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

Is no-till vegetable production possible?

Posted June 8, 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 have a question about the no-till roller process in vegetable production? Do you know of anyone doing it? Do we plant only seedlings after rolling or seeds? Any help would be great.

Meghan Ryan

Hi Meghan,

Thanks for the email and for the good question pertaining to vegetable production and rolling cover crops. In theory you should be able to transplant or direct seed into the system depending on what you want to plant and what cover crops you have available to you. For example, we are direct seeding pumpkins into hairy vetch. You could also direct seed cucumbers or squash the same way. I would think small-seeded plants like lettuce or carrots would be much more difficult but not impossible. If you have an adequate planter like a Monosem no-till vacuum planter you could get the seeds in the ground, but getting them up through the mulch of the rolled cover crop may be tough—never tried it.

Dr. Ron Morse (540) 231-6724 from Virginia Tech has done quite a bit of no-till veggies into cover crops as has Dr. Jeff Mitchell at UC-Davis (see the article we ran in 2004 on Dr. Morse's project, Organic no-till for vegetable production?). Both these folks—and several farmer cooperators—are no-till transplanting crops like tomato, eggplant, cabbage, etc., into these systems.

Please feel free to e-mail back with further questions.