Saturday, December 13, 2008

Last trip to the field!

Had to get back out into the field today, on a Saturday, to get a few photos of the organic matter accumulation in my fields again. Here's a shot of an armadillo "throw" which buried my organic matter with about two inches of soil.
Emma came with me too! She just can't resist pulling soil samples! Notice how the weeds are in rows, the same rows in which we grew collards. That's because we tilled those rows. Where we didn't till, there aren't weeds. This shows that no-till suppresses weeds, a major conclusion of this experiment.Just can't resist another photo of our organic matter accumulation after three years of no-till in a productive agricultural field in Alabama. Here we have a full inch of organic matter, which accumulated in 3 years!

Remember, it takes about 500 years to build an inch of soil under natural circumstances, but here we can obtain food while simultaneously improving soil quality. I will definitely be showing this slide at my next conference!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Building Organic Matter in Alabama

This is an uncommon site in Alabama!
Actual soil organic matter in an agricultural field!

You can see the dark, rich organic matter in the top 2 cm of the soil profile. This is the result of 3 years of no-till with high biomass cover crops and organic mulches. Though it might not seem like a lot, keep in mind that it take about 500 years to build one inch of soil...

This is what can happen when you don't till your field. Tillage turns plant residue into the soil, accelerating decomposition. In Alabama, our climate is usually thought to be too hot and humid to allow for appreciable organic matter accumulation in agricultural fields, but if you grow lots of biomass and stop tilling, you can get some good organic matter accumulation.

Taking a soil sample...

...and fractionating the sample by depth.
The samples will be analyzed for nutrient content, microbial respiration, nitrogen mineralization rates, and aggregate stability.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Collard Harvest 2008

Today we harvested about 3000 lbs of collard greens
from the final harvest of my experiment in Tallassee, AL.

The collard field, about 0.3 acres.

It was about 28F (-2C) the night before.
By the time we started the harvest, there was still ice on the collards.
It was cold,
but they say that collards taste better after a good freeze!

But it didn't take long to warm up.
This is Jordan, a student worker, hand-harvesting.

This is the smallest truckload we brought to the Food Bank.
We donate almost all of the produce to the East Alabama Food Bank.
Today, we donated approximately 2300 lbs of fresh collard greens,
a TON of collards -- literally,
just in time for Thanksgiving!

Off-loading the collards at the Food Bank into large cardboard "totes".

Weighing the collards at the Food Bank by forklift.
All the donations get weighed.
Each tote has a net weight of about 300 lbs.
We filled more than 7 of these totes.

The Food Bank will be busy distributing the collards to needy people throughout East Alabama
over the next several days.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tailgating vs GA

It's freezing out but we're still tailgating against Georgia! Note the heater on the table and the game in the back. And we're actually winning! War Eagle!
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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Planted Onions and Garlic Today

Finally got around to amending the soil in my raised bed this morning.
I used the worm castings from our worm farm,
and lots of bags of manure, compost, topsoil and peat.
Here's the flat of onions that I produced from seed.
I've been trying to kill them for about two or three months now,
so I'm glad to finally have them in the ground.
It's hard to see the onion transplants here. I'll post a better photo when they get larger.
Also planted garlic today, too...
Some exotic variety from Seeds of Change.

Hand-Made Pasta

We went over to some friends' house, and was surprised to see them making pasta...
By hand!

These photos are in reverse order.
Sorry bout that.
Blogspot needs to make it easier to edit blogs.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Collecting cow pies

We're collecting soil under cow pies this morning. We'll see how the nutrients move thru the soil profile
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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Billy Beer!

Found this unopened can of Billy Beer in Opelika, AL. It was brewed for Billy Carter, Jimmy's kid brother. Bit of history in every can!
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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Collard mulching experiment

The mulching treatments can be seen in these photos. This experiment is part of my PhD work. The mulches are mimosa, lespedeza, straw and a control.
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Friday, September 26, 2008

Last cotton count

McCain might not show up today but I showed up for our final wilt count. I'm always glad when the cotton season is over.
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Saturday, September 6, 2008

TP shooter

How to maximize tp
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Auburn wins!

Toomer's corner just after our win against Mississippi.
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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Emma's new bike

Emma being fitted for her new Trek 1.2 bike, suitable for commuting, training and racing! Shimano shifters, brakes and deraillers, carbon fork, aluminum frame... I wish I had me one!
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Friday, August 29, 2008

Switchgrass sampling

This morning we went to the field to collect samples of switchgrass. There is a lot of interest in switchgrass at the moment for use as a biofuel. It is a native grass to the area and grows quickly. There are also big bluestem plots, also native.

This is for a fertilize trial; we will develop fertiler recommendations based on this study. Hopefully it doesn't need any, but I think this experiment will show some response to fertilizer. You could get lost in those plots!
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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Counting cotton

Counting cotton for a fusarium wilt study.

Blogging straight from the field. P
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Monday, August 4, 2008

Root knot nematodes

This is an infestation of root knot nematodes in my garden tomatoes. I will pull the area out of production and sterilize the soil using solar radiation and clear plastic for 4-6 weeks. Then I'll add more organic matter and directly plant my fall crops.

Nematodes can be a deadly but common problem here in the south, although there are beneficial nematodes too. They are small worm-like parasites that feed on roots.

The galls on these tomato roots are indicative of root knot nematodes.
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Friday, August 1, 2008

Fish TV

We may not have a TV, but we do have a fish tank, now with even more channels!

We more than doubled our fish population yesterday, thanks to a local Moroccan fish dealer we heard about through the grapevine. We now have about 9 zebra denios, 6 neon tetras, an albino bottom cleaner (we call him Moby, he's our favorite pet), an algae eater, and a guarini (he's called Labowski, or "The Dude").
Not soil related exactly, but worth a post anyway. I think i watch them as much as some people watch TV!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Conservation tillage tours

I'm at a conservation tillage conference here in Tifton, Georgia, USA at the moment. Today I went on a conservation tillage tour and saw some pretty cool operations.This is "twin row" peanut. Planting peanuts in twin rows is a common practice, although it is just as often planted in single rows. The idea is that twin rows fit more plants per acre, and therefore increase yield per acre, but it requires special (and expensive) implements.

This was the coolest thing I saw today on the tour. This is the same twin row peanut as the first photo. It's worth clicking on the photo above to see what i'm talking about here.

To the lower right, the black tube is called drip tape. It delivers water directly to the plant roots, thereby increasing water use efficiency (no evaporation loss), which is particularly important during these times of drought and high energy prices (running the pumps more = more $$$). You can also inject fertilizer directly to the roots as well.

But that's not the coolest part. These are PEANUTS. That means they need to be dug out of the ground. Imagine spending all winter installing this system, not to mention the boatloads of money, only to hook one of your drip tape lines and rip the system up! Pretty scary if you're a farmer. So this drip tape is buried at about 12 inches, while peanuts will be dug at about 8 inches. That leaves a 4 inch margin of error. Imagine if you had a few inches of erosion, or if you sunk a tractor wheel a few inches while digging...

In order to make certain that you dig in the same exact place year after year, you need GPS RTK technology on your tractors. (More $$$.) GPS on your tractors allows you to exactly maximize your land use, as well as apply variable fertilizer rates across the field as the crops need it (after downloading satellite data to determine which parts of the field need what rates of fertilizer), and a bunch of other "precision agriculture" applications.

Does it work? If you look at the photo, you'll see the roots of the peanut actually tend toward the drip tape. Remember, we're in a drought here in the southeastern US, for the third year in a row. So where there's water, there's roots. Roots are amazing like that. They'll "search out" favorable conditions, whether it's a better pH, or more nutrients, or, in this case, water.

Water is the best fertilizer!

This is conservation tillage peanut. Conservation tillage is defined as having at least 30% soil coverage after planting, which helps increase organic matter content in soil.This photo shows conventional till cotton on the left, and conservation till on the right. Easy to see the difference here.Center pivot irrigation, in case you've never seen it before.

The hanging water spigots here gets the water closer to the ground, thereby limiting evaporation (it gets hot here) by getting the water closer to the ground. Profits are so slim as a producer, every cent per acre is money in your pocket.

And here's a picture of some cotton flowers, in case you wondered what they look like. You can see that they are first a kind of pink, and then mature to a big white, beautiful flower.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Community Garden Harvest

A few of our great volunteers working to control weeds the old fashioned way: by hand cultivation. In this age of Roundup and high labor costs, this time-tested technique is not seen too often anymore, at least outside of organic production.

And then the "fruits" of their labor! These will be delivered to the Food Bank tomorrow. Pink eye purple hull peas are seen in the crate in the upper left. There are also green tomatoes, cukes, squash, eggplant, and peppers.