Fast Tracking Soil Organic Matter

Leaf-Windrow
Leaves. We like using un-composted municipal collected leaf mulch to improve soil organic matter. There are different ways to get it done. You can soil incorporate them, and then fallow the field in long rotations. It’s economically challenging. You can surface apply leaves between rows of some standing row crops like potato and pumpkin cash crops. At the end of the season, incorporation of the decomposing leaves improves soil over years. It’s labor intensive. But this is Jersey, where everything has to be done faster and fields have to pay their way. Last fall a grower from South Jersey asked,

Can I speed up the process of increasing my soil organic matter using incorporated un-composted leaves, yet avoid the crop deficiencies that result from nutrient tie-up?

He’s talking about the temporary (one or two seasons) soil carbon:nitrogen ratio imbalance that occurs after adding 10-20 tons/acre of leaves that have a carbon:nitrogen ratio of 50:1 to a production field where the ideal ratio would be 10 or 12:1. What he doesn’t say is that he’s got enough to do as a grower without having to become an on-farm compost manager, too.
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Farm Calls: Tillage Tools for “Breaking Ground”

A young farmer in North Jersey gave a call this season to ask if we could swing by a take a look at some land he wanted to bring into production. We arrived to find a worst-case scenario: an old pasture on heavy silt loam soil with densely rooted sod clumps – the ground had not been tilled or mowed in two decades. In addition, there was no plan for a burndown herbicide application since the grower follows organic practices.

New Jersey Ag Agents often field calls like this from beginning farmers with small acreage and urban ag market gardeners who need to perform primary tillage, i.e., break ground for the first time. Working with a limited budget, they face the daunting task of opening up an old pasture like our farmer’s, or soils that are compacted and abandoned. These sites share a common problem. They are too small to bring in a 25-35hp tractor and tillage implements, yet far too large to dig and turn the soil over by hand – even with plenty of volunteers.

Primary tillage using a walk-behind two-wheeled tractor.

Tillage using a walk-behind two-wheeled tractor.

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