Saturday, July 31, 2010

Organic Pest Control

Here are a couple of pictures of little guys doing overtime to keep the flies down around here.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cover Crop Conversation Continued

A question was raised concerning the previous blog entry/email.

I have a question on the cocktail mix. It's my understanding that most cover crops are harvest/cut/flailed, etc.
sometime between the start of flowering and halfway into bloom. With a cocktail, how do you determine the optimum time to take the cover crop down? Is it the flowering schedule of the earliest member of the mix?
The average point of all of them?

And the answer:

Most of our farmers terminate the cover crop with winter kill, meaning it is allowed to fully develop. Before moving into soil health we terminated all sunlight harvest after grain harvest. Now we use the cover crops to harvest the sunlight from grain harvest to winter. This sunlight ultimately becomes additional carbon in the soil. Making increases in soil organic matter more achievable. We have built soil health based no-till systems on the cropland and grazing systems on the rangeland, then the cover crops are used as a bridge to connect the cropland and rangeland. We try for a continual live root, just like native rangeland has. The livestock are a tool to harvest 40-50% of the cover crop biomass, leaving the remainder as soil armor. The livestock can also be used to terminate cover crops by mob grazing. I have attached pictures showing what the soil cover looks like before

and after

having 750,000 lbs of beef per acre graze a cool season cover crop cocktail. Our local Soil Conservation District also has a crop roller which is used to terminate rye or field pea.

We rolled the pea during bloom and the rye during 50%+ anthesis, both were seeded as monocultures. Occasionally we have farmers who terminate a cover crop mixture with herbicide, but only rarely with tillage.

Cover Crops

The following is excerpts from an email conversation concerning cover crops for a local organic farm. I am finding it very useful as this particular aspect of sustainable farming is difficult for me to understand.

Your first attempt at planning a cover crop mixture is very good. As I recall some of the resource concerns included armor (surface residue), crop diversity, soil aggregates, nutrient cycling, and infiltration to name a few. I see the mixture consists of cool season broadleaves and cool season grass, which is what we would use here for a fall seeding after harvest. The high carbon portion appears a little high, with the first 4 species making up 50%, while the legume may be a little low at 30% of the mix. I would suggest decreasing the high carbon to 40% and increasing the legume to 40%. Possibly an additional legume could be added, such as Lentil. The brassica portion at 20% looks good, since they are nitrogen scavenging and low carbon you do not need very much. The high carbon will give you soil armor and their roots will improve the soil aggregates and soil organic matter. The legumes will improve the nutrient cycling, while the brassicas create streets and avenues for the water to move into the soil profile. Improving soil health is about restoring balance, and the cover crop mixtures will help you with this task. Always try to include crop types in the cover crop mixture that are not used in the annual crop rotation, this will improve crop diversity and help feed the soil biology a more balanced diet.

I attached two cover crop pictures too.

[The photo above depicts] a 14-way mixture, which is primarily cool season. It was seeded at the Menoken Farm on May 12 and includes: wheat, oat, forage pea, lentil, ac greenfix, turnip, radish, sunflower, Italian rye grass, hairy vetch, sweet clover, phacelia, canola, and flax. The native pollinators did very well with this mixture too.

[This photo is] a primarily warm season 11-way mixture, and was seeded on June 14th at the Black Leg Ranch. It consists of: pearl millet, proso millet, sudan, soybean, cowpea, sunflower, radish, turnip, sweet clover, canola, and corn. Both are based on the clients resource concerns and objectives. This is not the first time that nature has seen this many different plants together. We have to understand they are working together and not competing. Thank you for your interest in soil health.

I have used this email without permission from it's author but thank him nonetheless.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hot enough for ya?

The weather has been nice lately; I especially enjoy the cool overcast mornings. But I bet your plants are suffering. We have received about 1" less than average of rain so far and have had two (at least)spells of intense heat. For those of you without a swimming pool, it can be tough to cool down. Next time you are sitting inside with a cold beer while watching Buffy reruns, think of your poor plants wilting in the afternoon swelter. Vegetables won't set fruit when it gets over 90F. Heat stressed plants are more susceptible to disease and pest damage. But when you continue to dump water on them, your water bill will punish you.

You know where this going...

You need to mulch. Mulches, like compost, are a universal cure all. A thick layer of organic mulch keeps soil temperatures low. It helps retain moisture in the soil. (Did you know that in New Mexico, we have the evaporative average of 60" annually? That means that in New Mexico, the natural evaporation of water from soil to the atmosphere averages 5 feet a year. 5 feet! We only get 8" or so of rain to replenish that.) That moist soil provides a habitat for beneficial organism that create a healthy growing environment for plants. It's not by accident that bushes and trees drop their leaves periodically; they are providing mulch to protect and build the soil in which they live.

Although visually pleasing mulch is in some cases as important as properly functioning mulch, some materials perform better than others in some situations.

Windy areas: we have seen over the years that particle shape is as important as particle size when choosing a mulch for a windy area. An elongated shape tends to allow the mulch to knit together so that it stays in place better. These mulches also do well in well traveled areas.

A coarsely ground woody material is a good example. We call this Native Mulch

Another good example is this material. It is a little more decorative. We call it Black and Tan.

Established Trees and Shrubs: The problem with amending the soil around established trees and shrubs is that an disturbance of the soil will damage valuable feeder roots. So a mulch that contains a lot of humic acid containing compost will perform two functions: feed and protect the soil.

Forest Floor Mulch is an excellent mulch for established trees.

Decorative areas: Sometimes you want to show off a rose garden or create a pathway. A good mulch for that application would be a uniform material. These are generally processed more and will be a bit more expensive. Pecan Shells or Wood Mulch are excellent materials.

A new mulch we have is a good pathway mulch. It is a certified playgound mulch called Playsoft.

It's light in color, very uniform in particle distribution, attractive and soft.

Vegetable areas: Now here is where it gets fun. I like to use short fibered mulched in the veggie garden because they generally break down faster. Short fibered materials are usually not as carbonaceous so they won't rob nitrogen from you prized tomatoes. The best part (to me at least) is that these potential mulches are everywhere for the taking. Grass clippings or leaves make great mulches for veggie gardens. Of course, an excellent mulch for your veggies is a compost approved for use on certified organic farms...Premium Compost.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Vote for a Charity

This was forwarded to me by an old friend.

What warrants a blog entry this time was the dilemma between the organizations from which to choose. The old school in me says that surfing always trumps anything else. There really is a cleansing quality to the surf that every one should test. But the new school in me sees a huge demand for urban farms. My recent experience with our Soilutions' sign painting makes me want to vote for the urban art project.

So, I leave it up to you all to vote your heart. I don't think there is a bad choose.