the mulch, thin them until they stand 3 to 4 feet apart.  Widely spaced weeds help crops grow better.  Weeds provide food, shelter and alternate hosts for beneficial insects.  The good bugs eat the bad bugs.  Weedy gardens rarely have pest problems.  (If you do not have any weeds plant flowers among your vegetables).

“Sow worms and seeds for bumper crops.”

Seeding Earthworms:     The night before planting take your pail and lantern to a nearby pasture, meadow or corn field.  Place 1 gallon of leaf mold, compost or damp peat moss in the bucket to keep earthworms moist.  Common earthworms come out of their burrows to feed at night so they are easy to catch.  When you have gathered sufficient worms (4 per square foot of garden), cover pail with a wet towel then place in deep shade until ready to sow.  Drop 2 to 4 earthworms in each planting hole or linear foot of furrow.  Cover gently with damp soil.

Population Ecology:     Earthworms do not travel fast; a colony spreads only 3 feet yearly.  Seeding your garden with earthworms jump-starts the colonization process.  Earthworms reproduce slowly; the average worm takes 2 to 3 years to reach sexual maturity.  Thus, the more worms you start with, the faster the population reaches critical mass = enough worms to substantially increase crop yields.  In most soils the tipping point is somewhere between 1 and 2 tons = 1 to 2 million earthworms per acre = 23 to 46 worms per cubic foot of topsoil.  (Under ideal conditions worm populations can soar to 8 tons per acre).

Critical mass is reached when crops no longer need external fertilizers (organic or synthetic).  At this point, populations of soil micro-organisms explode and nutrient cycling is so rapid that crops show no yield response to plant food.  This process requires time, typically 12 to 15 years = 4 to 5 generations of earthworms before fields can sustain commercial yields without added nutrients.

All this requires massive amounts of mulch applied 8 to 12 inches thick (which effectively limits this technology to small areas).  Earthworms eat organic matter.  More mulch = more worms = more plant growth = higher yields.  Earthworms need protein in their diets.  For example, populations double when worms eat clover rather than hay.  If practical, include nitrogen fixing legumes (clover, peas, beans and lentils) in garden mulches, or supplement with animal manure, weed seed meal, or fresh, green leaves.

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

Soil Science:     Healthy farm or garden soils contain at least 8,000 pounds of “critters” per acre, about the weight of 8 dairy cows.  All these hungry mouths eat organic matter.  Covering the ground with mulch provides abundant food for the underground “herd”, especially earthworms and fungi.

Earthworms are a keystone species.  You can measure soil health simply by counting worms.  Many worms = strong soil.  Few worms = sick soil.  No worms = dead dirt.  Well managed organic soils contain 1 million worms per acre or approximately 23 earthworms per cubic foot of topsoil.  Earthworms aerate the ground and produce enough castings (manure) to grow commercial crops of anything you want to plant.

Beneficial fungi comprise about 70% of all soil life.  Microscopic, thread-like hyphae connect all plants into a field-wide web, an underground “Internet” of roots and fungi that share water and nutrients.  Plowing or cultivation destroys the fungal network, slowing plant growth and reducing yields.  Mulching protects helpful fungi by keeping soil cool and moist.  Constant moisture and moderate temperatures favor optimal fungal growth.

“Would you go to war with half an army?  Most conventional farmers waste half their soil.”

The top 2 inches of soil contain the most oxygen and organic matter.  This is the powerhouse of the soil ecology.  Over half of all soil critters live in this thin, upper layer.  Anything that disturbs this “topsoil” greatly reduces plant growth and yields.  For example:  Cultivation rips up the earth = the soil becomes too hot and too dry = plant roots cannot live in this hostile environment = the farmer wastes his best dirt.

“Cultivation is the same as scraping off the top 2 inches of soil.  Dumb idea.”

A continuous mulch is like an insulating blanket that moderates the underground environment.  Earth does not freeze in winter or bake in summer.  Pores stay open so air and water penetrate deep into the subsoil.  Wind and water erosion are eliminated.  Weed competition is controlled.  The entire soil profile is accessible to plant roots.  All these factors promote life and speed nutrient cycling.  Soil critters thrive and plants grow better.

Ramp It Up!     Worm farming is best suited to small areas (because mulch is gathered by hand).  For large areas grow mulch crops like Forage Maize (Zea mays) or Sorghum Grass (Sorghum sudanense) then harvest with a forage chopper.  Cart mulch to where it is needed then spread by hand or use a mechanical mulch spreader.  Purchase earthworms or earthworm egg capsules from a commercial worm farm.  Seed not less than 6 worms every 30 feet = about 300 worms per acre.  At this distance it will take 10 years to colonize 1 acre (209 x 209 feet, approximately).  To colonize an acre in 1 year, drop 6 worms every 3 feet (about 30,000 worms per acre).  Cover worms with damp soil and mulch to protect them from predators.

“Who needs Monsanto?  Grow mulch crops and never buy herbicides again.”

Mulch-In-Place:     Mulching large fields by hand is not practical; the cost of labor and materials is too high.  The solution is to grow a mulch crop right where it is needed.  This is called Mulch-In-Place.  Sow Winter Rye = Grain Rye = Cereal Rye = Secale cereale at 3 bushels = 168 pounds per acre.  Kill mulch crop with a roller-crimper or sickle-bar mower when plants grow 6 feet tall or when seeds reach the “soft dough” stage.  Immediately (the same day) seed or transplant through the mulch using no till equipment.  Mix earthworm egg capsules (175,000 per acre = 4 per square foot) with cornmeal or similar carrier then side-band down the row or deposit directly in furrows.

If desired, you can seed 8 to 12 pounds per acre of Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) along with your cash crop.  Clover fills any holes in the mulch and provides high-protein earthworm food.

6-foot rye yields 5 tons = 10,000 pounds of long-straw mulch per acre, sufficient to provide 90% to 95% weed control for 6 to 8 weeks.  This gives your crop enough time to close rows.  Once the crop canopy closes, weeds are shaded and no cultivation or spraying is necessary.

Agronomy Note:     Mulch-In-Place works with most any cover crop that grows at least 6 feet high and yields 4 to 5 tons = 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of biomass (leaves and stems) per acre.  The best mulch crops are grasses like Forage Maize (Zea mays) and Sudan Grass (Sorghum sudanense) because they take longer to rot than broad leaved plants.

“The best soil test is a spade full of dirt.  If the soil teems with life you will get a good crop.”

Sometimes old ways are the best.  800 years ago, worm farming was a great idea.  Today, this technology is an integral part of the New Green Revolution.  Try this on your own land:  Compare side-by-side plots, mulched versus clean cultivated gardens.  You will be amazed at the difference.  Year-round mulching really is the easiest way to farm or garden small areas.

Related Publications:     Managing Weeds as Cover Crops; Weed Seed Meal Fertilizer; Trash Farming; No-Till Hungarian Stock Squash; Earthworm Primer; Planting Maize with Living Mulches; Living Mulches for Weed Control; Crops Among the Weeds; Forage Maize for Soil Improvement; and The Edge Effect.

Would You Like To Know More?    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

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Can Sunnhemp Outgrow Morning Glory?”

I get the most interesting questions on my website.  Some provoke editorial response:

Biological agriculture is a race between crops and weeds.  The farmer’s job is to give his crops an unfair advantage in competition for sunlight.  One way is growing cover crops to smother invasive weeds.  Sunnhemp (Crotalaria juncea) is an effective mulch crop for weed suppression.

Wild Morning Glory (Ipomoea species) is the bane of my existence.  Closely related to sweet potatoes, morning glories thrive in poor soils, are immune to most insects, and grow so rapidly that they overwhelm all surrounding plants.

In Butler County (30 miles north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) morning glories are like intermittent epidemics.  Some years you rarely see a vine.  Other seasons your fields are covered.

I returned from a business trip to find my neighbor’s back-40 strangled by herbicide resistant morning glories.  Vines blanketed the land like Kudzu (Pueraria montana).  He sprayed tankfuls of glyphosate trying to save his soybeans.  All that did was make the weeds mad.   6 weeks later, vengeful vines obliterated his GMO corn.

My neighbor was hitching up his 8-bottom moldboard when I offered to help.  George has a dim view of “organic farming” but he likes spending money even less, so it was not a difficult decision:  Plow everything under or let Eric make a fool of himself.  Hmm. . .

My solution:  60 pounds per acre of rotary seeded Sunnhemp followed by a 30-year-old sickle-bar mower.  Sow-And-Mow eliminated his weed problem.  The Sunnhemp reached 8 feet high in 7 weeks, shading all competing vegetation.

Next, I broadcast 12 pounds per acre of Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) into the standing cover crop then mowed the Sunnhemp with a bush hog.

In Autumn I no-till drilled 60 pounds per acre of pelleted Winter Rye (Secale cereale) into the mature clover.  The field required no other work until grain harvest the following summer.

There is a lesson to be learned here:

RULE:     Always seed cover crops at maximum rates for weed control.

RULE:     Do not plow, disk, or harrow — this only encourages weed germination.

RULE:     Keep fields covered with growing crops at all times to kill weed seedlings.

Follow these rules and weeds will NEVER get established in your fields.

This is what Biological Agriculture is all about:  Crop competition keeps weeds controlled without need for mechanical cultivation or chemical herbicides.  Let nature do the heavy lifting.

Related Publications Include:     Managing Weeds as Cover Crops; Trash Farming; Planting Maize with Living Mulches; Living Mulches for Weed Control; and Crops Among the Weeds.

Other Articles of Interest:     Weed Seed Meal Fertilizer; Organic Herbicides; Pelleted Seed Primer; and Forage Maize for Soil Improvement.

Would You Like to Know More?     Please visit:  http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com  — or —  send your questions about biological weed control to:  Eric Koperek, Editor, World Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania 15108 United States of America  — or —  send an e-mail to:  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).

 

MANAGING WEEDS AS COVER CROPS

The trick to biological farming is knowing how to manage weeds.  “Manage” does NOT mean “kill”.

Internet trolls are bombarding my e-mail box with comments like:  “You can’t plant crops in weeds!  That’s why they invented tractors”.  Horse power is irrelevant and yes, you can plant crops in weeds:  I manage 90,000 acres without herbicides or mechanical cultivation.  Here is how I do it:

(1)  Manage Weeds as Cover Crops.  Think of weeds as a multi-species cover crop that costs nothing to seed.  This will save you about $40 per acre, right off the bat.  $40 x 90,000 acres = $3,600,000.  We are not talking tree-hugging here.  This is serious agronomy.

Grow weeds to protect your top soil.  A typical corn-soybean farmer in Iowa loses 2 1/2% of his land yearly = 20 tons of earth per acre = $450 per acre at $22.50 per ton (U.S. average top soil price, delivered).  Weeds have value.

If you don’t have enough weeds for a winter cover crop, seed 3 to 4 bushels of oats per acre.  Oat roots prevent soil erosion over winter.  Oats winterkill so no herbicides are needed.  Surface trash is minimal and will not interfere with conventional planting equipment.

(2)  RULE:  Keep Fields Green.  Photosynthesis is the process where plants use water, air and sunlight to make sugar.  More photosynthesis = more sugar = more plant growth = higher yields.  Bare fields are not profitable.  Smart farmers keep their soil covered with growing plants year-round.  Plant cash crops whenever possible.  Sow cover crops for mulch or fertilizer.  Seed weeds when there is no time or money to grow anything else.  The goal of biological farming is to produce the most possible organic matter per square foot.  Grow anything rather than leave soil bare.

The underlying principle of biological weed control is plant competition.  Keep the ground covered with growing crops year-round and weeds do not have a chance to get established.  Never leave the soil bare, not even for a single day.

For example:  Plant winter wheat into standing Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) using no-till equipment.  Next summer, harvest wheat then immediately (the same day) plant turnips into wheat stubble and clover living mulch.  Field stays green year-round.  Weeds cannot grow because they are constantly shaded by competing plants.

(3)  Sow Weed Seeds.  If you have tired, sick or dead ground, or no top soil, go to your nearest grain elevator and fill your truck with weed seeds.  These are usually free.  Some elevators charge a nominal fee for “elevator screenings” which contain many weed seeds.  Sow liberally, at least 40 pounds per acre.  Prepare for amazement.  Weeds are Nature’s Band-Aid, a fast growing cover crop evolved specifically to heal bare earth.  On steep slopes or mine reclamation sites, spread straw or spoiled hay mulch to protect germinating weeds.

(4)  Fertilize and Water Your Weeds.  Every time I say this, half my audience leaves the room.  No, I am not crazy.  Yes, I do know what I am talking about.  I farm without any government subsidies and each acre earns substantial profit.  It pays to feed and irrigate weeds (if possible).  Remember:  Weeds are a cover crop.  You want every field blanketed with a luxuriant jungle of weeds at least 6 feet high.  So water and fertilize as needed, and do not worry about what your neighbors say.  Farming is not about yields; farming is about the bottom line.  Weeds put money in your pocket.

(5)  Feed the Weeds and the Weeds will Feed Your Crops.  Weeds have enormous root systems in proportion to their stems and leaves.  Many weeds also have tap roots that plunge deep into the subsoil.  Translation:  Weeds are great at scavenging nutrients that would otherwise leach away.  Weeds have quick growth response to plant food so a little fertilizer goes a long way.  A few pounds of nitrogen create a vast jungle of vegetation that makes good mulch and fertilizer.  The average weed contains twice the nutrients of an equal weight of cow manure.  Broad leaf weeds rot quickly so fertilizer elements are rapidly recycled for crop use.  Plant crops and weeds together and yields often increase.  The reason is ecologic synergy = plant symbiosis.  Weeds both compete AND cooperate with neighboring plants.  Water and nutrients are shared so crops and weeds grow better.  I learned this lesson farming melons.  The best fruits came from the weediest fields.  So I started planting melons into weeds.  The weeds provided light shade and the melons followed weed roots down into moist subsoil.  Come drought and clean cultivated fields produced little or no crop.  Melons and weeds yielded fair crops.  Irrigated melons and weeds overfilled my trucks with fruit.  Think about this the next time you buy a drum of herbicide.

(6)  Use Weed Seed Meal Fertilizer.  How would you like to slash fertilizer costs?  Get weed seeds or screenings from your local elevator.  Grind them with a hammer mill or roller mill.  Broadcast 4 tons per acre or drop 10 pounds per 25 feet of row.  Unlike chemical fertilizers weed seed meal will not burn crop roots so you can hurl nutrients with wild abandon.  If you do not have any weed seeds, use any other waste seed like spoiled corn, brewer’s grain, or broken soy beans.

To use LIVE weed seeds as fertilizer broadcast seeds into a standing cover crop like Red Clover (Trifolium pratense).  Earthworms, ants, beetles and other critters eat the weed seeds.  Clover kills any weeds that germinate.  Caution:  Don’t try this unless you have a tall, aggressive cover crop that blankets the soil with dense shade.

(7)  RULE:  Apply Chemical Fertilizer Only to Growing Plants.  This rule covers all crops (including weeds) without exception.  It makes no sense to spread fertilizer on bare ground.  Chemical nutrients are wasted unless there are live roots waiting to absorb them.  For best results, synthetic fertilizers should be applied in small doses throughout the growing season, ideally diluted in irrigation water.  Feed growing crops only and well water stays pure = free of nitrates.

(8)  Good Farmers Grow Fungi.  The Fungi Grow the Crops.  Think of all the pipes, wires and roads needed to run a modern city.  Without these conduits life would be nearly impossible.  A corn field is no different.  Under the soil surface is a jungle of lifeforms, a whole zoo full of critters exceeding the combined population of the world’s largest cities.  And every one of these underground citizens depends on fungi for survival.  Millions of miles of microscopic fungi tie the underground world together.  Fungi are the interstate highway system of the soil ecology.  Water and nutrients are conveyed to hungry roots.  Plants share resources through fungal networks.  Many crops are so dependent on fungi that they cannot exist without these symbiotic micro-organisms.  Kill the fungi and the soil ecology collapses.  Yields plummet and fields become sick and barren.  Try to farm dead soil and you will spend vast sums for synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation.  Today, this is called “conventional agriculture” and most growers lose money on every acre they plant.  There is a better way to farm.

Fungi like cool temperatures, a moist environment, plenty of air, and lots of organic matter.  Rip up the ground with plows and the fungal network is destroyed.  Soil temperatures spike, the earth is parched, a cyclone of oxygen rushes into the ground, and organic matter burns away in a firestorm of excess decomposition.  The result is like dropping a nuclear bomb:  Billions of critters die and the soil ecology is devastated.  Recovery takes years.

Sell your plows, disks and harrows — you don’t need them.  Grow weeds or other cover crops and leave the fungi alone.  Open the soil just enough to get seeds or transplants into the ground.  Further disturbance cuts profits and yields.

(9)  Till Your Fields with Earthworms.  My Grandfather taught me:  “Feed the worms and the worms will tend your crops”.  Common earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) eat organic matter and excrete enough manure to grow 200 bushel corn = 11,200 pounds per acre.  They also burrow 6 feet into the subsoil.  My fields average 1 million worms per acre.  That’s about 23 worms per cubic foot = 1,200 miles of burrows per acre.  When thunderstorms drop 2 inches of rain per hour my neighbors’ fields wash away.  My soil stays in place.  When drought bakes the county, my corn yields over 100 bushels per acre (without fertilizer, herbicides, cultivation or irrigation).  How is this possible?  Plant clover and earthworm populations double.  I seed clover into weeds and the worms feast on the multi-species “salad bar”.  Mind you, this process does not occur overnight.  It took 12 to 15 years to wean my fields off synthetic nutrients.  That’s 4 to 5 generations of earthworms.  I used to borrow mountains of cash to buy farm chemicals.  Now I plant clover and have no debts.

(10)  Grow Your Own Fertilizer:  Conventional green manures are plowed into the soil.  A less invasive technology is called Chop-And-Drop.  Use a rotary mower, flail mower, bush hog, forage chopper, or common lawn mower to cut plants into small pieces that decompose quickly for rapid nutrient cycling.  Immediately sow or transplant another crop before weeds start germinating.  Alternatively, knock down cover crop with a roller-crimper or sickle-bar mower then plant through the mulch using no-till equipment.  For example, I sow Hairy Vetch = Winter Vetch = Vicia villosa in October then roller-crimp vines in May.  Vetch controls weeds and fixes sufficient nitrogen for 200 bushel corn or any other crop I want to grow.  Remember:  Chop plants into small pieces for fast-acting fertilizer.  Crimp or cut whole plants for mulch.  Finely chopped plants will NOT control weeds.

(11)  Use Mulch-In-Place.   Think of how much money you will save if you don’t have to buy herbicides or cultivate fields multiple times.  The savings in diesel fuel alone will pay for a 2-week vacation anywhere you care to go.  Let your neighbors plant seed in cold ground.  Be patient and give your weeds more time to grow.  Wait until the soil warms and weeds are at least 5 feet high.  Kill weed cover crop with a roller-crimper or sickle-bar mower then immediately seed or transplant through weed mulch with no-till equipment.  Mulch retards weed growth 4 to 6 weeks — just enough time for your crop to germinate and start covering the rows.  Once the crop canopy closes weeds are shaded and there is no more work until harvest.

There are many variations of Mulch-In-Place.  For example, use a forage chopper to deposit weed mulch into convenient windrows then transplant pumpkins or other fast-growing vine crops through the mulch.  Alternatively, mow strips through weed covered fields.  Transplant vine crops down mowed rows then roll out drip irrigation tape.  Use mowed weeds to mulch crops until plants are established.  Once vines begin to run they overwhelm weeds between rows.  Standing weeds protect vine crops from insect pests.

If you do not have weedy fields, sow winter rye = cereal rye = Secale cereale at 3 bushels per acre.  Roller crimp or sickle-bar mow when rye reaches 5 to 6 feet high or when grain reaches soft dough stage.  Immediately seed or transplant through rye mulch using no-till equipment.  Note:  Mulch-In-Place works with just about any cover crop that grows at least 5 feet high and produces 4 to 5 tons of mulch per acre.

Who needs Monsanto?  Grow mulch crops and never buy herbicide again.  Sell your spray rig and pay off farm debts.

(12)  Use Weeds to Control Insect Pests.  Plant weeds with your crops and you will never have to buy insecticides again.   Set 4 rows of tomatoes then leave a strip of weeds.  Seed 4 rows of sweet corn and leave another strip of weeds.  Plant 4 rows of sweet potatoes with a third strip of weeds.  Drill 4 rows of sunflowers and a fourth strip of weeds.   Alternate crops and weeds across fields and farms, following land contours.  Adjust strip widths to match planting and harvesting equipment.  Weeds provide food, shelter and alternate hosts for beneficial insects.  The good bugs eat the bad bugs.  Native weeds should cover at least 5% to 10% of every farm, even if you also grow insectary plants.  I learned this lesson the hard way.  I grew dozens of crops with small flowers especially to feed predatory and parasitic insects.  Biological control was only partly successful until I planted native weeds next to crops needing protection.  Close proximity is essential as many beneficial insects penetrate only 200 feet into a field over the course of a growing season.  Remember:  You need a mix of native weeds AND insectary plants to protect cash crops.  Maintain biological diversity and pests rarely cause economic damage.  I have not purchased insecticides (organic or synthetic) in 18 years.

(13)  Plant into Standing Weeds (Sow-And-Go).  This works best with fall planted winter grains like wheat, barley, and rye.  Seed directly into standing vegetation using no-till equipment.  (Standing weeds trap winter snow).  If desired, you can seed Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) at 8 to 12 pounds per acre with winter cereals.  The clover provides 90% to 95% weed control, about as good as glyphosate (Roundup).  Expect 60% to 70% of conventional yields without fertilizer or irrigation.  In a dry year you might lose your crop.

If you do not have no-till equipment, try surface seeding = Sow-And-Mow.  This works best with pelleted seed.  Broadcast seed into standing weeds then immediately roller-crimp or cut vegetation with a sickle-bar mower to cover and protect germinating grain.  Come back next summer and harvest your crop.

Alternatively, broadcast winter grain into standing weeds then mow with a rotary mower or flail mower to chop vegetation into small pieces.  Immediately till field with a rear-tine rototiller set to skim soil surface at 2 inches depth.  Make only 1 pass across field.  Your field will look ugly but will make a good crop = 40 bushels (2,400 pounds) of wheat per acre in cool, temperate climates with 40 or more inches of rainfall yearly.

If you have no farm machinery, try the ancient Roman practice of Stomp Seeding.  Fence field securely.  Broadcast seed into standing vegetation.  Turn in livestock (cattle, sheep or goats) until they eat about 1/2 of the vegetation and stomp the other half into mulch.  Livestock must be well crowded in order to make this work.  Allow each animal only enough space to turn around = use very high stocking densities = mob grazing.  For example, 600 to 1,200 cows per acre.  Directly forage is exhausted, move livestock to a new enclosure or fresh pasture.  If field is “tired”, “sick” or barren, feed livestock in their enclosure until they deposit 1/2 to 1 pound of manure per square foot = about 11 to 22 tons per acre, then move animals to another enclosure.

(14)  Plant into Living Mulches.  This is ideal for transplants or crops with large seeds.  For best results use no-till equipment and low-growing legumes like Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) or Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum).  Seed Dutch White Clover at 8 to 12 pounds per acre, or Crimson Clover at 14 pounds per acre.  Seed or transplant directly cover crop reaches mature height of 6 inches for Dutch clover or 12 inches for Crimson clover.  It is good practice to mow clover before planting to give crops a head start.  Watch field carefully.  When the FIRST seedling emerges, immediately mow field as close to soil surface as possible.  If clover is especially vigorous, it may be necessary to mow again 2 weeks later.  Note:  If desired, you can grow corn (Zea mays) with tall-growing Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) using the same method.  No fertilizer, herbicides or cultivation are necessary if clover grows a full year before planting maize.

Planting into clover is a good way for farmers to learn how to work with weeds.  Clover is convenient to grow because its height is easily controlled.  Alternatively, you can make your own cover crop mix and use this as a substitute for naturally weedy fields.  Combine 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 root crops (tillage radish, stock beets, or turnips) = 14 species cover crop mix.  Plant at least 20 pounds per acre.  If desired, more species can be added.  For best economy, select cheap seed to keep costs below $40 per acre.

Remember:  All living mulches compete with their companion crops for water, light and nutrients.  For example, Dutch White Clover grows only 6 inches high but this is enough to shade the lower stems of wheat.  Plant Dutch clover with tall wheat varieties and yields are normal.  Seed Dutch clover with semi-dwarf or dwarf wheat and yields may drop 30% to 50%.  Use common sense when pairing cash crops with clover, weeds, or any other living mulch.  Combine tall varieties with low-growing cover crops.  Water and fertilize for both cash crop AND cover crop.  If necessary, retard or kill companion crop by mowing, mulching or roller-crimping.

(15)  Grow Crops and Animals Together.  2,000 years ago the Romans discovered that manure is more profitable than meat.  It pays to keep animals just for their manure.  Pastures grow better when grazed.  Crops grow better when dunged.  There is a significant difference in growth between plants fed manure or artificial nutrients.  No one has yet figured out why.  Drive a herd of cattle into high weeds (or a mixed species cover crop).  Let the cows graze until they have eaten 1/2 of the forage and stomped the rest.  Move herd to fresh pasture then immediately sow small grains or other crops with no-till equipment.  No herbicides, cultivation or chemical fertilizers required.

The cheapest way to keep livestock is to graze them on fresh, green grass.  Move herds to new pasture at least once daily and do not re-graze paddocks until forage has recovered.  This is called rotational grazing and eliminates the costs of building barns, making hay, and spreading manure.  If you don’t have tidy pastures seed mixed-species cover crops or graze native weeds.  What the cows don’t eat the goats will, and what the goats don’t like the sheep will relish.   Range chickens 3 or 4 days behind cows and the birds eat the fly maggots.  Nothing goes to waste and meadows stay clean and sanitary.

Not all weeds are good to have around.  When weeds get out of control there are 2 easy ways to recover ecologic balance:  (1)  Grow cover crops in series, or  (2)  Graze with mixed livestock.  Cover crops overwhelm weeds by shade and competition.  Mixed livestock eats everything in sight.  Either way, problem weeds are eliminated and crop rotation can proceed normally.

(15)  Think Unconventionally.  If everyone around you grows corn, plant something else.  If everyone says you have to spray, don’t.  Conventional wisdom is often just plain wrong.  Do not be afraid to experiment.  Every year I reserve about 2% of my land for agricultural research.  I learned to farm by doing the opposite of what the “Experts” advised.  Along the way I have enjoyed amazing success and spectacular failure.  Both are equally instructive.  Monsanto says weeds are bad and should be eradicated.  I think differently.  For example, in my garden (a jungle of weeds), I thin Bull Thistles (Cirsium vulgare) until they stand about 1 foot apart, then I plant 1 pole bean seed per thistle plant.  The beans climb the thistles and I do not have to cut poles.  My spray-by-the-calendar neighbors told me to cut the weeds or mulch them into oblivion.  Instead, I conducted a paired comparison of 100 beans on thistles with 100 beans on poles.  Thistles beat poles by a slight margin, 3.55% over a 5-year trial.  This is only one of many examples of symbiosis between weeds and crops.  Widely spaced weeds often increase crop yields.  I don’t recommend planting beans and thistles on a commercial scale, but neither do I insist on weed-free fields.  Weeds spaced 3 feet apart (about 5,000 weeds per acre) no longer bother me.  The tomatoes don’t seem to mind and I don’t have to spray for hornworms.  Learn from nature or buy from Monsanto.

Related Publications:  Weed Seed Meal Fertilizer; Trash Farming; No-Till Hungarian Stock Squash; Planting Maize with Living Mulches; Living Mulches for Weed Control; Pelleted Seed Primer; Crops Among the Weeds; Forage Maize for Soil Improvement; and Rototiller Primer.

Would You Like To Know More?  Please visit:  http://www.worldagriculturesolutions.com  — or —  send your questions to:  Eric Koperek, World Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania, 15108 United States of America  — or —  send an e-mail to:  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).

 

 

 

 

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:     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).

 

 

 

 

EARTHWORM PRIMER

“Biological Agriculture” relies on earthworms and other soil critters to do what plows and synthetic chemicals do in conventional agronomic systems.  Follow the advice below to encourage worm populations in your fields:

–>     There are many species of earthworms around the world.  The most common agricultural species in North America and Europe are the Common Garden Earthworm = Nightcrawler = Lumbricus terrestris, and the Manure Worm = Redworm = Eisenia foetida.  These are the most prevalent species sold by worm hatcheries for fish bait and farming.

–>     Nightcrawlers dig vertical burrows deep into the subsoil.  At night the worms rise to the soil surface to feed = they drag bits and pieces of leaves and other organic matter down into their tunnels.  Walk through a field at night with a flashlight and you will see many earthworms.

–>     Manure worms live close to the soil surface and do not dig vertical burrows.  Redworms are specialized to eat manure and so they are rarely seen except around the base of compost piles or in fields where many animals graze.

–>     31 nightcrawlers or manure worms per ounce; 500 worms per pound; 1,000,000 worms = 2,000 pounds = 1 ton.  1 average earthworm (Lumbricus terrestris) or manure worm (Eisenia foetida) from a commercial hatchery weighs 0.002 pound = 0.032 ounce = 0.9072 gram.

–>     Active, adult earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) eat their body weight in soil and organic matter daily.  Sluggish worms, immature worms, and worms of other species may eat only 10% to 30% of their body weight each day.  1,000,000 common earthworms per acre (about 23 worms per square foot of topsoil 12 inches deep) = 1 ton of earthworm castings = worm manure DAILY during the growing season.

–>     Usage Note:  1 earthworm cast, 2 earthworm casts, many earthworm castings.

–>     Average daily worm cast is about 0.90 gram although weight of surface casts is considerably greater and varies widely.  Average surface cast weight is approximately 10 to 14 grams or about 0.30 to 0.50 ounce.  Surface worm cast weight ranges up to about 2 ounces in temperate climates and considerably more in tropical areas, depending on worm species, soil type, and available food.  For example, 1 average adult earthworm (2 to 3 years old) living in a bed of compost in a tropical climate can produce 10 pounds = 4.54 kilograms of castings annually ~ 12.4 grams ~ 0.43 ounce of castings daily.

–>     Average surface cast volume is approximately 1 Tablespoon = 15 milliliters (plus or minus 7 milliliters).

— >     Earthworms are most active in early spring and mid fall when weather is cool and moist.  Ideal soil temperature = 65 degrees Fahrenheit.  Earthworms are less active during hot, dry summer months.  Earthworms rise to the surface to feed at night then sound to lower soil depths each morning when temperatures rise.

–>     Do not plow in spring or fall if practical as this kills many worms.  Do not plow, cultivate, or spray in early evening, after dark, or early in the morning as this kills many worms.  The best time to till, cultivate, or spray is in the afternoon when temperatures are highest and worms have retreated to cooler soil depths.

–>     Keep fields planted with cover crops in spring and fall to feed worms.  They need much food at this time.

–>     Don’t leave soil bare over winter.  Protect winter fields with an insulating blanket of crop residues, mulch, or cover crops.  1 or 2 inches of organic matter can double earthworm populations.

–>     Earthworm populations increase in direct proportion to the amount of organic matter on the soil surface = leaves, twigs, straw, et cetera.  More cover = more protection & more food = higher worm populations.  Keep the soil mulched or covered with growing plants at all times.  2 inches of mulch double worm populations compared to cornfields where whole stalks are left on soil surface.

–>     Baby earthworms when they hatch from their cocoons = egg cases are very small, only 1/2 to 3/4 inch long.  Earthworms are extremely vulnerable when first hatched.  Do not plow, cultivate, or spray when worms are hatching.

–>     Earthworms need protein in their diet.  Worm populations double on legume fields compared to grass fields.  Earthworms especially favor clovers, particularly white clover.  Include legumes in field rotations, pastures & hay fields, cover crop mixes, and living mulches.

–>     Earthworms breed and grow very slowly.  Baby worms take 2 to 3 years to mature.  A plentiful, steady food supply is essential to support maximum breeding and population growth.  More organic matter (roots, stems, leaves) = more food = faster population growth = more worms.

–>     Earthworms do not spread rapidly.  A worm colony might spread 3 feet in a year.  That’s as fast as earthworms go.  To “seed” worms drop 6 nightcrawlers every 30 feet then immediately cover with a generous heap of mulch, compost, or manure = whatever worms are used to eating.  It takes at least 10 years for worm colonies spaced 30 feet apart to spread across an acre-sized field.  1 acre = 43,560 square feet = 4,840 square yards ~ 0.404 hectare.

–>     Adult worms are particularly sensitive to dietary changes.  For example, worms raised in hatcheries die if placed in corn fields because they have problems adapting to new, strange foods.

–>     Do not try to seed Manure Worms = Eisenia foetida in crop fields.  The manure worms will die because they are not adapted to this environment.  Use only nightcrawlers = Lumbricus terrestris for agricultural development, mine reclamation, terraforming, reforestation, and similar environmental restoration projects.

–>     If you need to seed worms, talk to the hatchery and ask for their best deal on earthworm cocoons.  Baby worms adapt quickly to any food available.  Mix egg cases gently with screened peat moss, corn meal, sifted compost, or similar carrier then “plant” with a common grain drill.

–>     Switching from conventional tillage to no-till does not happen overnight.  Conversion speed is entirely dependent on earthworm food supplies.  There is no solution for worms’ low natural reproduction rates.  Buying more worms or egg cases won’t make the process go any faster.  You can’t fix this problem by throwing money at it.  Patience is required.  You won’t see substantial improvements in soil structure or fertility until the fourth or fifth year of no-till ~ 2 earthworm generations.  Dramatic differences become smack-upside-the-head obvious by the 7th or 8th year without plows ~ 4 worm generations.  Conversion speed is controlled by how many tons of organic matter are added to each field.  Start looking at crops in terms of their biomass production.  This game is all about weight.  The farmer with the most tons wins!

–>     Tillage kills earthworms.  Loses depend on plow type, tillage depth, and time.  Chisel plows are the most destructive, disk plows slightly less so.  Old fashioned moldboard plows are the least destructive of all conventional tillage implements.  Chisel plows kill 3 times as many earthworms as moldboard plows.

–>     RULE:  Less tillage is better than more tillage.  Shallow tillage is better than deep tillage.  “Warm tillage” (afternoon & summer) is better than “cool tillage” (spring, fall, morning, evening, and night).

–>     Till just enough to get your crop in the ground.  Disturb the soil as little as possible.  All you need is a small hole to set transplants or a narrow slot to sow seeds.  It is rarely necessary to till more than 2 inches deep (unless you are planting potatoes).

–>     No-Till is better than strip till which is better than ridge till which is better than whole surface conventional plowing.

–>     Rear mounted rototillers are ideal tools for shallow tillage.  For example:  Broadcast winter wheat and Dutch White Clover = Trifolium repens into standing weeds or cover crop.  Mow vegetation then rototill only 2 inches deep to get seeds into the ground.  Irrigate to firm seedbed or wait for rain.  Your field will look rough and trashy but the litter is necessary to prevent wind and water erosion.  Some seeds will be buried too deep, others too shallow, but enough will germinate and survive to produce a good crop.  If soil is too wet, omit rototilling.  You will still make a profitable crop.  Small seeds do not absolutely need to buried in earth.  Cut weeds or nurse crop will cover and protect seed.

–>     Earthworms do not “like” to eat maize leaves and they especially dislike whole corn stalks and cobs.  Continuous corn = planting maize in the same field year after year reduces earthworm populations to minimal levels.  For best results use a stalk chopper or forage chopper to shred dead corn plants so they decompose faster.  Plant maize into a living mulch of Red Clover = Trifolium pratense or other nitrogen fixing legume.  Follow corn with fall turnips or other cover crop to feed and protect worms over winter.  Rotate corn with legumes or other broad leaf cover crops.  Do not follow maize with a grass or cereal crop unless also planted with a companion crop of clover or other legume.  Broad ecological diversity favors large earthworms populations.  Translation:  Worms like a varied, balanced diet.

Example:     Plant forage maize at 80,000 to 100,000 seeds per acre to kill weeds.  Flatten with a roller-crimper or cut with a sickle bar mower after 70 days (18 tons biomass) or approximately 110 days (30 tons biomass per acre).  This is called Mulch-In-Place.  Direct seed pumpkins or squash through the corn mulch with a no-till seeder.  At the same time, broadcast Dutch White Clover = Trifolium repens or other low growing legume over field.  Clover fills any gaps in the mulch and provides earthworms with a “balanced diet”.  Result:  95% or better weed control and few insect pests.  Mulch keeps fruits clean so farmer gets premium prices for his pumpkins.

Note:     Mulch-In-Place is used to grow crops without herbicides.  Popular mulch crops include Winter Rye = Cereal Rye = Secale cereale in temperate climates and Sunn Hemp = Crotalaria juncea in tropical and subtropical climates.

–>     Adult earthworms can live 9 or more years in captivity.  How long worms live in the wild is unknown.

–>     Worms constantly maintain their burrows which often extend 5 to 6 feet into the subsoil.  About the diameter of a pencil, worm holes are essential for aeration and drainage of natural soils.  Fields with populations of 1 million earthworms per acre typically contain approximately 900 to 1,200 MILES of tunnels.  These tubes are lined with “earthworm cement”, a natural glue that keeps tunnels open many years after resident earthworms have died.  Plant roots follow earthworm burrows deep into the subsoil where moisture levels are relatively constant.  This is why crops grown in biologically managed fields have considerable drought resistance.  (Crop roots also follow weed roots into the subsoil, especially weeds with deep taproots.  This is why melons grown in weeds make a crop in dry years while clean cultivated vines shrivel and die).

–>     If agricultural wastes are plentiful earthworms can be fed just like crop plants on an irrigation schedule.  Apply weed seed meal, spoiled corn meal, dried brewer’s grains or similar DRY organic “fertilizer” at 2 Tablespoons (1/8th cup) per square foot ~ 1 ounce per square foot ~ 5 pounds per 100 square feet ~ 1 ton (2,000 pounds) per acre.  Apply WET materials like spent brewer’s grains or fresh cow manure at 8 Tablespoons (1/2 cup) per square foot ~ 4 ounces per square foot ~ 25 pounds per 100 square feet ~ 5 tons per acre.  Broadcast worm food on soil surface.  Reapply as needed when food is eaten = no longer visible on soil surface.

–>     Ammonia based nitrogen fertilizers kill earthworms.  The worst form is anhydrous ammonia gas.  Liquid ammonia fertilizers are far less injurious.  Note:  Organic fertilizers can also be lethal.  Excessive amounts of manure lagoon effluent decimate worm populations.  It is good practice to irrigate before applying ammonia or any fertilizer, chemical or organic.  (Irrigation prevents plants from absorbing too much fertilizer at once.  Over-fed plants attract insect pests).

–>     RULE:  Chemical fertilizers (or manure lagoon effluents) are best applied in small amounts throughout the growing season, ideally diluted in irrigation water.  For best results do not apply fertilizers to bare soils; apply nutrients only to growing plants.  Earthworms are quite sensitive to concentrated chemicals, organic or synthetic.

–>     To stabilize ammonia in animal manures mix with 5% phosphate rock powder by weight (100 pounds of phosphate rock per ton = 2,000 pounds of manure).  Store under cover until needed.  Spread or incorporate manure on field then immediately seed with Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) or other phosphorous absorbing cover crop.  (Mixing phosphate rock with manure greatly increases phosphate availability to crops.  Organic acids in manure make phosphorous soluble).

–>     Concentrated chemical fertilizers (especially nitrogen) decrease soil organic matter and earthworm populations.  Spread supplementary organic matter on fields where chemical nutrients are applied.  Whenever practical use organic fertilizers to encourage earthworm growth.

–>     How Earthworm Populations Vary by Soil Type and Land Use

50,000 worms/acre ~ 1  worm/square foot:  Moldboard Plowed Continuous Corn; Acid Peat Soils.

80,000 worms/acre ~ 2 worms/square foot:  No-Till Continuous Corn with Herbicide.

150,000 worms/acre ~ 3 worms/square foot:  Fine Gravel Soils; Coarse Sandy Soils; Medium & Heavy Clay Soils.

170,000 worms/acre ~ 4 worms/square foot:  Bare Earth Orchards (Conventional Cultivation); Alluvial = Silt Soils; Light Clay Soils; Heavy Loam Soils.

225,000 worms/acre ~ 5 worms/square foot:  Medium Loam Soils; Fine Sandy Soils.

250,000 worms/acre ~ 6 worms/square foot:  Chisel Plowed Corn & Soybeans Rotation; Chisel Plowed Continuous Soybeans; Light Loam Soils.

500,000  worms/acre ~ 12 worms/square foot:  No-Till with Herbicides.

650,000 worms/acre ~ 15 worms/square foot:  Moldboard Plowed Continuous Soybeans.

1,000,000 worms/acre ~ 23 worms/square foot:  Biological No-Till (Rye Mulch-In-Place); Orchards with Mixed Grass & Legume Sod; Undisturbed Tall Grass Prairies & Hay Fields; Natural Alpine Meadows.

1,300,000 worms/acre ~ 30 worms/square foot:  Biological No-Till with Mixed Species Cover Crops; Fields Fallowed 5 Years (Mostly Broad Leaf Weeds).

2 million worms/acre ~ 46 worms/square foot:  Continuous Clover Living Mulch; Organic Gardens; Dairy Pastures; Manure Fertilized Fields (22 Tons per Acre Yearly).

3 million worms/acre ~ 69 worms/square foot:  Year-Round Mulch 8 Inches Thick (Vineyards & Berry Farms); Sheet Composting 12 Inches Thick (Orchards); High Humus Organic Gardens; Raised Beds Filled with Compost, Leaf Mold, or Manure.

4 million worms/acre ~ 92 worms/square foot:  Undisturbed Temperate Deciduous Forests with Deep Leaf Litter; Intensively Grazed Alpine Pastures.

5 million worms/acre ~ 115 worms/square foot:  Temperate Rain Forests in Oregon & Washington.

6 million worms/acre ~ 138 worms/square foot:  Intensive Rotational Grazing Dairy Pastures; Manure Fertilized Fields (44 Tons per Acre Yearly).

7 million worms/acre ~ 161 worms/square foot:  Greenhouse Beds 3 Feet Deep Filled with Composted Manure.

8 million worms/acre ~ 184 worms/square foot:  New Zealand Sheep Pastures (Intensive Rotational Grazing).

Note:     Numbers are approximate.  Expect considerable variation between countries, climatic zones, elevation above sea level, and land management practices.  Earthworms do not thrive in acidic soils, poorly drained soils, rocky or sandy soils, or tight heavy clays.  The most important environmental factor for earthworm survival is ORGANIC MATTER.  Earthworm numbers increase or decrease dramatically depending on the amount of available food.  Highest populations occur on soils where plants grow year-round, and on soils covered with substantial depths of leaf litter or other plant materials.  To estimate worm populations use a tape measure and straight-edged garden spade, dig a 1 cubic foot soil sample, then carefully break apart the soil and tally earthworm numbers.  Multiple samples per acre yield more accurate estimates.

–>     1 million earthworms per acre is the Holy Grail for most farmers.  This goal is unreachable with conventional farming practices.  To increase worm populations on a field-scale basis requires a long-term soil conservation strategy including crop rotations, cover crops, living mulches, and reduced tillage.  Additional measures such as improved drainage (vertical mulching or tile lines), increased aeration (subsoil ripping or keyline plowing), and erosion control (terraces, contour planting and strip cropping) may also be required.  Overriding all is the logistics of food supply = providing sufficient tonnage of organic matter to feed an army of earthworms and other soil critters.  This is rarely accomplished unless the soil is covered with growing plants 365 days each year.

–>     A watershed management plan is recommended as more water = more vegetation = higher earthworm populations.  The goal is to capture and store every drop of rain that falls upon your land.  Passive or active irrigation may be needed to maintain worm populations at desired levels.

–>     Reaching the goal of 2 or 3 million earthworms per acre is nearly impossible without some form of “mixed agriculture” = crops and farm animals.  Animals provide manure needed to feed large numbers of worms.

–>     Cow manure applied at 1 pound per square foot ~ 22 tons = 44,000 pounds per acre yearly is sufficient to maintain populations of 1 million earthworms per acre (on fields where plants are grown year-round = 365 days annually).

–>     Earthworm populations soar when pastures are managed by intensive rotational grazing or mob grazing.  High concentrations of livestock (300 to 1,500 Animal Units per acre per day) deposit vast quantities of manure.  Fresh manure is excellent worm food.  (1 Animal Unit = 1 AU = 1,000 pounds of live animal weight, regardless of species).

–>     The ancient Roman practice of cattle penning relies on earthworms to help restore “tired”, “weak”, or “sick” fields.  Erect temporary fencing around land to be healed.  Broadcast seed or spread wildflower hay over soil.  Fill enclosure with livestock until land is “well crowded” = animals have just enough room to turn around ~ 8 x 8 feet = 64 square feet per cow ~ 680 cows per acre.  Feed livestock in pen until land is “well dunged and trodden” = 1/2 to 1 pound of manure per square foot ~ 10 to 20 tons of manure per acre = move livestock to new pen every day or every other day.  Cattle stomp seed into earth.  Earthworms and dung beetles till soil.  Manure and urine fertilize ground.  Pastures or fields are “enlivened” = revived by intensive dose of organic matter which causes soil critter populations to soar.  Soil organisms jump start biological nutrient recycling system which supports land revegetation.  Earthworms provide natural soil restoration without tractors, diesel fuel, or synthetic chemicals.

–>     Greek philosophers first noted the link between earthworms and improved crop growth.  This observation led to the development of worm farming practiced by cottagers and other small landholders who did not have cows or draft animals to produce manure for fertilizer.  In spring spread cut weeds and other green plant materials over garden.  Apply mulch thickly = 8 inches deep.  This was the original green manure.  In fall, rake tree leaves and spread over garden 8 inches deep.  Keep garden covered with weeds and leaves year-round.

The night before planting, take a lantern and collect earthworms from hay fields or pastures.  Put worms in a pail with damp moss or leaf mold to keep the “wrigglers” from drying out.  Set several worms with each seed or transplant.  cover immediately with soil and just enough mulch to lightly shade the soil.  When plants are established tuck mulch close around their stems.  Water garden as needed.  Do not spade, fork, plow, till, hoe, or cultivate soil — just plant, mulch, and harvest.  Continuous mulch feeds and protects earthworms and topsoil.  You can run entire farms on nothing but fresh cut weeds and native earthworms.  Space rows widely so there are sufficient weeds to mulch crops liberally.

–>     Over a typical 5 to 6 month growing season, 1 million earthworms per acre will excrete 150 to 180 TONS of worm casts.  These are deposited throughout the soil profile from the surface to approximately 6 feet deep.

Note:  This is a vast amount of nutrients ~ 6.88 to 8.26 pounds of earthworm castings per square foot!  Where does all the fertilizer go?  There are far more available nutrients than any crop could possibly absorb.  This is a mystery.  Nutrient recycling must be extremely rapid with most of the fertilizer elements held within soil critters and organic matter.

–>     Fertilizer Analysis of Surface Earthworm Casts Collected Nightly for 31 Days in July 2011 from 16 Organic Farms in Austria:

2.56% Nitrogen : 1.31% Phosphorous : 1.56% Potassium: 3.69% Calcium = 51.2 pounds Nitrogen + 26.2 pounds Phosphorous + 31.2 pounds Potassium + 73.8 pounds Calcium per ton of earthworm casts.  Average organic matter content of earthworm casts sampled = 7.1% by dry weight.  50 casts bulked for each sample.  16 farms x 31 days = 496 samples total.

–>     Average Nutrient Concentration in Earthworm Casts:

5x Nitrogen (500% more N than found in parent soil)

7x Phosphorous (700% more P than found in parent soil)

10x Potassium (1,000% more K than found in parent soil)

1.5x Calcium (150% more Ca than found in parent soil)

3x Magnesium (300% more Mg than found in parent soil)

Earthworms are living fertilizer factories.  They ingest their weight in soil and organic matter daily then excrete manure containing concentrated plant nutrients.  These nutrients are highly available = easily absorbed and will not “burn” plant roots.  Earthworm casts are rich sources of essential plant micro-nutrients.  These trace elements are often “tied up” = unavailable in parent soils but highly soluble in earthworm casts.  Plants fertilized with earthworm casts rarely require additional nutrients.  This is why earthworm casts have been the standard natural greenhouse fertilizer since the 17th century.

Would You Like To Know More?     Contact the Author directly if you have any questions or need additional information about managing agricultural earthworm populations.

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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PLANTING MAIZE WITH LIVING MULCHES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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