The farm is full of complexities and there really is no way for us to do everything we intend to do with perfection. Part of the challenge is figuring out what 'good enough' is and how to live with that. Case in point - our struggle every season to incorporate cover crops into our production fields.
For those who do not know, a cover crop is essentially a planted crop that is not intended to be harvested. Instead, it is meant to be turned back into the ground. Examples of cover crops we grow on our farm include clovers, buckwheat, millet, sunn hemp, tillage radish and annual ryegrass.
Let's go see what we managed to accomplish in 2017 for cover crops.
|Let's go out towards the field just South of Valhalla.|
|And here's where we are right now with those fields|
|What's with the bare area in the middle?|
The left side of the picture shows millet and sunn hemp. The millet is doing extremely well this year and we intend on leaving it and letting the cold weather kill it. This crop will keep the soil covered to prevent erosion and the dense foliage will add nutrients for next year's veggies. The sunn hemp, on the other hand, got a slow start and hasn't gotten as big as it was intended to get. In a decent year, it easily gets taller than the farmers. This year, we'll settle on half its normal height.
The picture does not show the tillage radish back towards the bush line. These are daikon-like radish that grow strong tap roots that break up the soil. We felt that some of the area in the East of this field area was compacted, so we put this cover crop, along with clover, in that area.
The clover is just getting started after all of the rain we have gotten. Better late than never, but it did nothing to keep the weeds from taking off as well. We may have to mow this area to keep the weeds from going to seed, but the clover is short enough, we should be able to get away with it. Clover and vetch are great cover crops to add nitrogen to the soil. We felt that some of the middle areas in these fields could use a nitrogen boost, which is why we made the choice we did.
|Guess I have to mow the buckwheat!|
We have had people ask us if we were going to let our chickens graze the buckwheat. However, everything we have read suggests that will not be a good idea. It's one thing for a chicken to find a buckwheat plant here and there. But, if they eat too much of it, we will not like the results.
No, seriously. It was the wind. Some of our early storms packed a solid punch. As a result, some tasks on the farm got pushed out of their slot because we had to address some situations brought about by storms. Cover crops in this field just got bumped. It happens. And, the kale has just continued to do well, so there is no reason to take them out just yet. We could have cover cropped around them - we just didn't. Such is life.
The good news about this? Well, we've identified the labor bottleneck that prevented us from executing some of these plans in a timely fashion. Now we can explore ways to address the problem. I consider that part of this season's success.
And, of course, we'll do better next year.