ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

Are we on the right track starting from scratch in New Mexico?

Posted February 16, 2006

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Click here to send it to Jeff.

Dear Jeff,

I am starting from scratch here in New Mexico on our new farm. It was badly overgrazed and had lots of old horse manure piled up and weeds so bad you couldn't walk outside without shoes on. We have been doing our own experimentation here at 6,200 feet, USDA Cold Hardiness Zone 5b (which often acts like Zone 4, delivering late-spring frosts) and a mixed kettle of sand/caliche and rock. Soil is definitely on the alkaline side, but that range varies greatly from place to place due to our mixed soil conditions.

I'm working out of raised beds for many plantings and have 18 ready for spring planting now. I am adding at least another 12, all in a sheltered location as the wind is ferocious here most of the year.

For the garden, I will be planting a mixed cover crop on that one acre in the first week of March. Right now I am pulling the yucca I didn't get over the summer. I plan on tilling our cover crop April 30, a short period but for good reason. The soil here is incredibly lacking in humus and any addition is needed.

I will apply a biodynamic spray to speed up breakdown and then till it in by third week of May. By then we should be out of the frost period (hopefully) and will be able to plant the first of June.

Cropping will be mixed, to some extent due to the heavy prevalence of wind-spread pest weeds such as tumbleweed. By planting an undercrop, we hope to cut down on a lot of weeding in the corn and provide nitrogen.

Some of our varieties:

Corn—“Painted Mountain’ and ‘Truegold’
Sunflower—Johnny’s Selected Seeds (cover crop type)
Winter squash—‘Waltham’ butternut, Sweet Dumpling’ and ‘Table Queen’ acorn
Pumpkins—‘Big Max’ and ‘Sugar Pie’
Greenbeans—‘Blue Lake’

Tomatoes and peppers are raised just in the raised beds, as with our winds and cool nighttime temps they just don't fair well (same thing with melons). I have done some experimental work already and will be applying what I've learned over the years living and growing here.

I would like to see what you are doing in your plantings, as it could provide me with more ideas.

Thank you for a great newsletter packed with awesome information.

Pat Maas
Earthwalker Farm

Dear Pat,

Thanks for the email and your interest in the work of The Rodale Institute. From what I read, it sounds like you’re off and running with a great plan. Of course our conditions are quite different from yours, but anytime you're in the East stop in and visit. It seems we grow many of the same varieties you will be growing in your garden. Would it be possible to turn those piles of horse manure into compost? That might be a useful source of nutrients since it is already there. Overgrazed land can take some time and effort to bring back, and the perennial weeds that show up from the over grazing can be a very real issue when doing things organically. Here again, you are on track by working on a plan that incorporates cover crops, tillage and a diverse rotation.

It will be a lot of hard work, but the rewards are great as well. Thanks again for reading New Farm, and we hope we can continue to bring you the information you need to make your operation a success.


Hi again, Jeff,

Yes, it is a lot of work. I’m using a mixed bag of sustainable methods to slow down erosion and am seeing the results. I have used wheat in some places to hold the soil in place and will be expanding that soon into more pasture. We’re also planting Siberian pea shrub along the boundary locations to slow down flying sand and am adding honey locust every 20 feet or so. I’m putting it all on a drip tape as that is one method proven here in the high desert. I am working on the west side first, as that is the primary wind direction. Wind is a critical factor here as we have more than a few days pushing 60mph, but generally it's 15-20 mph.

With as dry as it is now, much of the native grass is releasing its seed. The sad thing is, we haven't seen even a frost in better than a month now and can only hope for the best.

I will stop by and see you when I visit my dad in upstate New York. Not a lot of folks do what I do out here, but there are a few, and it is always good to see what others are doing. I will make sure to give a heads up, as I understand all too well what it means to be busy on a farm.

Keep up the great work; I look forward to seeing what you are up to.

Pat Maas
Earthwalker Farm


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