Share Facebook Twitter Google + LinkedIn Pinterest By Randall Reeder, P.E., Extension agricultural engineer (retired)Is there an advantage in a wet spring with planting green? Most of the Ohio no-tillers who replied to the question said, “Yes.”Here are a few specific reasons and additional comments from 10 of our No-Till Council members as they assessed 2019 spring planting heading into June.David Brandt in Fairfield County was closing in on finishing spring planting with 40 acres of low ground to go. Of course last fall provided poor conditions for cover crop establishment. The late harvest was followed by a rainy November, followed by wet winter with a Polar Vortex. Trying to plant green where there was very little green to plant into did not work this spring, especially in much of the very soggy northwestern portion of Ohio. Further south, there have been relatively more opportunities to plant, though Nathan Brown in Highland County has faced plenty of issues this spring.“So far this has been the most challenging spring of my career. With a wet fall continuing through to the current date, it has really played havoc to soils across the area,” Brown said. “The gully erosion that was experienced with this wet winter pattern was some of the most extreme we have experienced. The late harvest really played into the limited establishment of cover crops and with little living plant mass, soil loss was high.”Planting green this spring helped Brown get a jump on some fields.“I believe that the cover crops has allowed us to plant a little earlier as we are now two-thirds done with corn and soybeans. Planting green has helped hold the planter and tractor up better than our fields without covers. My crops are just beginning to emerge but from my scouting today, it seems my corn is having better emergence in covers verses plain no-till,” Brown said. “With the root mass in the soils it allowed the planter to open and close the seed slot with less compaction in the root zone and has allowed more uniform emergence. In soybeans, we didn’t have great cover stands but has given enough weed suppression that we have reduced our residual and burndown chemical program by half. We will see how the season goes but is looking promising in reducing cost to help pay for the cover crop seeding cost.”A well-established living cover is a huge advantage because the crop is sucking up excess moisture. But it has to be in continuous no-till, with cover crops, for at least 2 or 3 years to get that advantage. The ground is firmer, reducing compaction.Cover crops help control weeds, both before and after planting, which reduces herbicide costs. Cover crops also keep the soil warm at night, which can help corn germinate quicker.Martha Winters in Sandusky County had a puzzling situation with cover crops this spring.“Where the cover crop stand was the best (55 pounds of cereal rye per acre in soybean ground) the soil was still very wet. With 22 pounds of cereal rye ahead of the corn, the soil dried out much quicker. We were able to plant corn green (22 pounds of cereal rye) into a silty clay loam soil a day before a very fine sand because the heavier spots in the sandy field were still too wet with 55 pounds of cereal rye. We were extremely surprised and disappointed by this,” she said.But Nathan Brause, who farms in Crawford and Richland counties, said years of building soil health helped, even without a good cover crop this spring.“We can plant no-till in wetter soils than the worked soils around us because of soil health,” he said. “I drove the planter by waterlogged fields all around me and pulled into the field. It was barely solid enough to hold the tractor up, but planted very well and closed the seed trench.”A good cover mix also provides habitat for a variety of insects and wildlife (bees, dragonflies, quail, fawns).Summarizing, having a good cover crop to plant into was an advantage in most cases. And without any cover crop? Erosion is probably the worst ever, even on long-term no-till fields.For those crops planted in June, keep your fingers crossed for a late frost and timely rains during the heat of summer. Cover crop residue can help keep soils moist.Prevented planting? Plant something!If you have made the decision to take “Prevented Planting,” plant a cover crop mix to help build soil health and control weeds.David Brandt offers these tips: first, decide what crop will be planted next year. If it’s corn, a mix with legumes and grasses. Example: cowpeas, clover, Austrian winter pea, radish, sorghum-sudan. If soybeans will be planted next year, use mostly grasses. Example: oats, millet, radish. In both cases, include some sunflowers to add color. Herbicides applied a month ago should not be a concern because of all the rain.
South of our nation’s capital, near the Navy Yard, the first phase of EYA’s Capitol Quarter project is well under way. It’s a residential rowhouse project that takes up nearly eight city blocks with mixed market rate, workforce, and subsidized rental housing. When completed, 90% of the project’s 300 units will be LEED for Homes certified. The remaining 10% will be subsidized housing units owned by the District of Columbia, which opted against LEED certification due to budget constraints.I visited this area back in the early 1990s when I was in college. To put it lightly, it was not an area that a bunch of college students should be roaming around in search for fun. It was fairly crime ridden and rundown. Even though I have been to Washington several times since the 90s, I never have had a reason to return to the Navy Yard area until last month, when I visited the Capitol Quarter project. The area has really changed, with projects like Capitol Quarter attempting to breathe positive energy into the resurgent neighborhood, avoiding complete gentrification. In the 19th century, the Navy Yard was a busy nautical center, with a prominent residential community. River pollution, the construction of the elevated Beltway, and other factors turned it into arguably one of D.C.’s most neglected and crime-ridden areas. Capitol Quarter is one of a multitude of projects taking place in the next few years that will reshape the neighborhood, which is home to Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, the first LEED-certified professional sports stadium in the country.I hopped off the Navy Yard metro stop and walked a couple of blocks to Capitol Quarter. There I met Karen Benner, EYA’s new green construction superintendent. A year and a half ago, she was the product development manager, a position that was eliminated when the recession arrived. EYA felt that Karen’s interest in environmental issues and with her familiarity with new innovative products made her a perfect candidate for this new position overseeing green building strategy implementation on the Capitol Quarter project that had been many years in the making. I love stories about a green champion that retains a green job through this economic mess that we are in.In her new position, one of Karen’s first responsibilities was to survey and evaluate the nation’s residential green-building rating systems and help determine which one would best fit the project. The NAHB Green Building Standard hadn’t rolled out in earnest, and the company was too late to sign up for the pilot phase. It was determined that LEED for Homes was the best option, and the marketing potential of the USGBC rating system would be a benefit. (An aside: EYA is building a similar project in Virginia using the EarthCraft rating system.)After diving in to the LEED for Homes checklist and requirements, Karen compared them to EYA’s existing construction methodologies to determine which, if any, strategies would need to be modified, added or deleted in order to achieve certification. Years before, the company had tried to improve the envelopes of its homes for better energy efficiency, comfort, and indoor air quality. EYA incorporated panelization, which affected waste management and optimal framing. Location and Linkages were credits within LEED for Homes that were inherently achievable in Capitol Quarter, due to the infill location, typical of EYA’s projects.Karen did make the determination that a few strategies needed to be employed in the project, resulting in an additional cost of less that $1,000 per unit for LEED certification:Continuous rated bath fans were installed in powder rooms, allowing for fresh air introduction through a dampered passive inlet.Microwave/hoods were vented to the outside of each unit, removing humidity from inside the building envelope and reducing the possibility of mold growth.More CFLs were used in recessed lighting.Low-e windows were included.Aerators on lavatories, showers, and kitchen sinks were replaced.I’ll continue the discussion about Capitol Quarter next time and share some certification results, affordable unit info, sampling certification methods, and sales data.Check out my pictures of this project on Flickr.