Saturday, December 13, 2008
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
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.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
from the final harvest of my experiment in Tallassee, AL.
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!
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!
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Sunday, November 9, 2008
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.
Also planted garlic today, too...
Some exotic variety from Seeds of Change.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Friday, September 26, 2008
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Friday, August 29, 2008
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
Monday, August 4, 2008
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
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
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
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.