Unfallow Fields


Speaking of fallow fields, we have two now.  We shouldn’t have any.


When farming organically ideally a field should never be bare.  There should always be something growing in it. The roots of growing plants contribute to soil’s health and help hold it in place.  Then when the plants are tilled in, they contribute biomass and nutrients to the soil.  So covercropping is an important part of sustainable organic agriculture.

We aim to grow at least one cover crop in each garden for every food crop we grow.  Usually we will have two cover crops between harvestable crops.

Right now we have a garden producing lettuce and Asian greens, a garden producing the basic brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), a garden growing radishes, turnips and overwintering spinach, and a garden growing onions and garlic.  The rest of the gardens are sowed in winter cover crops. We’ll till those crops in this spring before planting the food crops.  For gardens that will grow fall veggies, we’ll plant a summer crop and also till that in before we plant in the fall.

But we do have two bare fields right now.  One was this year’s tomato/pepper/eggplant garden and the other was this year’s pea garden (English then Purple Hull).  Both were sowed with a cover crop about a month ago, but it hasn’t rained since we planted them and nothing has germinated yet.  So I’m not happy about it, but we do have some bare soil.

The chemical-based farmers around here use a turning plow in the fall and leave their soil bare all winter.  I’m sure they wonder why in the world we are planting grasses on our fields in the fall, when they are working to kill any grasses in theirs.

But just as they don’t want anything growing in their fields over the winter, we don’t want any fields to lay plowed and fallow.  We want soil that is always alive.  Nature prefers it that way.

13 comments on “Unfallow Fields

  1. Dani says:

    As of this year we have decided to follow a no-till programme. As you say, plant matter left in the field can only benefit the soil.


    • Bill says:

      No-till is best for the soil. We’re using some raised beds but mostly still tilling with a tractor. My plan is to convert gradually to more no-till gardening. In the meantime we’ll keep trying to keep the time we have tilled bare soil to a minimum.


  2. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, Yea, I didn’t know any one grew crops like you have explained any more. I don’t plant cover crops in the fall to till under in the spring but the raised beds and parts of the land that are used for the vines crops become foot deep compost piles in the fall. Over the fall and winter 50% of the composting is done. It seems that even though the temperatures are below freezing and snow covers the garden the composting process is still active. By spring the mulch has composted down from about a foot to maybe four inches. By the fall the composting mulch has practically all integrated into the soil and become soil. It’s amazing just how fast sheeting mulching will decompose and become part of the soil. When I first started this sheet mulching, the surrounding neighbors had to be educated about what I was doing. They knew that leaves and grass were good for the soil but never had seen it used for mulch and not plowed under. The comment was that putting mulch on that deep will start a fire because composting causes heat. The next comment was that the deep mulch will smother the soil and kill it then nothing will grow. After three years of seeing the errors of their comments, they don’t say much any more but just watch with interest at the crazy things that I do there in the garden.

    Have a great old fashioned un fallow field day.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bill says:

      Sure they may start out thinking what you do is crazy, but you’re proving that what’s crazy is tearing up the ground and depending upon chemicals to keep it fertile. Rock on Dave!

      If you haven’t seen it already, check the video on youtube called “Back to Eden.” The guy in the film covers his gardens in wood chips, much like you do with your sheet mulch.


  3. shoreacres says:

    “Unfallow field” led in a nanosecond to “uncloudy day,” and the most amazing version I’ve ever come across.


  4. Joanna says:

    I sympathise. We had one month without rain in spring with high temperatures and then a month of rather cold weather. Everything was in disarray after that. Some things germinated and some just sat and sulked until about July. Hope you get the rain you want in time


    • Bill says:

      I’ve been watering the gardens for the past two weeks. I don’t recall ever before having to irrigate in October and November. We had a wet and cool summer, but the rain stopped in September and it’s been bone dry ever since.

      There is rain in the forecast for this week but we’ve been hit with crazy cold weather (with more on the way) so the gardens may be doomed anyway.


      • Joanna says:

        Sigh! We got caught out by early frost and it may have damaged most of our beets that would probably have been better down in the cellar. I never realised until we starting dabbling in farming – can’t call it real farming, I’ve seen enough of that to know the difference – how stressful it can be. I’ve just read of a farmer who has to cull all his ducks due to avian bird flu and wonder about the mental health of the family. That isn’t often talked about in the press. You plant, you sow, you rear and then can only hope for the best, but being an optimist – there’s always next year 🙂


  5. avwalters says:

    I always used to cover crop in California–not sure how Michigan will take to that. This week, we have a new crop of fluffy white snow. Early to have so much, so early. We won’t need to till it in.


    • Bill says:

      I wonder is this is a sign of things to come this winter. Tomorrow’s forecast low here is 19. If that happens it will be second time in a week we’ve dipped into the teens. Way too early for that.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I was worried our fall cover crops didn’t get sown in time this year but the seed germinated in a week and the field was green in two weeks, whew. We had some nice warm weather with just enough rain that week. Hopefully it got enough growth on before we were hit with unseasonably cold temps here in the PNW. The farm has been getting down to 14 degrees every night for the past week. That’s quite chilly for us.
    I’m wondering if your fallow fields might get some benefit from a covering of straw if the seeds don’t ending up germinating. It would help keep soil erosion down and just add more organic matter to the soil. We keep our eyes peeled for farmers offering spoiled hay and straw for our compost piles as well as for covering bare soil, which we have a lot of around our building projects.


    • Bill says:

      Yes, they’d definitely benefit from that. Nebraska Dave uses sheet composting on his urban gardens, without even tilling it in. If I had plenty of spoiled hay I’d put it on those fields. They’re sowed in winter rye so we may yet get a decent stand on them.


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