September 14, 2007: I missed writing to you last
month—vacation! I'm not sure I deserved it but it felt
great to get out of town and see a different part of this
great country of ours. I headed West—way west—out
to Wyoming, open country filled with fresh air, blue sky,
lakes and rivers filled with trout, fields with horses, and
no crops to maintain. It's good to get away.
But, I'm back. The farm looks good and I'm ready to get back
in the saddle. Well, at least into the tractor seat.
September in Pennsylvania is my favorite month. We're still
enjoying the warm days of the end of summer, but the cool
nights of fall are beginning to creep in. It won't be long
before harvest season for corn and soybeans will be here,
and we've already begun picking the first apples of the season.
Melons are about over, but pumpkins are right behind them.
This time of year is a time of change, for the weather and
the work we perform. This year, fall is a real time of change
for us at The Rodale Institute. We have a new chief executive
officer in Timothy LaSalle, we're putting the finishing touches
on a new strategic plan to help steer our organization, and
we're beginning some new and challenging projects.
Fall is a good time for every farmer to consider the changes
he or she might have lurking in the back of their minds. For
example, if you're even remotely considering the use of cover
crops in your rotations, get them started now. You can always
decide how to deal with them later in the spring, but if you
don't plant them now you’ll need to wait another whole
year to try again. Don't be afraid to experiment a little
bit. Get a hold of some hairy vetch, crimson clover, Austrian
winter pea or even some rye seed and get it into one of the
open fields where a summer crop was already harvested, or
into an old hay field that might be past its prime.
Every farmer should be a researcher
It may be hard to think about next year already, but this
time of year is a great opportunity to do it. Ask yourself
a few important questions:
- What's working well for me this year?
- What's not working and really could be improved?
- How can I manage my resources better?
If you come up with some cropping ideas, take steps to put
them into practice. Start experimenting on small pieces of
land so you can explore these new ideas at a scale that limits
your risk. Set up your strips so that they are easy to manage.
This way you can fit the field work into your schedule without
any wasted time. The nice part about your own on-farm research
is the results are extremely relevant to you and your particular
What should you consider? Look at different crop varieties,
because this choice can have a huge impact in organic systems.
You can look at different cover-crop species, try different
planting dates for your cash crops (in soybeans this can affect
your weed pressure by more than 50 percent) or even investigate
If you want to try some no-till work by rolling cover crops,
see our no-till
page here at NewFarm.org to read stories and find advice
on how to get started.
Plot your future
The point here is that fall is a great time to plan these
small-scale, on-farm experiments. Setting up your plots now
in preparation for next spring will save you time and aggravation
down the road. Then, this winter when you’re working
on your equipment, you’ll know exactly what you need
to change or adjust to accommodate your plans.
On another note, fall can be a great time to apply any soil
amendments to your fields. I like to use this time of the
year to get my compost applied as well. Since composting stabilizes
the nutrients in the material, you aren't as apt to lose them
through the winter—especially if you are planting cover
crops over the top. This can save time in spring when every
minute becomes even more precious. Other soil amendments can
just as easily be applied in late summer or early fall, when
the soil is usually drier and crops are out of the way. If
you use a custom applicator, they generally are not as busy
this time of the year, so it's easier to get them to come
on your schedule.
By this time next month we’ll be firing up the combine
and heading out to harvest corn and soybeans. Before you know
it, it will be winter, the soil will be hard and you will
be (happily) stuck inside. So get an experiment or two in
the ground and send
me any ideas you have.
We all learn more when we share our ideas, our successes
and our failures.
From One Farm to Another,