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transitioning pepper farm into permaculture  RSS feed

 
Louis Romain
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Hi

I am working on the project of helping my friend transitioning from standard pepper farming into permaculture.

The first questions I have is :
- How to mulch on large scales using machinery ?
- What intercropping should we use with the peppers ?

Thanks for your help.

The fields look like this :

 
Su Ba
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I don't have any experience with those two questions but I can relate that a 200 acre macadamia nut farm near me uses a manure spreader to apply mulch to his acreage. He maintains between 1 to 2 inches of mulch under his trees.
 
Alder Burns
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You might look into no-till and minimum-till sytems, both of which grow the mulch in place in the form of a winter/early spring cover crop, which is of either a species that dies naturally later, or can be killed back by mowing and leaving the mulch in place. The peppers would then be transplanted through this. A partial approach is to till only in strips directly where the rows of plants will be....especially if you are planting mechanically and the planter won't work through mulch/stubble. If you are in a temperate climate beware planting too early, as the mulch will keep the soil cool. In such a case you could look into a creeping summer covercrop....
 
Erich Sysak
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We grow pepper on mango trees. Coffee in between the mango and where there is more space, neem. At the drip line of the mango, sunchoke. Lots of small herbs volunteer behind the sunchoke. The mango drops truckloads of leaves for mulch.

I leave most of it on the ground and make compost piles with extra here and there. A rake is all we use and lots of time. Is this practical on a large scale? I have no idea.

Of course, pepper that's already producing on bricks or a trellis of some kind, well, I have no idea how to change that.
 
Louis Romain
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@Su Ba nice idea indeed! I am going to keep that in mind.

@Alder Burns Yes I am really thinking about "cover crops" or "living mulch". I have found that Allium Vineale is a good living mulch for peppers, and also Mimosa Pudica.
I figure I could indeed just mow a week or two before transplanting the peppers and let this as mulch. My friend is used to planting by hand, so I guess we can plant through this mulch.
I keep your advice in mind that it may be necessary to transplant a little later when using mulch.
Do you any any creepind summer crop? Do you suggest this in place of the mulch?

@Erich Sysak thanks for your testimony. I our climate we can't grow mango trees that's for sure. And I think using trees is not possible here.
 
M Foti
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Location: western n.c.
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we have a pretty large blueberry farm and since we're organic, we have to mulch. so far, I haven't found anything to make mulching easier other than to buy specific mulch forks, they're sort of like pitch forks but with thinner tines and more of them, FAR better than a shovel or regular pitch fork... I'd love to figure out if there is a way to mulch with a machine as we have over a mile of blueberry bushes to mulch.

You're doing well with the fabric there and I'm not so sure I'd want to change that, I think you'll regret it. Cover cropping/no till sounds great though, i was quite skeptical at first, but now that I've seen it in operation on a "real" farm I'm a believer, however you have to make your own machinery for this since it isn't for sale in america yet. What you need is a "Roller/Crimper". If you research a bit on no-till farming and look at roll crimping, you'll see what I'm referring to. You CANNOT just cut the cover crop and lay it over as it will just grow back and be a "weed" problem. In my opinion there is no way to be truly "permaculture" and produce a product on a commercial scale reasonably, however you can get very close to permaculture... We are as close as we can be, but it still requires off-farm input.

The no-till, roll-crimped cover cropping might work well for you though, everyone I have seen doing this is amazed at how well it works in every way, however as I understand it, this is not a true permaculture as you would still have to re-plant the cover crop after harvest, but from all accounts the cost is less than the cost of fertilizing the fields AND has loads of other benefits... I would seriously look into that, for our existing operations this isn't really possible since blueberries are perennial but assuming you live in a climate where your peppers are annual, then this would take care of mulching, tilling, and fertilizing...

I'm very interested as to how this turns out for you, I have often thought of adding a small commercial pepper operation here.
 
M Foti
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to explain a bit for folks who are just browsing and may not deeply research the roller/crimper no till thing...

after your harvest of whatever crop you're growing, you sow with a cover crop mix. The mix is crucial, however folks have already done all that research for you so that's a real plus. Basically you want alot of legumes to fix nitrogen as well as some deep rooted crops to "till" the soil for you as well as bringing up deep nutrients. Again, the mix is crucial as you want to be replenishing these nutrients WITH the cover crops. Just before planting you run over it with a thing that resembles a steam roller towed behind a vehicle. The 'steam roller' has sharp edges all the way around the outer wall of the cylinder, this smashes the cover crop down AND crimps the stem every few inches. The effect is similar to girdling a tree and the crop dies. They have a VERY successful kill rate of the cover crops like this. Simply mowing it will not kill the cover crop, think of it like the grass in your yard, mowing just trims it and it keeps on growing, you want it all to die and create a mulch. The killed cover crop makes a very nice mulch that lasts all season. You may find some sort of a "living mulch" that you can plant, but you'll never be able to get the right mix to do everything you need AND have the "living mulch" not be a problem for you in tending to your main crop. The commercial farms that are doing this have seen huge reduction in operating costs due to less irrigation needs as well as lower overall cost due to fertilizer/nutrient application. The cover crop does cost money, but comparably it is less than fertilizer...

Another key is using a vehicle with little impact, such as running turf tires on a smaller tractor for the roll/crimping AND re-planting of the cover crop. You do not damage the soil structure and create a sub-soil hard pan like plowing/tilling does. I have seen some quite dramatic demonstrations of soil compaction tests AND water absorption tests utilizing this system and really it's a win-win all the way around. Because the soil absorbs more water since it isn't messed up from the plowing you get more rain water where it is needed and the mulch layer keeps it there... The cover crop handles all of your fertilization needs and this method is building more topsoil rather than allowing it to wash/blow away after every plowing session.

I think you'll be very impressed the more you research it. It may take a season or two to get everything in place, but afterwards it seems like it will result in a better planting with less work, and anyone can appreciate that haha!

 
Louis Romain
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Louis Romain wrote: My friend is used to planting by hand,
Sorry I made a mistake there, I meant he used to plant using a transplanting machine.

Thanks a lot for your input. I don't think we can mulch by hand here, I am not sure of the surfaces yet, but it is a pretty large farm. By "fabric" I assume you meant the plastic mulch at the foot of the pepper plant you see on the picture ?
Thanks for mentioning rolling/crimping, ...it's amazing ! i've just checked a few videos to understand the thing. However, it looks a bit expensive (i've seen one at 3000$), I am not sure my friend would pay this before he's seen the benefits with his own eyes. Maybe I should start on a small surface, like two or three rows of pepper plant so that he can see the result.
Thanks for your "in deep" explanation in your second message, it's much appreciated.

You said : " The mix is crucial, however folks have already done all that research for you "... do you know where can I find what mix to use for my region ?

I understand this rolling/crimping technique is better than "living mulch" because it uses a mix of crops and provide all needed nutrients, whereas a cover crop is just one plant.

I am not sure what to do now
Is still a good idea to use a companion plant between the pepper rows?
 
M Foti
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companion planting is good if you have the time to devote to it and you can use the gains that it will give. I am assuming that your friend is a production farmer as we are, in this case I have not really seen true permaculture techniques work very well just because the goals aren't the same. That doesn't mean that we can't glean some of the better points for our own use though! Yes, I call all weed barrier "fabric". For a production model, the fabric makes alot of sense as it is easy to go down.

I would assume anything that adds nitrogen (legumes) would only help, as well as possible "trap crops" if he has pest issues. You would want to tailor your trap crops to the specific pests in mind... The trap crops seem to work well, provided they are used strategically and planted with a sufficient density to actually do something, of course you still want to do something with the pests that get on the trap crops before they find the peppers, but it does work as sort of a stopping point for you to kill them before they get your real crop. They are NOT a "plant this, solution achieved" type of thing though, at least not in my experience. What works in a garden doesn't work the same in a production environment....

I would say the best thing you can do, should you care to do it, is find some really good videos of real production farmers implementing cover cropping with roll/crimp kill. That's what it took for me to be won over, when I saw a bunch of "good ol boys" doing it on thousand acre farms, I was sold. If I can find it again, I'll post the link to one of the better videos, I know it was shot in eastern n.c. on I think, soybean farms, but the same methods would apply to any row crop type operation I would imagine.

regarding what type of mix, sorry, I forgot exactly what they were doing, but I do remember it was a taller grain (possibly alfalfa) that had a super deep root system, mixed with hairy vetch, clover and something else... I'd imagine that would grow well just about anywhere, but a call to your closest agriculture university would be in order. Heck, they may even help with costs just to be able to be a part of it!

A roller crimper would be something I would certainly make myself, I haven't even seen one for sale. Would be easy to do with a welder and some time, make the big roller so it can be filled with water to get a proper weight for the crimp...


anyhow, as stated, I was highly skeptical and probably said "wtf is this hippy b.s. about not tilling", now I can't wait to open up another couple of acres for something to give it a try and peppers are on the top of my list
 
M Foti
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Location: western n.c.
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you're in luck, I found it... aside from alot of my own research, this video was the big turning point for me in accepting this "new" farming idea. When I saw it actually working on a production scale, that's when I became seriously interested in it...

 
M Foti
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I hope that video I linked gets shared around some more. we need to look past the conventional farming techniques that these guys are still hanging on to that are unnecessary now, but just imagine after a few seasons what the cover cropping will start doing to the soil structure on our larger farms. I'm still not opposed to some discing between harvest and re-planting of the cover crops as I think it would do well to incorporate the left over residues some, but after lots of research on my own end, tilling and plowing really do destroy the soil... now, the plow still has it's place though. reclaiming land to be used for farming is where it will still shine, I mean we still have to get rid of that turf grass that will take over but this is a really amazing system that really is viable (economically and labor-wise) as well as having measurable returns... I'm a little more open minded to new ideas now than I was before, but I still really need to see every part of it explained and broken down for me.

The one thing that really shook me was the guys with the 98% weed kill, they had NO weeds and they weren't out there hand-weeding 800 acres either... They were using a spray, but after looking deeper into the rabbit hole, this works just as well with no glycophosphate (roundup) provided you plant the correct mix

good luck!

oh, and btw... the video was done by a fella named Buz Kloot. I have spoken with him via email and he is super helpful even for a big time t.v. star hahaha...
 
chad Christopher
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You're market farming. Not permaculture. And that's okay. It's acceptable to use plastic mulches. The energy put into production of degradable plastic mulches, it's worth the energy transfer of crop yields. Need more info, where are you, what do you plan on growing, what's your market, and do you plan on eventually have plans on being a permaculture farm, food forestish, or remain as a producing farm. The nutrient flows are so Dramatically different.
 
Louis Romain
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Hi Chad, thanks for asking more infos.

My friend's farm is in the SW of France, the climate is cool temperate, with a lot of water 1000mm/years of rainfall.
I don't think he plans to become a full permaculture farm yet, but he wants to transition to a more sustainable mode of production.
He's currently producing corn, pepper, cows for meat, and calves.
He plans on producing vegetables this year. So we are in the process of planning a vegetable plot close to the barn/cowshed.
We plan on having chicken around the veggie plot and, on mid-term, to grow basque pork.
 
chad Christopher
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We are at a similar latitude louis, and 9 out of 10 pepper growers (organic), around me use some type of roll out mulch for their peppers. The one who doesn't is Amish. Which you would like to use, well that's up to you. Living mulch crops are tricky and it's really a matter of experimentation. You are actually a tad milder than my area too. Depending on elevation. 2 of the highest yielding organic farms near me, (both around 100 csa share farms) use some sort of roll/plastic mulch, for a variety of their crops. And both have seen Drastically higher yields with them. Now, the equipment gets pricey. Drip tape, fittings, the cover, and a sheet roller, hiller, for the plastic. It can be done with a walk behind, and I 've done it by pure labor. I'd recommend doing some hard labor and see how you like it, compared to a living mulch. Living mulch needs equipment too.
Take a look at what I've done on a small scale....

http://www.permies.com/t/34195/gardening-beginners/killing-cover-crops#361493

currently the last post.

But if your niche is going to be peppers, in your climate. I would highly recommend plastic for at least the peppers.

Mulching with equipment:

http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=plastic+sheet+mulch+equipment&FORM=HDRSC2#view=detail&id=2A89C6F36C248C42A9CAF04F8A16C56CF5D532A3&selectedIndex=4

http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=mulch+crimper&go=Submit&qs=n&form=QBIR&pq=mulch+crimper&sc=4-13&sp=-1&sk=#view=detail&id=400185F760053C0FCDBBA3CCF8627D4DFF5B8AE4&selectedIndex=6

http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=seed+drill+living+mulch&go=Submit&qs=n&form=QBIR&pq=seed+drill+living+mulch&sc=0-15&sp=-1&sk=#view=detail&id=3F49F82AD76EF662605C389B990601829930FA85&selectedIndex=56
I've seen small used 'bark blowers' which can spread whatever fits in the hopper, go for under 10,000 us dollars.

http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=bark+blower&FORM=HDRSC2#view=detail&id=1778407363006CE2B51FB4F64565960C93241285&selectedIndex=4

For now, your concerns should not be too high with companion planting, as it is, developing a crop rotation plan/schedule.
 
chad Christopher
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Location: Pittsburgh PA
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Onto the transtion. It's really a matter or what you want to do. Twigs and berries farm, only slightly warmer than our climate, has a great production level permaculture orchard.
Who has a post floating around on here.

https://m.facebook.com/193195140706301/photos/pb.193195140706301.-2207520000.1427128414./1072828642742942/?type=1&source=42

remember, it's about stacking functions, there's more to permaculture than growing.

A friend and teacher of mine, no longer has 'cover crops' per say, but his 'weeds' have been carefully selected, and picked, letting an amount go to seed. When they 'weed' the garden beds, he bags and sells them as wild edible salad mixes to restraunts. At 15 us dollars per pound/half kilo.
 
chad Christopher
Posts: 310
Location: Pittsburgh PA
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https://permies.com/wiki/57503/digital-market/digital-market/Permaculture-Playing-Cards
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