Video Clip: Living Mulch: Cover Crops Between Plastic from Vegetable Farmers and their Innovative Cover Cropping Techniques


Farmers and their Innovative Cover Cropping Techniques [DVD]. V. Grubinger. 2006. University of Vermont Extension. Available for purchase from: 31 Dec 2008).

This is a Vegetable Farmers and their Innovative Cover Cropping Techniques video clip.

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Lou Lego, Elderberry Pond. Auburn, NY.

Audio Text

One of the things that we think is unique that we do here is that we use a lot of hybrid mulching. We’ll have a living cover and then within that living cover crop area we’ll put rows of plastic within a living mulch and use the advantage of the living mulch to keep the plastic covered and to give it longevity and also again to make it a more workable environment so there is no bare soil between those sheets of plastic.

This is the first year of one of our hybrid mulch fields it was planted in rye in October, the way we would normally do this, is we would plant the whole field in rye and then come in on the same day and lay the plastic. This year we tried something a little different we tried planting the rye between the rows of plastic. And don’t really like that as well because we ended up with a bit of a band along the plastic.

Plastic in these plantings is all 1½ ml embossed plastic, in this case it's black although other colors work also. We lay it with a mulch layer - the most basic plastic mulch layer that you can lay, it’s not a raised bed, it’s flat on the ground as far as moisture. And after the fifth year the plastic, amazingly because it’s been protected by covers and by high growth in the aisles, is very flexible, so we come through here with a mulch lifter, it comes out in one piece.

In this case we’re planting tomatoes into the hybrid mulch system. So the way we’ll do this is to burn holes as a three-foot spacing. We then take a shovelful of manure and a shovelful of mulch on either side of the hole. Then we come in and set the plants with manure mixed into the soil and then cover the plant with mulch to keep any weeds from coming up in the hole. We then set a cage on top of that hole for the tomato to grow up into.

With the rye it’s important to let it grow as tall as it can and as vigorously as it can. The rye is cut, the reason it is cut is to protect the plastic from the sun and to make it last a long time, it also is a good crop with improving the soil and keeping the weeds down. There are two ways to mow the crop, either with a tractor mounted sickle bar mower or a large tractor mounted sickle bar mower, or what I prefer to use is a smaller walk behind sickle bar mower, where you get a little better control and can determine where the straw is going to fall a little better. The goal was to try to get it to distribute somewhat evenly between the plastic and the ground.

In this particular planting of tomatoes we will let this rye that’s been cut, re-seed. Later in the summer when it thins out a little, we will go through and seed annual rye grass with clover, over-seed it right on top of what’s here. Then that annual rye grass will die next year, the clover will take over and that’ll be the permanent alleyway mulch for the next five year rotation. The clover is mowed several times a year to keep it down depending on the crop. With a high crop like tomatoes, clover can be allowed to grow pretty aggressively. With a low crop it’s useful to keep it fairly well mowed, it actually likes being mowed, it comes back with increased vigor, so it’s a good crop for that.

These strawberries are growing in our hybrid mulch system. They’re growing on black plastic in here, the plastic has been in now, this is its 5th year, it’s had 4 previous crops on it, including melons and tomatoes and peppers and cabbage. Now it’s in its final cropping with these strawberries.

To maintain the fertility in the plantings for the four or five years under the plastic, it’s very necessary that the field have been in alfalfa or in a good nutritive cover crop for three years prior to placing the plastic in the strips. Then in addition to that we’ll use pelletized chicken manure in the holes at planting to give it a boost for the growing system. It’s amazing when you rip this plastic up in the final year, next year when we take this up, the soil under this will be absolutely beautiful.

This video project was funded in part by the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (USDA).

Published June 15, 2011

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