Spring has sprung
The oats are still in the bag, but the apple orchards are looking good and some tweaks to a modified planter are well on their way. As the wheat greens up, the bedding plants are just about ready to move from greenhouse to cold frame for hardening off. Yep. It's spring.

By Jeff Moyer, The Rodale Institute® Farm Manager

Jeff Moyer is the farm manager at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm, and has been here for over 26 years, refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems. The farm has over 1,000 organic apple trees, a 3-acre CSA, 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market, and 25 acres of experimental research plots that have been used to test and compare the yield, soil health and environmental impact of organic and conventional systems for the last 22 years.

"It's been extremely rewarding to work at The Rodale Institute," says Jeff. "Working on projects and with people who are having a positive impact on family farm practices, economics, and environmental stewardship is very fulfilling. The positive changes I've seen on our own farm over the years—and farms around the world— convinces me that we're on the right road."

How to contact Jeff

Jeff's email:

Phone: 610-683-1420

Mailing address:
611 Siegfriedale Rd.
Kutztown, PA 19530

April 2, 2004: Hey, the snow pile outside my window at the edge of the parking lot has finally melted! April is here and, as the old saying goes, “spring has sprung.” The past four days have been absolutely gorgeous and we’re taking full advantage of the beautiful weather to get into the fields. Normally by this time of the year we have all of our oats neatly tucked into the soil. This year, because of late snows and frozen ground, the oats are still in the bag. We did manage to sneak our frost seedings of alfalfa/orchard grass into the winter wheat later in March. So things are getting done, even if not quite at the rate I’d like.

The apple orchards are looking good. Don Jantzi, our orchard foreman, has the trees pruned and ready for this year’s growing season. Don and I gave a presentation at this year’s sustainable ag meeting ( held in State College, Pa. I was surprised by the fine attendance at the presentation. Attendees at the conference had several congruent sessions they could attend, and the interest in organic apple production was, well, surprising.

Since that presentation, several of you have written to ask about the spray schedule and materials list we will be using this year on our apples. I’ve talked with the editors of and I think we’ll be writing a special article to address this issue. In the meantime, if you want a copy of the schedule just drop me an email and I’ll get it out to you. We will be making some modifications to the schedule we used last year to take advantage of some of the newer materials available to us and to adjust to the changes we’ve seen in the insect pest populations.

Last year I modified a small two-row Monosem vacuum planter to accommodate no-till practices for some research plots. I really liked the way it worked and I’m now in the process of converting it to a four-row unit that will handle all my corn and soybean planting this year. This required extending the tool bars, adding the planting units, and changing the drive shafts. Aside from these usual changes, we made some modifications that are truly unique.

No-till planting, as we do it, is done into standing cover crops. Last year we built a roller to mechanically kill the cover crop ahead of the planter (check out Introducing a cover crop roller without all the drawbacks of a stalk chopper for more information). One of our goals in using the new planter was to pull the cover crop back over the planted row after the seed was planted. We tried to use Yetter residue managers to accomplish this. While the system seemed to work in the rolled grains where we planted soybeans, it failed miserably in the vetch cover where we planted corn. The fingers in the wheels just acted like a rake, rolling the vetch up until it lifted the planter out of the ground.

This year, we are mounting rubber tires in place of the residue managers in an attempt to gently push the cover crop back over the planted row. Since we only need to move the plant material about an inch, we think the tires may do the trick. I’ll let you know how it works later in the year. For now, the planter conversion is well on its way to being complete.

A quick walk through the greenhouse reminds us all that planting season is getting closer every day. The young bedding pants have been transplanted into larger pots and are being readied to go into the cold frames to be hardened off before heading to the fields and gardens. I just got a call from my potato-seed supplier saying he shipped our seed today. Our soybean seed arrived last week. The field equipment is ready by the door. The plow is in the field as I write, getting started on the dryer hillsides. It feels like the marshaling of the supplies and troops for a major military action. I’m sure the same types of activities are taking place on you own farms.

The winter crops that are already out there look good. The warmer weather and sunshine have greened up the wheat. The rye that got into the ground late after the corn was harvested last fall seemed to double in size in just two days. The cover crop of oats and hairy vetch seems to be coming back to life and will soon make its big push of growth.

There is one other project unrelated to our field work that is taking place on the farm this spring. We’re getting a new auxiliary power generator large enough to power the entire farm. Up until now, we’ve only had a small generator—just large enough to run our greenhouses. But lately we’ve had so many power outages that have lasted longer than a day that we though it wise to get a generator large enough to keep the whole operation up and running. It’s one of those extravagant expenses that you keep putting off but, after 32 years at this location, it’s time.

We needed to pour a concrete pad to set the mammoth machinery on and bury a conduit from the pad to the barn where our main electrical room is. I must admit that I feel a little like a kid on his birthday about to get a present. I guess we all love the hardware. Well, I’ve got to get back out to the shop. Email me and let me know how things are on your farm.

From One Farm to Another.