Friday, June 27, 2014

Cover Crop Cocktail Test Plot Update, or Watching Grass Grow Really Fast

I planted this small (2000 sq.ft.) plot on June 4, to see if it would be feasible and/or worth it to plant something similar in a larger field.  I'd rather plant a twentieth of an acre and have a colossal failure than have something like an 80 acre failure. 

Since I planted this plot, it's rained somewhere around 8", which is more rain than in a typical year, so it's debatable if anything observed will tell me anything about how the same sort of cocktail would grow in any other year (of course, if it hadn't rained or we had a "normal" year, I could say the same thing).

Even considering all the extra moisture, it's slightly amazing that everything has grown so much in just a little over three weeks.  As far as I can tell, even though it's hard to tell sorghum, corn, or sorghum-sudangrass apart at this point,  the sorghum-sudangrass looks like it's the dominant plant so far and is already over 24" tall, but everything else also seems to be growing down in that stand of grass.  On a larger scale, I'd probably plant a lower rate of the sorghum-sudangrass, sorghum, and corn, and a higher rate of peas and soybeans.

It's also amazing to me that I can take a picture from two different angles and make the same cover crop plot look different in each picture.  If I had laid down flat on the ground, I could have made the grass look like it was twice as tall.  A picture might be worth a thousand words, but it might not always be telling the whole truth (that's the sum total of my philosophizing for today, so you can relax) . 

Kneeling down and taking a picture to make the test plot look slightly better (ignore that canola plant)

Standing up and taking a picture to make the test plot look slightly worse (ignore those weedy looking areas)
If you look close enough or go to the extra effort of clicking on the picture, you'll notice some "weedy-looking" areas in the second picture.  At this point, I can't tell if those areas are actually "weedy" or if it's a mix of soybeans, sunflowers, various weeds, and flax (by the way, what the heck does a flax plant even look like?). 

I'm not sure what I'd do in field with a similar weed problem or if I would even be able to find small patches of weeds in a field planted to a cover crop cocktail, but spot spraying a herbicide and then replanting those spots would probably be the "easiest" solution.  A change in mindset about weeds in a field might be the "hardest" solution.

I know that some of that stuff isn't a weed, but I'm not sure about the rest

I promised in my other post that watching a cocktail of grasses, legumes, brassicas, and other broadleaves grow would be more exciting than words could express (or so I've been told), and I hope it has been so far.

Stay tuned for more updates with exciting pictures of grasses and other stuff growing.


  1. Hopefully the eight inches came slowly enough to do you some good out there. We must have gotten quite a bit while I was overseas because our basement floor (cheapo laminate wood product installed by the previous owners) is all warped and cupped. I'm assuming that we have a leak somewhere in the basement walls that just started after living here for over two years. Of course we've been mostly dry those two years too.

    I'm really interested in your cover crop. My father doesn't do as much experimenting on his farm as you but I always think he should. He always gets into some practice after the first wave of people who always quickly adopt things and before the old timers who don't adopt anything but what they've always done the last 50 years!

    1. I'd have to go back and add everything up, but I think we've had almost 10 inches of rain since the last of May (after only getting around 4 inches from Oct to May).

      One of the reasons I switched to no-till was erosion. In the past, every time it rained a lot, I'd have water going over the tops of the terraces on the cropland which would overload the terraces down the slope making the excess water go over the top of that terrace and that leads to cutting gulleys. Now, the water infiltrates faster (at least it seems like it does) and the residue slows the water down enough that even if it overtops the terraces it doesn't cause as much erosion.

      You give me more credit than I deserve for my experiments, I've planted fields of millet and sorghum-sudangrass in the past, but except for a mixture of crimson clover, canola, and wheat I haven't reached the point of scaling up what I'm pretty sure will work.

      I'm hoping that shooting my mouth off on this blog about my little experiments with cover crops will give me a good kick in the pants to plant an actual field with these same cover crop cocktails. I know these cover crops will work, it's just getting to the point of actually doing it that's harder than you would think it would be.

      In a corn/soybean rotation it might be even harder to experiment, Dave Brandt from OH suggests planting a small 5-10 acre test of something like tillage radish at first (he's a tillage radish advocate). With auto-steer equipment, you can supposedly use your planter (with sorghum or sugar beet plates) to plant tillage radishes in the fall then you can come back in the spring and plant your corn close to the same row (no-till would probably work better for that). From what I know, that's what I would try if I was growing corn in the Corn Belt.

      Saying all that, if I could reliably grow corn here, I'd be tickled to death.