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Quest for Quality: Growing Nutrient-Dense Crops

For Central Virginia farmers Dan Gagnon and Susan Hill, the best proof that they’re doing things right with their soil to produce nutrient-dense crops comes from the mouths of babes and customers facing health challenges.

Dan Gagnon discusses soil structure at Broadfork Farm in Chesterfield, Virginia.

Gagnon and his wife, Janet Aardema, operate Broadfork Farm in Chesterfield, Virginia. Gagnon likes to observe how children interact with food. His youngest son Beckett, 3, last winter used organic store-bought carrots to dip into salad dressing while Gagnon’s mom was looking after him. But he would not eat the carrots.

When she dropped him off, Gagnon had just dug some overwintered carrots. Despite a bit of dirt clinging to them, Beckett gobbled them up. “The feedback from customers that we continue to get has been very encouraging,” said Gagnon. “Also, a child’s palate is a great indicator of the quality of your produce.”

Hill, who grew up outside Helena, Montana — where, she says, if they didn’t grow it, they didn’t eat — cooks for a woman who has multiple sclerosis; another customer has cancer and another, Lyme disease. Continue Reading →

Meet the Vibrating Weeding Broom: DIY Weed Control Tool

In 2016, after a long period of trial and error, I quite by chance tried out a “vibrating weeding broom” for weed control that uses a rake with thin, spring steel wires and was able to carry out continuous (down the row) early interplant weeding without damaging the crop.The weeding was successful using the vibrating weeding broom (VWB), and I named it hawking, after the Japanese-style broom called a hawki.

Takao Furuno with his homemade Interplant
weeding broom.

Crops (rice, wheat and other cereal grains, soybeans, maize and vegetables) are often planted in rows. The space between the rows is known as inter-row space. The spaces in between the crop plants in a row are called interplant spaces (see Figure 1).

Inter-row weeding is known as intertillage weeding. Since there are no crops growing in this space, weeding can be carried out quickly by moving forward or backward continuously with a hoe or other hand tool, or a machine.

On the other hand, in the interplant spaces the weeds and the crops are close to one another, so it would seem to be difficult to eliminate only the weeds by moving forward continuously with a machine without harming the crop.

For nearly 40 years as an organic farmer I was convinced that mechanization of interplant space weeding cannot be easily done and continued to weed between the plants using my hands or a triangular hoe. There are probably many farmers around the world who think and do the same. Continue Reading →

No-Till Growing: Vegetable Production

Robust spring cabbages at Tobacco Road Farm.

Over the last 20-plus years of vegetable growing at Tobacco Road Farm in Lebanon, Connecticut, we have constantly sought ways to improve the health and vitality of our crops and soils, and going no-till has been part of that journey.

About 3 acres of land is in vegetables, with half in year-round vegetable production and the other half cover cropped through the winter months.

The crop rotations are very close, with yields very high, so the intensity of production demands very careful soil care. To this end, soil amendments, fertilizers, inoculants and compost have been carefully selected and applied over the years.

Under this intensity of production, tillage was previously utilized to an excessive degree. This left the soil with a soil structure that was lacking in aggregation, tended toward surface crusting and with a plow pan always in need of mechanical breaking. The loosened soil of the tillage layer dried excessively in summer, leading to irrigation needs, and the soils’ air/water balance was constantly in jeopardy. Continue Reading →