Crop Rolling on the Farm - 2009

Crop Rolling

Windermere Farms field 190 - pictures from 11 days after Cereal Rye was crop-rolled.

I am a member of a forum on weed management conducted by Mark Schonbeck mark@abundantdawn.org At the end of the picture group you can read an edited version of our correspondence.

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Here is a picture of field 110 that had a cereal rye stand similar to field 190 so you can see the density of the cover crop and the type of roller I used.

Crop-rolling-02

This is to get the perspective of the whole field.

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This is a close up of the two main invaders. The yellow flower is waxy bright.

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This on shows the extent the pressure in one section and you see some Harry-vetch that didn’t kill.

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In the background you see the patch of new weed growth shown in the former picture.

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Another shot of the heavily infested area and the extent of the weed population,

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Close up of the tall weed/grass that has taken over the field.



Hi Mark:

Here is an update and request for suggestions.

On may 20 I rolled the rye grain. It was at the stage that the kernal would squirt out when pressed. I didn't have my watermelon plants at the first true leaf stage so I have waited to plant. The rye is dead and has a good matt but already some grass that has a grain type seed cluster is starting to take over and there is pressure from a weed with yellow flowers.

Should I plant watermelon or what?

If the or what then what is the way to get the rye to break down so I can plant something and stop the weed pressure.

Thanks

Ken



Dear Ken,

I find it unusual that you have this kind of weed breakthrough just 11 days after rolling such a mature rye cover crop - but this may simply be a lesson to me on how widely different regions can vary in weed pressure. My suggestions and questions in my e-mail back in March were based in part on the way vegetable crops, rolled cover crops, weeds and spring frosts behave here in southern Appalachia, and in part what I have learned from farmers around the South, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast - but nothing educates as well as first hand observation and experience.

Was this field just broken out of sod last year? No but it had a lot of weed pressure while I had 2 rows of white potatoes and 2 rows of lady peas - I can't remember if the rest of the field had weed pressure or if I disked it a couple of times If so, then this would explain at least the grass breakthrough, and I generally do not recommend no till planting through rolled cover crops in fields that have just come out of sod within the 12 months preceding cover crop planting, as bits of the sod may regrow almost as soon as the crop is rolled.

If not - if your field had been in cultivated crop for a year or more before the rye was planted - then the "grass weeds with a grainlike head" and "weed with yellow flowers" just 11 days after rolldown of a thick rye cover indicate pretty intense weed pressure. I would suspect that, with the grass heading and the other weed in yellow bloom, both had established themselves in the rye well before rolling, possibly as early as last fall. Did the cover crop appear nearly weed-free just before rolling? When you looked down in the rye there were some weeds.

Yes.

OK - now to your immediate, practical concern: Given the current situation, first step is to identify the weeds as best you can (I wish I was there so I could help you identify the weed species). If they are cool season annuals, they will be fairly easy to manage, as they will tend to die down as the summer heat builds (one close mowing may be enough to persuade them to give up). If they are perennials or summer annuals, it will be much tougher. When you say a "grass with a grain type seed cluster" - does the seed head look like rye? Or does it more look like wheat seedheads (much shorter awns, somewhat plumper grain) or barley (plump grain, awns anything from none to very long)? If it is like rye, barley or wheat, it is possible that either the rye root crowns managed to put up secondary shoots despite effective kill of all aboveground growth (possible if you are having a really wet and cool spring), or your rye seed was actually part wheat or barley seed (wheat is much harder to roll kill, and both are much shorter than rye). If the seedheads are lighter/more delicate than these cereal grains, then some grass weed managed to get going amid your rye before rolling. It might be worth digging a few up - if they are fairly easy to pull, with a moderate root mass, they are probably cool season annual. If they are tough and difficult to dig, with either a dense fibrous root mass and/or invasive, whitish, spreading rhizomes, they are perennials. As for the yellow flower weed - I wonder if it is yellow rocket or other mustard type weed? Mustards have lobed or divided leaves and clusters of fairly small (1/2 inch) flowers, each with four petals and six stamens. They are cool season annuals, and mowing them close to the ground during flowering at the beginning of summer should control them fairly well.

To plant watermelons - do you have practical means to clear the rolled rye off crop rows / beds and till them up? It will be very difficult to till in the mature, rolled rye, and this would tie up lots of N. But given the weed growth, it will likely be necessary to strip till your crop rows (a swath 12-18 inches wide should be sufficient). If you can rig up a sweep(s) to push aside the residue, followed by tillage implement that would work up the cleared area only, then add some more organic fertilizer for the melon, this would get the rows ready for melon planting. If the melon planting is fairly small (say, 1/4 acre or less), it might be feasible to prepare the rows manually - rake rye off the rows and run a walk-behind rototiller down the cleared rows.

For the between-row areas, if the current weeds are indeed cool season annuals, you should be able to achieve sufficient weed control by mowing now and again just before the melons vine out. Rolled rye is known to effectively suppress or at least delay many summer annuals, like pigweeds, lambsquarters and some warm season annual grasses.

I hope that some of this is helpful.

Sincerely,

Mark
540-745-4130



6/11/09
Hi Mark:
It has taken some time to get back to you but I took some pictures of the field and the weeds so we can talk about the second half of your reply. I really appreciate your time to help me and maybe this will be a help to others that are thinking of crop rolling. Attached is a word doc with the pictures and I think they are close enough to identify. It is my thought at this point to turn the whole field under and it will be my strawberry field for September planting. What are your suggestions at this point to get this field ready for that purpose? You can see my strawberry fields for 2009 crop on my web site if you want. I do an annual crop on plastic. What can be done for another field for 2010 watermelon and cantaloupe using the crop-roller and cereal rye and vetch to keep the same weed pressure from happening again?
Thanks again for your time and input.
Ken



Hi Mark:

It has taken some time to get back to you but I took some pictures of the field and the weeds so we can talk about the second half of your reply. I really appreciate your time to help me and maybe this will be a help to others that are thinking of crop rolling.

Attached is a word doc with the pictures and I think they are close enough to identify. It is my thought at this point to turn the whole field under and it will be my strawberry field for September planting. What are your suggestions at this point to get this field ready for that purpose? You can see my strawberry fields for 2009 crop on my web site if you want. I do an annual crop on plastic.

Nice photos, and it does indeed look like you grew a good solid cover crop. Judging from both its height and the density of the rolled mat, I would estimate 4 tons per acre, which should be enough to stop most newly-emerging annual weeds, as well as perennials germinating from seed.

The grass looks like it could be quack grass, based on the seedhead. I compared your photo thereof to my weed manual and it is a very good match. Dig up a few of the grass plants - if you see long, white, moderately tough rhizomes with sharp points, it is quack grass, which will laugh at any mulch you can possibly grow in place and roll down. Some form of tillage is needed to deal with this invasive perennial weed.

The broadleaf weed looks like a species of buttercup, again a perennial weed, and one that apparently thrived in the understory of the rye. It is fairly susceptible to regular cultivation.

I agree with your proposal to simply turn the whole field under. However, it may be challenging to get the stemmy rye to break down in time to prepare a seedbed and lay plastic for a September strawberry planting. The incorporated straw may also tie up soil N for a while, though the vetch component of the cover crop may counteract / compensate for this. If the rye crop were still standing, I would recommend that you flail mow it before turning it under. In any case - mow off any vetch and weed growth just before plowing. If you have another place to put your strawberries, it might be worth plowing, letting the field stand fallow just long enough for the quackgrass (or other weeds ) to just begin coming up. When quackgrass shoots have about three leaves, their reserves will be near a minimum (from regenerating plants from the fragments left by tillage) - at that point till again (perhaps this time, rototill or disk) and plant a competitive summer cover crop like buckwheat, cowpea or forage soybean (get a late maturing variety so it makes lots of biomass and shade). Then till that down ahead of a fall vegetable or another fall cover.

If the strawberries need to go here, you might consider applying a biodynamic field spray (available through Seven Springs Farm, 540-651-3228, www.7springsfarm.com). This can help speed decomposition of residues and help get the seedbed ready by September.



What can be done for another field for 2010 watermelon and cantaloupe using the crop-roller and cereal rye and vetch to keep the same weed pressure from happening again?

Try this: Till the field now. If you see quack grass and/or buttercup and/or other perennial weeds (thistles, nutsedges, bindweeds, yellow docks, etc), use a vigorous form of tillage (e.g. heavy disk) that wil chop up the weed's rhizomes and roots. They will regrow, but will expend energy doing so. When they have 3-4 leaves on emerging shoots, their energy reserves will be at a minimum. Till again and plant an aggressive / competitive summer annual cover crop. If fertility is high, or if you can spread some aged manure to provide some N, then try sorghum-sudangrass, either alone or with a legume like forage soybean or lablab bean. When the sorghum-sudan is around 4 feet tall, mow it off, leaving a fairly long (6-12 inches) stubble, and let that regrow. The mowing stimulates deeper rooting, making the sorghum-sudangrass even more competitive and allelopathic against weeds. It also leaves you with somewhat less woody, easier to manage shoot growth.

If soil fertility / N availability is not high, and you do not have access to manure, try pearl millet instead of sorghum-sudan. Again, mow off at 4-5 ft, before heading, to get more succulent, less woody top growth.

If the current weed pressure is mostly summer annuals, or you are worried about having a really stalky summer cover that is hard to decompose in time for fall cover crop planting, grow buckwheat, soybean or cowpea (two successive plantings of buckwheat may be needed). In fact, if you do not have heavy perennial weed pressure, I would tend to recommend these less-strawy cover crops. If weed pressure is quite light, why not grow vegetables that will be harvested before first fall frost? Till before and after the vegetable to make sure perennials don't build up as they did in this year's field.

In the fall, till up a seedbed and plant the rye + vetch in September or early October.

NOTE: if you want to be able to get in and roll the cover crop in late April or beginning of May rather than later May, try any combination of: 'Abruzzi' or 'Wren's Abruzzi' rye (matures 3-4 weeks earlier); or winter barley, with 'Lana' or wooly pod vetch or crimson clover. All of these covers mature (flower) at about the same time. I am not sure how availble the Abruzzi rye is, but I do know it used to be a favorite southern variety many years ago, and some seed savers are regenerating the Wren's Abruzzi in the Southeast now.

Hope this helps,

Mark

Thanks again for your time and input.

Ken



Dear Ken,

I find it unusual that you have this kind of weed breakthrough just 11 days after rolling such a mature rye cover crop - but this may simply be a lesson to me on how widely different regions can vary in weed pressure. My suggestions and questions in my e-mail back in March were based in part on the way vegetable crops, rolled cover crops, weeds and spring frosts behave here in southern Appalachia, and in part what I have learned from farmers around the South, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast - but nothing educates as well as first hand observation and experience.

Was this field just broken out of sod last year?

No but it had a lot of weed pressure while I had 2 rows of whte potatoes and 2 rows of lady peas - I can't remember if the rest of the field had weed pressure or if I disked it a couple of times

If so, then this would explain at least the grass breakthrough, and I generally do not recommend no till planting through rolled cover crops in fields that have just come out of sod within the 12 months preceding cover crop planting, as bits of the sod may regrow almost as soon as the crop is rolled.

If not - if your field had been in cultivated crop for a year or more before the rye was planted - then the "grass weeds with a grainlike head" and "weed with yellow flowers" just 11 days after rolldown of a thick rye cover indicate pretty intense weed pressure. I would suspect that, with the grass heading and the other weed in yellow bloom, both had established themselves in the rye well before rolling, possibly as early as last fall. Did the cover crop appear nearly weed-free just before rolling?

When you looked down in the rye there were some weeds.

Could you clarify something for me - did you delay your watermelon planting by two full months based on my e-mail back in March?

Yes I transplanted some in another field but not by March. I started the seeds in greenhouse 5/13

Or was the "March 20" planting date a misprint?

I was going to try to put them under plastic but just couldn't get seeds started while fighting strawberry covers.

If your normal practice is to plant melons in March, I did not intend or mean to persuade you to wait until late May based on my Appalachian experience, only to say that roll-kill of rye would not work within-row for March planted melons.

I will work on this with some pictures later today.



Ken,
OK - now to your immediate, practical concern: Given the current situation, first step is to identify the weeds as best you can (I wish I was there so I could help you identify the weed species). If they are cool season annuals, they will be fairly easy to manage, as they will tend to die down as the summer heat builds (one close mowing may be enough to persuade them to give up). If they are perennials or summer annuals, it will be much tougher. When you say a "grass with a grain type seed cluster" - does the seed head look like rye? Or does it more look like wheat seedheads (much shorter awns, somewhat plumper grain) or barley (plump grain, awns anything from none to very long)? If it is like rye, barley or wheat, it is possible that either the rye root crowns managed to put up secondary shoots despite effective kill of all aboveground growth (possible if you are having a really wet and cool spring), or your rye seed was actually part wheat or barley seed (wheat is much harder to roll kill, and both are much shorter than rye). If the seedheads are lighter/more delicate than these cereal grains, then some grass weed managed to get going amid your rye before rolling. It might be worth digging a few up - if they are fairly easy to pull, with a moderate root mass, they are probably cool season annual. If they are tough and difficult to dig, with either a dense fibrous root mass and/or invasive, whitish, spreading rhizomes, they are perennials. As for the yellow flower weed - I wonder if it is yellow rocket or other mustard type weed? Mustards have lobed or divided leaves and clusters of fairly small (1/2 inch) flowers, each with four petals and six stamens. They are cool season annuals, and mowing them close to the ground during flowering at the beginning of summer should control them fairly well.

To plant watermelons - do you have practical means to clear the rolled rye off crop rows / beds and till them up? It will be very difficult to till in the mature, rolled rye, and this would tie up lots of N. But given the weed growth, it will likely be necessary to strip till your crop rows (a swath 12-18 inches wide should be sufficient). If you can rig up a sweep(s) to push aside the residue, followed by tillage implement that would work up the cleared area only, then add some more organic fertilizer for the melon, this would get the rows ready for melon planting. If the melon planting is fairly small (say, 1/4 acre or less), it might be feasible to prepare the rows manually - rake rye off the rows and run a walk-behind rototiller down the cleared rows.

For the between-row areas, if the current weeds are indeed cool season annuals, you should be able to achieve sufficient weed control by mowing now and again just before the melons vine out. Rolled rye is known to effectively suppress or at least delay many summer annuals, like pigweeds, lambsquarters and some warm season annual grasses.

I hope that some of this is helpful.

Sincerely,

Mark
540-745-4130



At 12:37 AM 5/31/2009, you wrote:

Hi Mark:

Here is an update and request for suggestions.

On may 20 I rolled the rye grain. It was at the stage that the kernal would squirt out when pressed. I didn't have my watermelon plants at the first true leaf stage so I have waited to plant. The rye is dead and has a good matt but already some grass that has a grain type seed cluster is starting to take over and there is pressure from a weed with yellow flowers.

Should I plant watermelon or what?

If the or what then what is the way to get the rye to break down so I can plant something and stop the weed pressure.

Thanks

Ken



At 04:53 PM 3/8/2009, you wrote:

Hi Mark:

I have just been busy. I will repeat a post I put on NewRam Forum though for your insight:

I prepared rows for a watermelon field on 11/5 by opening a row and adding a dusting of Fertrell Gold Starter blend and a couple of bushels of horse manure every 8 feet and then covering the row over with my turning plow. Then I disked it more or less level or smooth and then planted cereal rye. The rye is now 4 inches tall. I intended to use the crop roller just before putting in the watermelon plants that I need to put in the ground on March 20th. It looks like using the roller is hopeless as there is nothing to roll that will kill. Should I just turn the Rye under and disk it in next dry weather and forget the crop roller? I expect the weeds will over take the melons but I may have the middles wide enough to get a disk in before the melons start running. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Thank you for the update - sounds likeyou are busy indeed.

You are in Memphis area and you plant watermelons in March? I imagine you are using some state-of-the-art season extension to make that work. Here in Floyd, VA (Zone 6 / 7 boundary) we would plant them June 1, possibly May 15 under a row cover. As for the rye cover crop, I would agree that you would probably have to just till it in if you are going to plant on March 20. - the crop roller works only after the winter cereal grain has headed out and begun to shed pollen. Depending on how far apart your melon rows are, you might be able to strip till the crop rows, and let the rye grow to heading between rows, then cut or roll it to get a weed suppressive mulch between rows before the melon vines spread. In future years, you might try the Abruzzi variety of rye - there is a strain now being used at least experimentally called Wren's Abruzzi. It does not go as deeply dormant over winter, but continues to grow. Instead of being hardy to zone 2 or 3 like most rye, Abruzzi is hardy only to zone 6, which works for both your location and mine. However, it matures a month earlier, probably not in time to roll it on March 20, but you could perhaps roll it by April 20. Is that too late to plant melons in Memphis? I would think there would still be plenty of time to get mature fruit by mid to late summer.

Hope you have a great season!

Mark



Thanks for making an effort to keep things going.

Ken

Thank you again for your interest in participating in this discussion. Recently, we had one more person join us - Charles Burton. I attach an amended list of participants to this e-mail.

I have not seen any activity (not received any e-mails from any of you) in this discussion group since I sent out an e-mail n February 8 replying in some detail to e-mails from Harry LeBlanc (Feb 3) and Wayne and Tobi Underwood (Feb 4).

I find myself wondering why the discussion has apparently stopped altogether (as far as I can tell from my in-box) and would like to hear from you about this.

Has it actually continued, but for some reason my e-mail in-box has not been receiving your communications?

Or was there something intimidating about my detailed responses on Feb 8, or did the information seem simply irrelevant or impractical / not useful?

Or is it simply that everyone on the list is already too busy with the new season to engage in the e-mail discussion? I am also busy, so I can understand if this is the case. If you are interested in resuming / continuing this discussion, I can commit to responding on an approximately weekly basis. So if you have a "burning weed question" don't heistate to send it out - someone in the group may have valuable information to share, and I will take a crack at it and get back to you within a week or so.

NOTE - your frank replies to my question here would be much appreciated, as it will help Southern SAWG in our ongoing effort to develop more effective means to facilitate the sharing of information, ideas and innovations on sustainable production methods among farmers, researchers and educators across the region.

If you have feedback on the process of this e-discussion that you want to send only to me (not the whole group), hit "reply".

Otherwise - if you have weed questions, ideas, observations or information to share BE SURE TO HIT "REPLY TO ALL" so that the whole group is included.

Thank you, and wishing you a good growing season.

Mark Schonbeck
Instructor, Southern SAWG Weed minicourse, Jan 22, 2009.