in my sweet baby's rye: Planting
soybeans no-till into rye using a homemade front mounted roller.
September 12, 2003: Researchers at The Rodale
Institute have been experimenting with using rye as a cover crop
for organic soybeans for a number of years now. One of the treatments
we were especially pleased with was no-till planting soybeans into
a rolled-down rye cover crop. The idea is to grow a good thick stand
of rye planted in October; then once the rye has reached the heading-out
stage, you roll over it to mechanically kill it and plant soybeans
directly into the weed-suppressing mulch.
As with any mechanical killing of a cover crop, growth stage is
very important. In order to effectively kill the rye you should
wait until it is fully heading out, which is usually sometime in
mid May to early June for us in Pennsylvania. We now use a front-mounted
roller for our mechanical killing, but we have used other pieces
of equipment in the past such as cornstalk choppers and culti-packers.
The front-mounted roller is designed with unsharpened blades welded
to a hollow cylinder drum that can be filled with water for additional
weight. (More details on this roller will be coming in the near
future, as will details of our less than successful experiences
with hairy vetch as a weed-suppressing cover crop.)
In order to be able to plant into the thick rye residue you need
to use a planter with a double disc opener. We tried for a couple
of years with a planter rigged with a shoe opener, but this dragged
the cover crop residue and resulted in poor seed placement. The
Monosem air-planter that we use actually has a series of devices
to allow for proper seed placement. First rolling trash openers
(similar to the discs on a rotary hoe) pull some of the rye away
to allow for a bubble coulter to slice into the soil. Next a double
disc opener spreads the soil and a seed is dropped in and pushed
firmly into place with a plastic device.
One of the tricks we have learned is that you should plan ahead
and try to plant your rye cover crop perpendicular to the direction
you want to plant your soybeans. This helps to completely cover
the ground when you roll the following spring. If you plant your
cover crop in the same direction as the soybeans, you are liable
to have 7” gaps in your rye mulch mat once it is rolled, allowing
light to penetrate and consequently more weeds to break through.
Matthew Ryan has worked at many levels of research and farmer
outreach at The Institute, and co-designed TRI's multi-factor cover
crop and reduced tillage trials. Ryan also designed the Institute's
compost tea verification study funded by USDA-SARE.