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
- 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 farm situation.
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 alternative crops.
If you want to try some no-till work by rolling cover crops, see
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
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
From One Farm to Another,