A Conversation with Nic about No-Till & Cover Cropping

Nic Cook began working at Cedar Circle Farm in 2003, during the second year that Kate and Will managed the farm. Nic was young and eager to learn about farming. As one of only four employees, there was plenty to do every day!

Fast forward 10 or so years…as the farm grew, so did Nic’s interests and responsibilities. He began managing most of the farm’s Research and Development field trials, devoting more time, land, and manpower to these trials. They allowed him to experiment with different techniques, such as organic no-till and intensive cover cropping, which would hopefully result in better yields, more sustainable land management, and more carbon sequestration, which is vital in the fight against global warming.

“What’s unique about Cedar Circle Farm,” Nic emphasized, “is it’s commitment to research and development, while still being a working, productive farm.” .

Currently, there are two acres of land in use for research and development trials. Nic has experimented with different cover crops and no-till techniques, initially using oats and peas, but now using some legumes and winter rye. In the spring, when the rye is tall, he roller-crimps it instead of tilling. Roller-crimping kills and flattens the rye, creating a mat that suppresses weed growth. Young transplants are then plugged into the soil right through this mat, cutting back on machine cultivation and hand weeding.

Our data collection for each trial will take place over 2–3 years. Some of our experiments are successful, and others don’t go as planned. Last season, Nic used discarded greenhouse plastic to solarize and kill weeds prior to transplanting (trial and error!) and he successfully grew broccoli and kale!

One of Nic’s long-term goals is for Cedar Circle Farm to be a model for other growers. He emphasized the need for long-term trials and useful data before sharing his results with others. Nic’s on a mission, though. He’s taking classes in environmental science at CCV, participating in field trials run by UVM, and collaborating with fellow local farmers.

Nic and I ended our conversation with me asking: “What advice would you give to home gardeners, what can they do to grow their gardens sustainably and organically?”
“Don’t till!” he replied, “And, no matter what size garden you have, map your garden every year, keep records of your yields, learn about crop rotation, amend your soil with good compost, and get your soil tested every year.”

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