ASK THE EXPERT FARMERS: Fall 2011

This season, CFSA asks about cover crops, winter veggies and livestock plans for the winter season

A winter cover crop of rye and hairy vetch. Photo from thebluegrassspecial.com.

OUR EXPERT FARMERS:
Rob Bowers – Whitted Bowers Farm in Pittsboro, NC
Tom Elmore of Thatchmore Farm in Leicester, NC
Robb Prichard has a small CSA in Wilmington, NC
Jason Oatis of Edible Earthscapes in Moncure, NC
Kate Shirley of Humbug Farm in Holly Springs, NC
Elaina Kenyon of Avillion Farm in Efland, NC

What cover crops should I be putting down in the fall?

ROB BOWERS:  There are few things as important as cover crops in terms of improving our soils’ health and vitality.  There are six attributes of cover cropping that we think about: 1) Nitrogen Source 2) Organic Matter 3) Erosion Fighter 4) Subsoil Loosener 5) Weed Fighter and 6) Pest Fighter. On our farm, adding organic matter to the soil and providing a source of Nitrogen are usually the priorities.

For fall-planted covers, we have had the best overall results in the Triangle region with a combination of rye and hairy vetch incorporated at a 2:1 ratio.

TOM ELMORE – We use organic rye grain.  We have crops on most of our land until late fall and rye is the only cover we have found that will germinate reliably at that time of year in the mountains.  If we had more land, we would add a legume during a fallow rotation.

ROBB PRICHARD – I offer a Fall and Spring CSA, so Summer is my down time–and the establishment of a summer cover/green manure is most important in my garden.  I like sesame for long term and buckwheat for short-term summer cover crops.  Also, this Spring I experimented with icicle radish interplanted in my squash row, and let it go through its life cycle.  It drew lots of pollinators during the growing season, and then the decayed roots helped to break up the soil in the fall.

In the fall, I like to use oats, crimson clover, and vetch for a basic overwinter cover.  Oats are easier to winterkill so I prefer that to rye.

What is your favorite fall/winter vegetable to grow?

JASON OATIS:  We love to grow daikon! It makes for a great cover crop that will break up hard pan soil with its giant taproot. They also leave behind a significant amount of organic matter if left in the soil to decompose. It doesn’t have many pest or disease issues here, and its delicious!

We direct-sow the seeds from late- August through mid-October in successions, using row covers for the later successions.  In the high tunnel, we grow them through the winter.

What do you do during your slow season (winter)?

 KATE SHIRLEY – Winter is a great time to catch up on trade magazines, looking for new ideas to try out.  This is also time when I look through my notes and reflect on the year.  If things went right/easier, I want to repeat that.  If things went wrong, what can I do about it?  This is also a good time to update my website and update paperwork on my livestock so I’m ready for next year.  Receipts are gathered up to prepare for tax time. I also use this time to write down my goals and new plans for the upcoming year.

ELAINA KENYON – 1) Plan next year’s calendar of farm-related events and enter them into a 12-month hardbound calendar and/or calendar on the computer. This is also a great time to update your website, blog or Facebook page with these same events.

2) Review your livestock management practices and individual production and sales records to plan for next year’s goals, purchases and livestock to process/sell/keep and retain offspring.

3) Make a list of all those small equipment repairs and maintenance tasks that can be done inside and get started.

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