November Update from Castleton Farm
An Update from Castleton
23rd November 2020
A quieter time of year for Castleton farm, as the last of the berries are picked and all the winter crops are sown. Ross has been focusing on a carbon audit, helping identify areas to reduce emissions on farm. Below are several observations from 23rd November 2020.
Cover Crops Mixes
Having established cover crops on as many fields as possible pre-harvest, Ross is now observing the performance of the different mixes and rates he has sown. Using different mixes of mustard, phacelia, buckwheat, vetch and clover, Ross has trialled a few seed rates. Although his cost of seed, which ranges between £59 to £71/ha, is higher than some other group members Ross’s establishment method using a modified sprayer has reduced the cost associated with establishment dramatically and has also provided even establishment across the field.
Ross has found that the buckwheat has already been killed by the frost, however, the mustard, vetch and fodder radish are thriving and putting down significant roots. Alongside the difference in species performance, Ross has found that higher seed rates increase the performance of the crop and he believes are worth the extra money. Ross thinks going forward he will use a 5kg mustard, 5kg radish and 10kg vetch mix per hectare as a base and add in other species to increase the diversity. Where permitted by NVZ rules, Ross applied a small amount of nitrogen on the cover crops to promote growth. Ross applied 16kg/ha on the cover crops which he plans to graze with sheep.
Within the mixes grown, the vetch has formed nodules on the roots. This is a sign that the plants have formed a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in the soil and will fix nitrogen when the soil temperature increases in the spring. Due to the potential for nitrogen fixation, Ross is unsure whether grazing the cover crops will halt any potential fixation. However, he has decided to graze two fields which are more suitable to grazing to monitor the growth of the covers and see whether nitrogen fixation will happen before he needs to sow his spring barley. At this time of year, retaining the nitrogen throughout the winter is as important as fixing it, Ross hopes that the volunteer cereals will play this role within the mix.
Sowing into standing stubbles
At harvest, Ross trialled a stripper header. This combine attachment can increase harvest output and leave the straw standing by only removing the ears of grain. One potential benefit of this system is reducing the difficulty that can be associated with sowing into a stubble with a lot of trash on the surface. This can cause hair pinning and uneven seed placement. Trialling several different drills, Ross has established beans into a spring barley stubble with a high level of success. Bean seeds need to be sown at a greater depth than cereals and achieving this with a low disturbance disc drill can provide challenging. Nevertheless, the beans have emerged evenly and there is still ample straw on the soil surface to provide soil protection throughout the winter.