Last year, about this time, we came to a spot in our no-till experimentation where I was about ready to throw in the towel. We mowed a rye cover crop and ripped furrows through the field with our subsoiler so that we could make a little trench to plant tomato seedlings into. It was a minor disaster; the subsoiler made ugly lumpy wide trenches through the field, and it was obvious that the mulch of the rye cover crop wasn’t nearly enough to supress the weeds. And we had done all of this in our Pick-Your-Own garden, where we were inviting the public to come and pick flowers. I was envisioning turned ankles and a lost crop of cherry tomatoes. We managed to salvage the effort by putting down weedmat in between rows; those of you who didn’t know the story would be shocked by the difference between the disaster in my heart on that day and the mostly acceptable results that we achieved. Last year wasn’t our best pick-your-own garden year, but there was something.
Skip forward to this year, and we just received our new “collection flail mower,” funded by a grant from MDAR, that is the key piece that makes this system work. The idea is that we can mow cover crop and collect the mulch in a hopper, and then dump the mulch into a manure spreader to put it on the field. The field is somewhere that we grew a cover crop, and we have mowed that and got a little bit of mulch, but by putting extra mulch from somewhere else, we can have enough mulch to keep the weeds away. Our extra-spiky transplanter can then get the plants right in through the mulch, and then we are all done with tractors in that field until we are done and ready to harvest. And hopefully, the boost in soil health will give us a healthier, more resilient tomato crop. The theory was great, but we have been waiting about a year to see it put into practice. We couldn’t be more pleased with how it has turned out. To quote Dave, “I had the idea that there were machines out there that would do something like this, but I now I see that they really work!” Watch below to see Dave and Dale getting the field ready to plant.
And then here is what it looks like the next day, as we plant tomatoes right into that mulch!