3. Cover crops for early summer

Thomas Björkman

Department of Horticultural Sciences
NYS Agricultural Experiment Station
Cornell University
Geneva, NY 14456-0462


Summer may seem an odd time to use cover crops, because that is the time when the real crops are growing. But summer may be the right opportunity to improve fields with a cover crop. If the soil is wearing out, summer is when a soil-building crop can do a lot more work. Also, if the rotation leaves an opening in the summer, a short cycle cover crop will be much better than leaving the field open, to suffer erosion from rain and have weeds to go to seed. Buckwheat sown in late May or early June, can be used before vegetables such as pumpkins, broccoli, late cucumbers. There is another opportunity for summer cover crops after lettuce, peas, early beans, spinach or small grains.


For planting in June, there are really only two choices. One is sudangrass, or sorghum-sudangrass, and the other is buckwheat. Both grow rapidly in the summer warmth.

The two cover crops have different properties, so the management goal and field condition will determine which is the right one.


Sudangrass is often chosen for improving soil organic matter. It produces a strong root system and lots of biomass. The deep root system is helpful for reducing subsurface hardness. It is also a good choice for reducing root-knot nematode pressure.


Buckwheat is best known for weed suppression and mellowing the soil.


If weed suppression is the main purpose, buckwheat is preferred. It covers the ground earlier than sudangrass, especially in early June, and outcompetes weeds that may establish in sudangrass. Sudangrass requires a higher seeding rate for effective weed suppression.


The amount of time until the fall crop is to be planted is a significant decision factor. Buckwheat is in the ground for 35 to 40 days when used as a cover crop. It can be sown as early as May 20th. Sudangrass needs 60 to 70 days to be effective, and is best planted once June has become thoroughly warm. Both of these cover crops should be mowed after about 40 days. That is the end of the season for buckwheat, but the beginning of major root growth for sudangrass. Sudangrass needs a final flail mowing and immediate incorporation to suppress nematodes.


The condition of the field will determine which crop is suitable. If the soil is hard, or the field is prone to standing water, sudangrass is a good choice, while buckwheat will do poorly. However, if the field is low in nitrogen and phosphorous, buckwheat will do well without additional fertilizer, while sudangrass needs about 40 lb of N to give satisfactory performance.


If the crop to follow needs a fine seedbed, that will be easier to produce after buckwheat. It mellows the soil for easy working, and decomposes quickly after incorporation. Sudangrass crowns take some time to break down, so the following crop needs to be one that can be sown in a somewhat lumpy field.


The main production risks with buckwheat are a failed stand and letting it go to seed. The failed stand usually follows a heavy rain around emergence. It will be obvious two weeks after planting. If the seedlings are not doing well then, till them in and plant again. To avoid volunteer buckwheat seed, kill the crop before there are filled green seeds on the plant. That takes about 40 days from a July planting or 50 days from a June planting.


The main production risk with sudangrass is that the crop gets too big to mow, or to incorporate after frost has killed it. This crop grows very fast, so keep an eye on it. Mow the first time at about 3 feet and the second time while the flail mower can still chop it well. If sudangrass gets too big to control, it will be killed by frost and make a nice winter mulch. However the biofumigant effect will be lost.


Buckwheat is available from some local farm seed retailers. The variety does not matter, and many suppliers don’t identify any variety. Regional suppliers include The Birkett Mills in Penn Yan, Ernst Conservation Seed in Meadville, PA, AgriCulver in Trumansburg, and Lakeview Organic Grain in Penn Yan. A short crop in 2006 has raised the seed cost for this season, with prices ranging from $15 to $25 per 50 lb bag. A bag is enough to seed an acre. 


Sorghum and sorghum-sudangrass are widely available. Varieties suitable for cover crops must be selected carefully. Grain types are inappropriate and some new forage varieties, described as sweet or with brown midrib are low in dhurrin, which is the biofumigant in sudangrass. Piper sudangrass is readily available, and has a similar composition to Trudan 8, the classic sudangrass for biofumigation. Sorghum-sudangrass hybrids are more vigorous, and will produce more biomass than sudangrass, but the seed is also more expensive. Appropriate varieties that are available locally include Sordan 79, Green Grazer and Special Effort. With a modest seeding rate of 30 lb/ac, sudangrass can cost as little as $10 to $20 per acre. Weed suppression requires 50 lb/ac. Regional suppliers include Seedway in Hall, Agriculver in Trumansburg and UAP in Sodus.


4. Growing Canola as an alternative grain crop

From SANNET listserv May 26, 2007

Original Message-----

From: Sustainable Agriculture Network Discussion Group [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Lawrence F. London, Jr.

Sent: Saturday, May 26, 2007 8:02 PM

To: [log in to unmask]

Subject: [SANET-MG] Growing canola for conversion to biodiesel - how is it done?

Canola is grown as a field crop much like wheat. It's harvested with a grain combine, which must be adjusted to deal with the small seeds and the taller crop. It can be grown in fairly dry regions, particularly winter canola, but it needs moisture to get established. We can raise winter canola in an area with 10" annual rainfall but better crops are achieved with higher rainfall. Spring canola can be grown in 15" or more annual rainfall, but yields improve with higher rainfall. Canola likes cool climates; temperatures over 85 degrees shut down the blooming.

There are many canola growing guides online. I have written a bulletin for dryland spring canola production as well as several spreadsheet production guides for winter and spring canola production at different production areas in Washington and Oregon. They can be found at:





After you have produced the crop, the seed will need to be crushed and then the oil needs to be converted into biodiesel. ON average, you can expect to get about 100 gallons of biodiesel per acre of canola but that will depend on your yield, of course. Making biodiesel is not horribly difficult but it needs to be done well or your fuel will be substandard and could cause problems in your vehicles. Many farmers around here ended up selling their canola oil and buying their fuel as they were getting about the same price as fuel cost last year, and making enough biodiesel for the farm is a big, messy, exacting process.


Hope this helps.

Kate Painter




Growing canola for conversion to biodiesel - how is it done?


On a tract less than 100 acres, people I know want to grow canola to augment their supply of oil for biodiesel production.


1) what kind of soils and soil conditions and fertility are best

2) is it drought resistant

3) is it grown on flat land, row cropped or can it be grown in wide raised beds

4) how is is harvested

5) what kinds of harvesters are available

6) is there a small harvester/combine available that could be used with wide raised beds

    or is there another type that could be modified for this purpose


Thanks for any feedback.




Lawrence F. London, Jr.

Venaura Farm

[log in to unmask]






5. Diggin' in: Vegetable garden at Riddle excites elementary students

Published May 28, 2007
From Lansing State Journal

As plants grow, kids learn about nutrition, how to tend harvest

Brendan Bouffard
Lansing State Journal

Resting on her hands and knees, third-grader Stacia King ran her fingers through the dirt of Riddle Elementary School's vegetable garden.

"We get to make our school look prettier," she said.

"(The vegetables) taste better, and they are more natural."


Planting a vegetable garden outside her school was a break from her normal schedule.

Riddle Elementary's garden, in its second year, is student planted and tended throughout the harvest. This summer, a student gardening camp run at the school by volunteers will take over the care of the crops.

Katie Olender has been running the garden program at the school for the last two years.

"I don't know if you could get a first-grader to enjoy vegetables if they didn't grow them on their own," she said. "For a lot of them, it's their only experience learning how to grow things."

Children participating in the program take to the dirt using tools donated by local businesses. Much of the resources needed for the program come from state funding and volunteers.

Last week, students at the school planted seedlings which will grow throughout the summer.

They gathered into groups and spread out among the 10 or so vegetable beds to plant tomatoes, corn, peppers, onions, squash, peas and several other vegetables.

Agricultural roots

The gardening camp is a way for some of the schools' international students to connect with their agricultural roots, said Yoke-lei Oldham, the international classroom teacher.

"A lot of these kids have been displaced by war," she said. "But their background and tradition is in agriculture."

Kasra-Nawio Nizamuddin, a 10-year-old from Afghanistan, said he is happy to have the chance to work on a garden. He said planting the vegetables reminded him of his family's garden back in his home country.

"I believe in learning through play," Oldham said. "There is nothing like hands-on."

The summer camp starts June 25 and will be a nutrition-based program. Alison Gunden, an intern in charge of running the camp, said the kids will learn about healthy eating habits.

Students in the camp will learn about fruits and vegetables, as well as take field trips to the Lansing City Market and the Michigan State University Student Organic Farm.

"I hope the kids can take something from the camp," she said. "I hope they can have some access to stuff they don't normally have access to."

Funding may be cut

Olender recently learned the program's state funding might be cut. She said she is happy the garden has been a success, but she hopes volunteers will be able to keep it running.

"I would love to put a vegetable garden at every school," she said. "I will do everything in my power to keep it going. This has totally transformed this school and these kids."

Contact Brendan Bouffard at 377-1061 or [log in to unmask].


6. New MSU Extension Bulletin Focuses on Environmental Farm Practices



Compiled By Staff 



May 24, 2007








Farmers might not stop to think about how their operations are part of a larger ecosystem. But according to a new Michigan State University Extension bulletin, a greater understanding of the natural interactions between crops, the landscape, the ecosystem and even the surrounding human community can help farmers make their operations more sustainable for the long run.

"Building a Sustainable Future: Ecologically Based Farming Systems" (MSU bulletin E-2983) explains how it is possible to support farm productivity while benefiting the environment and the community.

An integrated team of farmers, educators and researchers collaborated on the bulletin, which offers a practical and realistic approach to managing more diverse natural farming systems.

"Many new sustainable agriculture markets have opened up," says MSU Extension specialist and bulletin project manager Dale Mutch. "We’re hoping to show how it’s possible for farmers to use these systems to keep maximum profitability while using minimum inputs."

The new bulletin focuses on topics such as agricultural landscapes, integrated pest management, community-based food systems and managed intensive grazing, and provides holistic approaches for field crop production and Michigan potato and tart cherry systems.

A chapter devoted to organic cropping systems presents information on farm profitability and explores the farming systems on two Michigan organic operations.

Though the bulletin was written primarily for farmers, Mutch said that it is also appropriate for agricultural students and other agricultural community members. The bulletin emphasizes the importance of social interaction between farmers and their communities as a critical key to farm sustainability.

"Ecologically Based Farming Systems" sells for $13 each or $10.50 for quantities of 10 or more. To learn more, please visit www.new-ag.msu.edu/pdf/E2983.pdf or contact the MSU Bulletin Office at 517-353-6740 and online at www.emdc.msue.msu.edu.




Vicki Morrone

Organic Vegetable and Crop Outreach Specialist

Michigan State University

C.S. Mott Sustainable Food Systems

303 Natural Resources Bldg.

East Lansing, MI 48824


517-282-3557 (cell)

517-353-3834 (fax)




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