Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #15, 6/20/14

What’s been going on!

Ah the heat, how I loathe you so and just in time for the first day of summer tomorrow.  We have slowly been taking out the last of the spring crops, mowing the remains and getting ready for seeding summer cover crops or replanting those beds to summer flowers.  At least there is time hiding in the AC to do some long range planning, warning– farmer geek talk coming!

Over the years our crop mix and intensity has become more complex, especially now with year round production it makes the crop rotation planning more difficult.  Heading into our third winter with Jennie and all winter growing it has become time to make some major changes in where we plant crops and in what order, a.k.a. the rotation.  In theory we have only added slightly more than one quarter of an acre of new crops but trying to pack that into an already full program has thrown off our carefully choreographed system.

Cover crops are the foundation of our soil management and it was already difficult to find adequate space and time to fit them into every field each year.  The addition of the new fall/winter crops has been made temporarily possible by knocking out a set of winter cover crops on one field and foregoing the fall bed preparation for spring vegetables that is critical to getting those crops properly planted on time.  The easy answer would be to expand and add more fields but we are already using all the best soil we have up on the hill.  We currently have 5 quarter acre blocks that we are now trying to fit nearly 9 quarter acres worth of crops into and another 4 of cover crops, not easily done.

There becomes two schools of practice in sustainable agriculture when it comes to annual crop production, extensive and intensive.  The “extensive” farmers we know basically have two farms, one in cover crops and one in cash crops flipping them each year or so.  This allows them to rest the soil and build organic matter but also means they have to have twice as much land, a luxury most farmers don’t have, like us.  The other end of the spectrum is no cover crops and to just rely on organic matter sources imported onto the farm- manure, leaves, hay, compost, etc..  Not only more expensive and labor intensive but in many ways not as biologically diverse which can lead to a less stable/sustainable system.

So I have spent a lot of time over the last months trying to rethink our rotation and this week put some hours into staring at the design on paper.  The result is we need more room.  We need to go from a 5 year rotation to 6 years but there is not enough field up on the hill to accommodate that.  The best soil on the farm is down in our bottom field but we stopped using that field in the regular rotation back around 2000 after too many floods back in the 90’s.  With climate change and the prospect of more intense storms that could bring more flooding we are not excited about using the bottom field but that is where we are heading.  It hasn’t flooded since 1996 and hurricane Fran so let’s cross our fingers and hope for the best.

Picture of the Week

crop rotation

The new, complex 6 year rotation sequence makes your eyes cross

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 This is the field we are going to put back into the regular rotation, it grows great winter squash!

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #27, 9/14/10

What’s been going on?

Newsletter a day early as we have lots going on the end of the week. I first want to thank Bret Jennings and the Elaine’s on Franklin crew for a great farm dinner last Wednesday. For those that made it you know what I am talking about but the whole pepper inspired menu was right on the money!

Yesterday was turkey moving day, into a new area for a couple of weeks or so. I realized that the picture below is kind of a microcosm of the whole farm and shows many of the fundamental operating concepts we always try to apply. For those of you who have been here on a farm tour, this maybe familiar. What can be seen here is parts of the three, quarter acre, blocks that the Big Tops are set up over. The one the turkeys are in just has the rows of legs that support the hoops. It is in its “rest” year where we grow no cash crops but instead grow three sets of cover crops in a row to improve the soil and run the turkeys over it so they can add their goodness too. This cover crop is the summer sudangrass and cowpeas.

To the left of the turkey shelters is another Big Top block, this one had the flowers this year and if you blow the picture up you can see, through the turkey shelter, the red of the last of the crested celosias for the year. This block with be rested next year and it’s hoops moved over where the turkeys are. The far set of Big Tops was the tomato block this year and you can see two bays still covered with the last of the tomatoes and two bays uncovered for the winter. The flowers will move to here next year and the tomatoes will move to where the turkeys are now. Once uncovered (next week) we will plant winter cover crops in those fields too.

One of our key beliefs is that diversity leads to a balanced system which improves sustainability. So in just this one picture you see diverse cash crops (many varieties of flowers and tomatoes), cover crops (at least seven different kinds over the three year rotation), and breeds (Bourbon Reds and Broad Breasted Bronzes). What you can’t see is also a diversity in soil improvement/management practices like fertility from rock powders, cover crop and cash crop residues, and manure from the turkeys. Or disease and pest control by using the Big Tops to keep plants dry, trellises for better air flow and sunlight, turkeys to eat bugs, crop rotation, drip irrigation and many more techniques.

OK, professors hat off. And it’s a beautiful early fall day on the farm too!

Picture of the Week

Turkeys happy in a new field.

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