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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Farm Calls: Growers Ask for Recommendations on
Applying Hardwood Chips to Cropland

Wood-Chips-Cropland-ApplicationJune 30, 2012 a Derecho windstorm cut a path over Jersey’s Outer Coastal Plain farming areas, downing thousands of trees.

The area received a federal disaster declaration and crews are clearing trees and chipping. Atlantic County Extension Ag Agent Rick VanVranken has been fielding a number of calls from vegetable and hay growers about the use of hardwood chips on cropland. [Read more…]

Improving Soils with Leaves and Other Local Organic Wastes

Un-composted Municipal Leaves Improve Soils

Un-composted Municipal Leaves

Farmers face conflicting soil management challenges:

  • Building soil health, by minimizing tillage and optimizing crop rotations;
  • Weed control, which requires significant tillage;
  • Cash Cropping every year for economic viability, which pressures growers to chose sub-optimal crop rotations.

Finding the proper balance between these competing tensions is difficult. [Read more…]

Using Un-composted Leaf Mulch on Trellised Lima Bean


Moisture retained under un-composted leaves.

This photo shows Rutgers’ Joe Heckman checking soil moisture retained under leaf mulch layer compared with adjacent cultivated bare ground at our lima bean field, after some recent scorching weather. [Read more…]