Friday, October 19, 2007

Cover-cropping, part II

Hey there,

Adventures in cover-cropping. I'm excited, actually; I've never done this part of farming before. It looks like I will be scrambling, in the next week plus, to remove all irrigation from the summer field, remove all edible crops that are save-able (mostly winter squash), transplant any herbs I can (sage, marjoram and chives) to the herb patch in a corner of the field, and remove any seeds I want to save (mostly flower and bean seed). It's supposed to rain tonight and then there'll be a blush of hot weather starting Sunday 10/21. By Monday 10/29 I should have the field ready, and the idea would be to have a tractor with a disc come in that morning, and turn in all the remaining vegetation (of which there's lots). That afternoon I would come in with a couple people and spread two things:

A)Cover crop seed -- a mix of triticale [wheat/rye hybrid], "biomaster" peas, bell beans, purple vetch and something else I can't remember. This is largely for the nitrogen the field will get thru the cover-cropping process. I may also buy a "spinner," which is a tool that helps distribute the seed evenly.

B) Amendments. I'm still looking into this, but it's looking like lime/gypsum, to add calcium and change the Ph of the soil from 5.9 (too acidic) to something closer to 6.5 (right in the middle, between acid and alkaline). I contacted a place in Half Moon Bay called "Romeo Packing" which sells amendments and fertilizers in bulk. I'll need about a thousand pounds of lime per acre, and I'm doing two of the field's three acres in winter cover crop, so that's about a ton of lime, in fifty-pound bags. They have two kinds of lime there -- dolomite, which is a mixture of calcium carbonate and magnesium, and oyster shell, which is strictly calcium carbonate. I have to figure out which one is more appropriate for the soil I have, and I'm hoping, in the next few days, to go over the results of a soil test I did back in January with Liz Milazzo, my farm mentor at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center when I was there. She might also recommend other amendments, based on the test results. The oyster shell is more expensive than the dolomite, but not by much -- 10 cents per pound compared to 7.5 cents per pound. So the question is, really, do I need magnesium? According to the soil test, the magnesium levels of the soil, measured in parts per million, is very high, so it seems that the oyster shell will be the way to go.

I have mixed feelings about adding this stuff, only because it has to be imported from somewhere far away. I'd like to figure out a way to eliminate any outside inputs -- saving all my own seed, finding local sources of minerals, etc. But for now this seems like the right thing to do. My interest seems to be leading me to exploring indigenous ways of farming, wondering how local peoples tended this land. I don't think there was very much agriculture going on in this part of the world, but I could be wrong.

...........Anyway, once both the cover crop seed and the amendments are added, by hand, to the field, then the tractor would come in the again that day and disc them in, lightly. According to Martin, this involves changing the angle of the disc so that it penetrates the ground in such a way that it just lightly covers the soil.

So the actual cover-cropping would all happen in one day -- discing in the morning, spreading seeds in the afternoon, then discing again in the late afternoon/early evening.

Rain should come soon after, and then I'll be set. It's just the work between now and then that's daunting. It looks like the whole process is gonna cost somewhere between $1,200 and $1,500. That's quite a lot actually, and I'll need a one-time influx of cash from the restaurants to cover this cost.

And that's about it on the subject. Thanks once again for listening.


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