If I had a dollar for every time someone told me no-till vegetables aren’t possible in New England, I’d be… well, I’d have about $5. Still, if I had a dollar for every time someone told me it is possible in New England, I’d have only $2, and one of those would be from my mom.
More important than how many dollars I’d have in my pocket is how many dollars reducing tillage can put in farmers’ pockets, both directly as profits and long-term in soil quality. While the results aren’t in yet for a small experiment I did in Maine, the early pictures are, and I think they show that no-till early vegetables in New England à la the forage radish method is possible.
Spinach is a crop that we know from our research in Maryland performs well with no-till seeding (provided the soil is well enough structured).
There was slightly lower emergence in the no-till spinach in this experiment, but that may have been partly because of uneven ground created from perpendicular wheel tracks in fall. It wasn’t a good idea to try the “split block” experimental design in that sense. In Maryland, we generally saw higher emergence after no-till seeding compared to seeding after tillage. While I’m on the topic of emergence, I want to clarify the difference between germination and emergence. In some cases, a seed may germinate in the soil, but never pop up through the surface. Because of this, emergence can be a better measure of the effectiveness of a seeding technique. In no-till, for instance, a soil crust on the surface may prevent a seed from poking through.
Carrots, unlike spinach, are a wildcard that I thought it would be worth trying. They are very small seeded and slow to germinate. In some of our work in Maryland, we noticed that kohlrabi and lettuce had delayed maturity when they were no-till seeded. This phenomenon has been observed with other no-till systems and has been largely attributed to soil temperature.
The carrots are still early in their growth, but soon we should be able to see if there are differences in maturity. It’s worth noting that these teeny carrot seeds came up (pretty darn well, I’d say) when they were no-till seeded into forage radish residue. The no-till seeded carrots were actually slightly easier to weed because there were fewer weeds in-row.
As for peas, I pulled a no-no and didn’t seed a control treatment (tilled soil being the control). Truth be told, I ran out of seed after the no-till plots (duh…). But the no-till peas are looking pretty good. I’ll get an updated photo of them soon, but you can read more about no-till peas in last week’s post.
Where are the nutrients?
You may notice what looks like a little fertilizer band next to the spinach. Indeed, this is a very sandy, low fertility field and fertilizer treatments were added as fish meal and soybean meal. We’ll see with soil samples, yield data, and tissue samples whether the forage radish cover crop increased available nitrogen (N) compared to the no cover crop control.
One of the questions we have about no-tilling into winterkilled cover crops in a climate where the cover crops die in November, as opposed to January or February in the mid-Atlantic, is how much N leaching there may be between the time of cover crop death and spring crop N uptake. To get a sense of whether there has been leaching, I’ll take some deep soil samples soon. We saw in the fall that there was some leaching in the no cover crop control in this very field, whereas the forage radish cover crop managed to mop up the nitrate in the soil profile.
Getting these data takes some time, but photos are nearly instantaneous. Stay tuned for some more photos and eventually for some data!