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Cover Me

With August here and the Fall quickly approaching our thoughts and hearts are beating and thinking the mantra, plant plant plant. Which means a few basic things. When it comes to transplanting it means make dirt, make trays, seed trays, move to the germination chamber and lastly transplant out. For direct seeding this means turning over a bed from the previous crop, prepping for the new one. Usually dead bedding for a week or two, which means letting the weed seeds grow before seeding so we can eliminate that first flush. Sometimes priming seed and lastly the seeding itself. Priming is the process of soaking raw seed for around 6 hours then drying it back out allowing it to be planted using one of our seeders. This is a recommendation which coming directly from David and certainly pays off with hard to germinate seeds like spinach or carrots. Here at SLG we use mainly 3 human powered seeders; the 6 point, the earthway and the Jang 3, however these days we rely mostly on the last two. Transplanting itself is also a human powered task done by either one or many farmers depending on if we are using the paperpot transplanter or not.

Now with all of this seeding, prepping planting and transplanting going on at a critical time of year one could certainly ask themselves,”why would you create even more of a work load planting things that aren’t crops going to market?” The simple answer is the soil will thank you. Putting this in the perspective of the fields in Durham, there we have one main block where the majority of our quick turning crops get planted. In addition to this there is an equal amount of space on the fringes where longer season things like garlic, kale, potatoes. ect are grown. Generally post harvest these beds would not be replanted with market crops so would be left exposed to the elements or become overgrown with the perennial weeds which occupy these fringe areas. The soil is an ecosystem that wants to stay covered which is why these weeds will quickly take over. Something that is maybe not a bad thing for the soil life but one heck of a thing to deal with as a grower. By putting in a cover crop you can out compete those weeds while offering both a thriving environment for the soil life and adding vital nutrients through your cover crop choice. In addition to this prep for planting next’s seasons veg in these beds is much easier.

Grazing in the moonlight

Choice of cover crop is another difficult thing, yet one factor overall will drive your decision and that is the time of year. We don’t usually focus on hot weather covers but this year we have buckwheat and sudan grass in a few spots. Hopefully our timing with these is not too off. The go to fall mix is peas and oats. The timing on this is quickly approaching if not here These are considered winter kill cover crops the idea being they produce a big bio mass which covers the soil for element protection as well as weed suppression but will not regrow come spring. There is also vetch which will over winter but is often added to this mix. The go to when it gets late is winter rye. Even very late plantings can establish themselves enough to provide some early winter protection and grow big and tall with the return of light in spring. These are only the cover crops we use and indeed there is a large variety out there. Most research points to the value of having a diversity of cover crops planted at once in the same bed. Six is rumored to be the magic number so we are trying to diversify our mixes as we go. Tillage radish and vetch will be added to the peas and oats, with the rye planted early enough also getting a vetch companion. Incorporating the sheep and cover cropping in Middlefield is something we plan to do more and more as we put more outside space into production. We also plan to cover crop half of the 200 ft tunnel(aka The Jungle) and house the sheep there for a good portion of the winter. The funny thing about all these growing methods is that they are nothing new, just out of practice. The art and science of growing cover crops in conjunction with pastured animals is more than likely older than we have good documentation for. Its something we are certainly looking forward to exploring more.

Photo cred- Sammy K

Enough about cover crops though, lets talk tomatoes. We are probably about as close to the tomato waterfall as we are going to be. There are a few reasons we may not seem as flush with tomatoes as years past. One is we had taken a break from grafting this year as we incorporate a better rotation as a disease prevention method. One thing is apparent though we should still graft a bit to get that boost in production. Rotation is another big factor. We are trying not to plant every house with tomatoes, not to mention there is a large workload associated with each plant. We also focused on a few things like new trimming and trellising methods as well as trying to trellis peppers for once. All of which we are pleased with but do take time away from tomatoes. As we grow and grow we shifting and refocus will certainly be a thing as we search for balance. All that being said things are looking good and we encourage you to reach out if looking for something that is unavailable on line. Enjoy the cooler rainy day as we hope the cover crop also is.

Have a great week

1 thought on “Cover Me

  1. I love reading your weekly email. Honestly I don’t know how you have the time to write them !! Thank you Joel, Jen, Dave and all your hard working help. Many blessings to you. ❤

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