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Companion crops and Rollers

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I have purchased half interest in a 15' roller. All of my cover crops are mixes (usually 8 or more). I would like to use my roller to selectively kill what i don't want growing in my cash crop. ie, in corn i will use a clover mix and/or hairy vetch. If i have these planted with a cereal (or 2), and a couple of brassicas, i am thinking the cereals might create a mat that could protect the clovers. The vetch however will be a different story as it will be as tall, or taller than the cereal.

dorn's picture

I would recommend looking at the roller crimper tool page. I will see if I can attach this forum post to it. The primary issue with the cimper with mixed covercrops is getting them to flower close enough to each other so that they will kill when they are rolled. If some are too far along they will produce viable seed, and others that are not mature enough may still have enough root energy to recover. If your roller is the standard I&J model based on the rodale design, you will want to make sure that your fall seedbed prep is very good. Because the roller is rigid, if the ground is anything but flat, it will ride up on ridges and miss hollows - which results in sections missing crimps.

One of the developments I would like to see on farm hack is to develop a sectional roller that will follow ground contours and apply even ground pressure. Charles Martin in PA has addressed this with a roller mounted between the rows on a no-till corn planter which also has the advantage of seeding into a standing crop, rather than having to set the planter up to work through the rolled mulch.

Hairy vetch is a great cover crop to mulch and provides wonderful weed supression while it is growing, but decomposes very rapidly. If there are perennial grasses, they will push through the vetch mat by mid July (if the vetch was killed mid june). Winter rye on the other hand - if planted at 140lbs/acre or more in good fertile soil (sometimes growing up to 7' tall), will provide a heavy mat of many inches that will not decompose significantly until the following season. I have had good luck last season planting crimson clover and winter rye together and having them bloom together in the spring. Since crimson clover is an annual, it also kills easily when flowering. I have used it as a mix this year with rye, and with winter wheat and winter barley.

I have not done the rye vetch mixture for crimping in the past because the bloom dates have not been coordinated - and vetch in general has been harder to kill with a crimp until a little after full flower and seed pods start to show. However, I found on our farm that a disk harrow set without offset, or a no-till drill run over the vetch is far more effective in killing the vetch and can work several weeks earlier than the crimper. This season I am going back to planting a rye vetch mix again for crimping with this more aggressive method for killing the vetch - with the hope that the viney vetch will pull down the rye enough to be crimped with the disks of the no-till drill.

There is so much to learn and experiment with in these approaches. I really look forward to hearing about your experiences.

Gail's picture

Is Charles Martin taking his planter mounted roller to market? That is where we need to be! I have a lot of terraces and am very concerned with how the roller will handle them. I don't really need the terraces anymore, but haven't convinced my landowners yet.

The ability to control all the species in a mix is one reason i only bought half interest in a roller. I don't think monoculture crops, whether cover or cash, are the answer. We need to immulate Mother Nature and for me, that is as many things growing at once as possible. I am curious about your seeding rate on cereal rye. Here, we plant 90# as a monoculture. Have you done some side by sides, or is that just the rate you like?

You might have answered my question about crimson clover. I had very good luck with it last year. It has overwintered twice, and took last summers heat and drought very well. This fall however, i have seen very little come out of dormacy. I think we hit it at the wrong time with our burn.

As far as hairy vetch and rye, I really like both. Rye for us only gets about 5 1/2' tall but still, a lot of biomass. Your comment on the vetch breaking down is another reason for diversity. When i started planting covercrops i was looking at C:N ratios in the low 20's, now, if it is 35 it is too low! My soil has become so active i can not keep residue on the surface. I am switching to higher C:N broadleafs and less brassicas to try and offset this.

I agree about "much to learn", The more i learn, the less i know!!

dorn's picture

It is true, if you are not relying just on mechanically killing the mulch then timing rolling for flowering is not so critical and you can get the benefits of a more diverse mix. I think using a combination roller crimper and disk action, like the no-till drill would also allow for an earlier mechanical kill and therefore a more diverse covercrop mix without glyphosate It would be terrific if Charles Martin might publishing his designs to farm hack and get some more units built around the country. He mentioned in his farm show article that he was pondering next steps and if he would try and find a local manufacturer. Here is the link to the farm show article http://www.farmshow.com/a_article.php?aid=25646

GaiaGrower's picture

Does anyone know of a tool that does what a tractor-driven roller crimper does with cover crops, but is operated by hand, without the compaction created by a tractor roller?

I'm working with a fellow who has 40 100 foot long raised beds, that he is growing vegetables on with a no-till system.  We're trying to get him much more involved with using cover crops, but the means to terminate them by hand, is currently lacking.  He doesn't use horses.

Thank you,