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Cover cropping / back to eden / occultation idea question  RSS feed

 
Dustin Russell
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I am planning a market garden for the future and want to minimize my inputs from off the farm. I have an idea I want to share that I'm hoping for feedback on, preferably from folks with experience.

My farm will be laid out in 50' x 100' plots, each with 24 beds, (30" x 50' with 20" pathways). I plan to use wood chip mulch to implement the back to eden method. My wife and I have used wood chip mulch for our home garden for 5 years with great success.

Here's where the crazy part comes in.
-Every few years (2 or 3 ?) I want to give a plot a year to rest.
-Instead of just sitting completely fallow, my idea is to plant a combination cover crop (peas? Rye? Alfalfa) as early as possible in the spring, (I'm in zone 6 so maybe April)
-When cover crops reach maturity, I plan to run meat chickens over the cover crop in chicken tractors, both to shred the cover crop and to add manure.
-when chickens have reached maturity (around august perhaps), I would then implement occultation - cover the entire bed with a black tarp to completely kill off the cover crop and any other weeds. I'd let the tarp cover the plot from the end of the summer until next spring. (I would also have the plot covered with a tarp preceding the cover crop planting).
-I would also reapply a layer of wood chips on this plot at some point, either in the fall before or the fall after cover crops.

My hope is the cover crop and chicken manure combo would replace the need for any additional compost and fertilizer. Any thoughts? Suggestions? Am I missing something in this scenario?

Thanks!
Dustin
 
Todd Parr
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Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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I have done something similar and it worked great for me.
 
Rick Hatch
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Location: Penticton, BC. USDA Zone 6b, 300 mm annual precipitation
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would you be using mostly transplants? I'm curious how direct seeding would work in a deeply mulched scenario. Seems like on a market Garden scale, seeding by hand is impractical, but I can't visualize using a Jang or Earthway through the wood chips. I'm interested because I would love to deeply mulch all my beds.
 
Todd Parr
Posts: 906
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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I have done it two ways.  Either open a row in the wood chips, plant in the row, and move the chips back in when the plant is tall enough, or make a hole in the mulch, fill with compost and plant in the compost.  Not sure about doing it on a very large scale though.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Great plan Dustin.  You don't mention the soil texture but after those first wood chips start to decompose that will improve greatly.

For cover crops on resting plots you can use yellow clover, field peas, hairy vetch, cereal rye (you will be amazed at the cost of alfalfa seed), and if you need to get organic matter deep daikon radish and rape are good choices.
You also have the option of spreading all those seeds at the same time or going over the plot with several passes. For a cover crop, I would not worry about making holes for seeds, just spread and go.

For plot seeding a crop through the chip mulch, you will find using a furrow plow bit on a wheel planter (Jang or Earthway or other brand) to make a just to the soil surface furrow a boon to planting ease as well as sprouting ease.
Once the plants are up with two sets of true leaves, the mulch can go back around the plants.

Redhawk
 
Hester Winterbourne
Posts: 170
Location: West Midlands UK (zone 8b)
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Can't see what's crazy about it, myself!  Seems like a perfectly sensible, dare I say even conventional, plan
 
Dustin Russell
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Thanks everyone for the input! We have clay soil, but have seen the wonders that wood chip mulch can do. This year I am experimenting with using an earth way seeder with wood chips. I just have to use a how to rake a row in the wood chips down to the soil. From there, the earth way seeder seems to work fine.

My biggest concern is with the need for extra compost and fertilizer. Could cover crops and a chicken tractor provide enough organic matter and nutrients by themselves? Or would I still need to bring in other inputs with this system?
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
183
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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hau Dustin, well the answer to need for other amendments is "it depends".

How many chickens, how many chicken tractors, how long on a row, are just some of the variables.

Cover crops are usually chopped once or twice per growing season, some folks seed rather sparsely, some (like me) triple the recommended seed rate for faster yield of organic matter ready to decompose.
Nitrogen fixing plants typically don't give any of that extra N to the soil until they are killed off.
Roots are a soil builders best friend, they go deep into the soil, when the top is chopped, they either die or the pull even more minerals from the deep and grow a new green top for an other chop and drop pass.
Root vegetables like daikon will break soils, add large amounts of organic material once they have been chopped and left to rot, rape works the same.
Alfalfa (Lucerne) sends roots to China, it isn't unusual for Lucerne roots to go 4 to 10 feet deep and those roots mine minerals from those depths and bring them up to the growing top of the plant.

Redhawk
 
David Livingston
steward
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Location: Anjou ,France
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I must admit to being amused by the term occultation as previously I had only come across the term whilst researching Shia Islam . How does this differ from leaving the land fallow or the term set aside ?

David
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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David Livingston wrote:I must admit to being amused by the term occultation as previously I had only come across the term whilst researching Shia Islam . How does this differ from leaving the land fallow or the term set aside ?

David


I too wondered what the difference would be David. If you use occulation or occult a field, you are hiding it from view (in this case the tarp). Leaving land fallow or set aside means that you just aren't plowing or otherwise disturbing the soil on that field.

I do neither on Buzzard's Roost if we aren't going to use a garden space it is cover cropped with a mix of N fixers, Soil breakers (daikon, rape, turnip) and deep soil mineral miners (Lucerne, side oats, barley, oats). These are then chopped and left to rot as the grasses begin to head out.

I have used tarps and sheet mulching before but found there can be problems arise from use of those methods on my farm. We have fire ant problems and those buggers love to live under covers like tarps and sheet mulches.

Redhawk
 
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