Soil fertility maintenance in one pass: compost, soft rock phosphate, Azomite, high mag lime, Physiostart, and peanut meal. We included peanut meal in the mix because we intended to use this high-carbon cover crop of rye for straw mulch.

Maintaining Soil Fertility

Soil fertility maintenance in one pass: compost, soft rock phosphate, Azomite, high mag lime, Physiostart, and peanut meal. We included peanut meal in the mix because we intended to use this high-carbon cover crop of rye for straw mulch.
Soil fertility maintenance in one pass: compost, soft rock phosphate, Azomite, high mag lime, Physiostart, and peanut meal. We included peanut meal in the mix because we intended to use this high-carbon cover crop of rye for straw mulch.

Like so many of our market garden practices, our approach to soil fertility management is a little unusual. Instead of applying fertilizer according to the recommendation on the soil test report, we use modest applications of horse manure compost and rock minerals to keep the soil nutrients in balance.

One reason for this unconventional strategy is we grow a half dozen or more vegetables in one field, often planted in alternating rows, depending on the crop mix. It would be challenging to fertilize and lime every row according to the recommendation for each vegetable. For our situation, it is more practical to strive for balanced fertility and trust the active soil biology to release the right mix of nutrients needed by each plant family.

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Know-Till and Vetch

South side of Field 4, Sept 27, 2017. The single rows of hairy vetch were planted in the pathways early in August. We are using the riding cultivator to shallowly undercut an old row of salad mix without burying the inter-seeded vetch with soil. To the right, where carrots have been harvested, the vetch is already providing significant ground cover.

In the June/July 2016 issue of Rural Heritage, we described how we plant garlic directly into a cover crop of oats. Although garlic is the only crop we no-till, we like to think that we “know-till” all of the vegetables on our farm.

Our definition of know-till is knowing our goals for tillage before deciding on what type of tool to use. That might sound like a no-brainer, but we started out moldboard plowing simply because that was how we learned to till with horses. We did not have a clue about what we were trying to accomplish by plowing other than making a clean seedbed for planting produce. As soon as our goals for tillage came into focus — namely, moisture preservation, weed seed depletion, soil conservation and optimal placement of organic matter — we shifted from deep plowing to shallow tillage.

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Cover Crop Walk

For almost 20 years, we have hosted an informal farm tour the second Monday of October for growers interested in our bio-extensive system. Although most of the vegetables have been harvested and turned under by this point in the growing season, this is an ideal time of year to walk the cover crops and ask questions about their management.

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Mulching Alliums

Mulching saved our alliums in 2016. Although the drought was not as severe here as some parts of the Northeast, we started the year with a moisture deficit due to the lowest snowfall on record – all of 4 inches. Our monthly precipitation averaged less than 2 inches for April, May, June and July. The weather last summer was also hotter and windier than usual. Thanks to a weed-free cover crop mulch, we harvested an excellent crop of garlic and leeks and a good crop of onions without irrigation.

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No-Till Garlic

Following the example of experienced garlic growers, we started out planting this crop in multiple-row beds mulched with purchased straw. This intensive practice produced a lot of bulbs in a small area. However, due to uneven emergence through the straw mulch and competition for moisture between the closely spaced plants, we ended up with too many small and medium-sized bulbs.

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Deer Damage Prevention

In 2016, we received three requests for information about the sloped high tensile fence surrounding our market garden. The first came from a dairy farmer who had cleared 90 acres of mountain top forest for his son to farm. He was interested in using this unusual electric fence around the perimeter of the new farm to keep in livestock and keep out deer.

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The Costs of Using Horses

More and more information is available on the profitability of growing high value vegetables. However, it does not discuss the economics of using live horsepower. Although I do not have a background in economics, I thought it might be helpful to provide a preliminary round of benchmark numbers for the new wave of horsepowered market gardeners. To that end, I asked three experienced teamsters to join me in tracking horse expenses and labor in 2011.

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