15, 2006: Mid-March. There is still a little dirty snow
on the ground, but the sun is getting higher in the sky. Spring
surely can’t be far away.
We still have two tractors torn apart in the shop, so our winter
work isn’t as far along as we had planned. I hope you’ve
gotten all your winter projects completed, have your field plans
laid out in detail and have all your resources lined up and ready
Speaking of resources, let me mention again the need for all of
us, as organic farmers, to use certified organic seed. I wrote about
this in detail in my November
2006 column. I don’t think I’ve written about any
topic that has received as much feedback
as this topic.
Many of you wrote to tell me you agreed with my main point: We
all need to support the organic industry from seed to table. But
many also wrote to say you have tried organic seed and found it
lacking in many of the characteristics farmers depend on. We all
need accurate germination data, fair representation of plant type
and growing requirements, as well as yield quantity and quality
information. As a community, organic farmers cannot be expected
to buy seed that is not true to type, uniform, free from weed seed
and possessing good germination characteristics.
Organic seed providers need to know that their just being organic
is not reason enough for farmers to purchase their products. We
all realize that this portion of the industry is less mature than
some other sectors may be. From the letters we’ve received
I can tell the support is there, but the seeds need to measure up
to the quality standards farmers have grown to expect—and
need—to make their farms successful.
Now let’s get back to thinking about spring. It’s too
early to tell if our cover crops have survived the strange winter
weather we experienced this year. The winter started out unusually
warm for an extended time, then it turned cold, then very cold,
and we still had snow on the ground last week.
My plan is to use our no-till roller to no-till plant our corn
and soybeans and even some oats. Last fall we over-seeded a cover
crop of forage radish into our soybeans at leaf yellow stage. The
radish seedlings were a little spindly while the beans kept their
leaves, but then grew through the fall and early winter to form
roots that ranged from one-half inch to 3 inches in diameter. My
hope is that the winter-killed radish will suppress the weeds enough
that we can no-till plant the oats.
Maximizing organic no-till
Our goal is to use our cover-crop based no-till system to plant
as many crops as we can in our crop rotation, as often as possible.
We’re not capable of no-tilling every crop every year. We’ll
till the soil as needed at some rotation points to establish our
cover crops. We know if we can get an excellent establishment of
my cover crops that we’ll stand a very good chance of growing
our cash crop weed free, with little or no tillage, with no extra
nitrogen and a whole lot less labor.
There is no place on the farm that feels more like spring right
now than the inside of our greenhouse. This week we sowed all of
our early brassicas. The onion and leek seeds were started weeks
ago. We have always used our own compost as the base ingredient
for our potting mix. We add perlite and vermiculite to the mix along
with some peat moss.
This year we are switching from peat to a coconut-fiber byproduct
called coir. This is all part of our goal to use renewable resources
wherever possible, and the harvesting of peat has environmental
impacts in terms of its renewability.
The smell of the damp soil coming from the mist rack in the greenhouse
lets me know planting season is coming fast.
Well, it’s off to finish the farm’s organic certification
forms—that nasty paperwork. It’s probably that time
on your farm as well. Hopefully, you’ve taken my advice and
that of many others and kept up with your field and crop records,
your soil and water test data and your financial accounting so that
the process is painless.
Almost painless, that is. I’ve started keeping track of all
our field work on a Microsoft Access file. It’s so easy to
fill out the paperwork once the information is entered—just
a few keystrokes and clicks and let the printer do its thing.
If any of you have come up with good new ideas for farm record
keeping—especially for your organic certification requirements—let
me know so I can share your techniques with other farmers.
Because that’s how we all learn.
From One Farm to Another