Weed 'Em and Reap Part 2: Reduced tillage strategies for vegetable cropping systems [DVD]. A. Stone. 2006. Oregon State University Dept. of Horticulture. Corvallis, Oregon. Available at: http://www.weedemandreap.org (verified 17 Dec 2008).
Helen Atthowe, BioDesign Farm. Stevensville, MT.
When I first started farming and working with other organic farmers twenty years ago, one of our greatest challenges was getting nitrogen, particularly nitrate-nitrogen to our crop so that we would have early crops. What organic farmers have always faced is a microbially-controlled nutrient release and thus availability to the crop so we tended to be a little slower. What I found working in this system, is that the challenge disappeared after about five or six years of the living mulch creating a recycled nutrient foundation.
So that here in Montana, where it's an even greater challenge than anywhere else I’ve farmed, to make sure that nutrients are available to the crop early enough, we’re getting the earliest tomatoes and red peppers, and in fact green bell peppers at the market than any of the other growers, including the conventional growers. One of the reasons is plants start growing very rapidly because the nutrients, particularly nitrogen, seems to be quite readily available. One of the things that helps this system is the black plastic. I don’t think in this climate, we could do this living mulch system with warm season crops without the heat increase that we get from the black plastic.
Another interesting thing I’ve noticed as a result of this constant addition of residues developing a foundation for a nutrient base is that we don’t have surges of nitrogen the way I used to when I would add a lot of compost or a green manure only in the spring, and till it under and it would be released and then we might side-dress later. What we found is increased crop quality and lasting ability. Peppers, for example, have very thick walls. They get less sun scald problems and we can do our specialty, which is red peppers, without losing as many. We don’t have as much wrinkling and again the breakdown issues that occur with high heat and sun. I suspect that the reason is that we’re seeing lower tissue nitrate-nitrogen. We’re also seeing higher levels of calcium in the tissue; that could also be a reason. But, I suspect it all boils down to the slow release nutrients that we’re maintaining within the system.