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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink Can you tell me something about growing okra?

Puerto Rico

Answer: Here is some basic information on okra (Abelmoschus esculentus).

Okra is perfectly suited to a long, hot growing season and has few pests or diseases. When pods are kept harvested, the plant just grows taller and keeps producing more. "Clemson Spineless" is a favorite variety. "White Velvet" is a newer variety with pods that stay tender longer.

Avoid dwarf okra—it was developed for short-season, northern gardens and is not a good producer in your climate. Pods of some red okras tend to be tough.

Most okras are non-hybrid types. From these you will be able to save seed for next year's crop if you allow some of your plants to mature their seed pods.

Okra stalks are very tough and must be chopped up thoroughly when the season is over in order to compost well. They cannot just be plowed under.

Creasy, Rosalind. 1986. The Gardener's Handbook of Edible Plants. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, CA. p. 178-179.



Permalink How do I manage a white clover living mulch for weed suppression for my squashes and melons?

New York

Answer: Here is some information on living mulches in general, along with some information specific to cucurbits.


Part One: Introduction to Living Mulches

A living mulch is a cover crop that is intercropped with an annual or perennial cash crop, primarily for weed suppression and as a soil management practice. Living mulches reduce soil erosion, suppress weeds, increase soil organic matter, improve trafficability, increase water infiltration, and increase nutrient cycling. Legumes used as living mulches fix nitrogen from the air and can replace or reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizers. Some living mulches also provide habitat for beneficial insects.

Establishment Methods

There are three basic ways to establish a living mulch:
[1] drilling or broadcasting a cover crop together with the primary crop at planting;
[2] drilling (interseeding) or broadcasting (overseeding) a cover crop at the last cultivation;
[3] drilling a cash crop into mechanically or chemically suppressed strips of a living cover crop.

Living Mulch Systems and Methods of Suppression

When managed incorrectly, living mulches can act like weeds and compete with the main crop for light, water and nutrients. Especially in low-growing vegetables—such as vine crops—an overgrown living mulch can interfere with flowering and fruit development. Thus, management of a living mulch is geared to getting good ground coverage and then suppressing its growth through chemical or mechanical means.

The first 4 to 6 weeks after planting is the most critical growth period for most crops. During this time, plant competition can reduce yields most severely, and living mulch growth may require suppression. Using a method of suppression becomes most critical where soil moisture is limited. When a vegetable crop is planted directly into strips of live vegetation, methods of suppression prior to planting may include application herbicides (at sublethal rates), mowing, tillage, flaming, and a technique known as rolling.

When an intercrop is established at planting or by overseeding, methods of suppression may include time of establishment (in the case of overseeding), use of dwarf type cover crops, application of herbicides at sublethal rates, and light mechanical cultivation.

Dying Mulch/Living Mulch Weed Suppression

A dying mulch is a cover crop planted out of season that puts on some growth—suppressing weeds as a living mulch—and then dies back out on its own without requiring the use of herbicides, mowing, or tillage to knock it back. Winter rye—planted in the spring—has been used successfully in this manner in several agronomic and horticultural crops.

Here's how a dying mulch has been used by several Midwestern vegetable growers. In mid-spring, the field is overseeded with winter rye at 120 lbs. per acre to establish a living mulch. In order for winter rye to tiller and produce a seed head, it requires a period of cold treatment, or vernalization. Since it never receives vernalization and thus never tillers, it remains short and eventually just "cooks out" in summer, leaving a weed-suppressive duff.

The success of this system is dependent on proper timing and good luck. Timing is critical to get the rye established early enough to promote germination when the soil temperatures are still relatively cool, but at the same time, late enough that a cold spell is avoided. Since vernalization can occur when the rye is exposed to only 10 days of 45° F. night temperatures, a sudden spring cold snap can result in the cover crop performing in an other-than-expected manner.

Choice of Living Mulch Species

Cover crops, like any other crop, require fairly specific growing conditions. Both grasses and legumes are being used as living mulches. Of these, there are both cool season and warm season types to choose from.

Factors affecting choice of living mulch cover crop include the primary crop, rotation sequence, growing season, method of establishment, and intended use (i.e., dying mulch, winter killed mulch, etc.). Most important in the selection of a living mulch is that the plant species chosen be vigorous enough to provide the benefits of a cover crop, but not so vigorous that competition with the main crop cannot be managed without killing it. The region of the country (e.g., agroclimatic zone) is also of great importance in selecting a living mulch. For example, subclover is grown as a winter annual legume in the South, but as a spring annual in the North.

Some grass species used as living mulches include perennial ryegrass, dwarf ryegrass, turf type fescues, millet, and out-of-season winter cereal grains. Some legume species used as living mulches include white clover, hairy vetch, subterranean clover, Dutch white clover, dwarf English trefoil, Korean lespedeza, and crimson clover. Broad-leaved cover crops that have potential as living mulches include phacelia, buckwheat, and various crucifers. Rapid cycling brassica germplasm is under development at the University of Minnesota. These are low-growing, short-season brassicas that function as smother crops early in the growing season, then mature early and leave a weed suppressive duff.

ATTRA's Overview of Cover Crops and Green Manures publication is a useful resource. It reviews the benefits and uses of cover crops and provides a number of useful resources on cover crops and seed sources.


Part Two: Notes on Living Mulches for Cucurbits (Squash and Melons)

In New England, drilling clover in between the rows after cucurbit crop establishment is a common way to raise cucurbits with living mulches, especially with winter squashes.

In fact, one Cornell research report—"Lana vetch / winter rye living mulches in organic pumpkins: competition, weed suppression, and insect pest mitigation effects"(see below)—concluded that after-seeded living mulches were the most promising approach to living mulches in pumpkins.

The following selected resources address living mulches and cover crops for cucurbits, including a few select items geared to the Northeastern United States:

1. Cover Crop and Mulch Studies
Carrington Research Extension Center
North Dakota State University

Pumpkin cover crop and living mulch study
2004 2003 2002 2001

2. Evaluation of Living and Synthetic Mulches in Zucchini for Control of Homopteran Pests
Daniel L. Frank, Dept of Entomology and Nematology, Univ of Florida
_____ 46-page PDF

Aphid feeding

Aphid-transmitted viruses

Investigate and compare the effects of reflective and living mulch on the population dynamics of homopteran pests, their associated natural enemies, and insect-transmitted plant impairments.

Investigate the advantages of using reflective and living mulch over standard bare-ground or white mulching systems.

5 Treatments:–White–Reflective–Clover–Buckwheat–Bare-ground

Living mulch treatments had higher natural enemy populations than the synthetic mulch and bare ground treatments.

Synthetic mulches had significantly higher yields than those grown with living mulch or on bare ground.

Synthetic mulches cost more.

Living mulches require more time and maintenance.

Harvesting easier on synthetic mulches.

3. Cucurbit Pest Management -- Weed Management & Cover Cropping
Iowa State, Colorado State, Univ of Minnesota project

We investigated the use of a hairy vetch/rye cover crop as an organic nitrogen source and as a living mulch to control weed.

The experiment was conducted at the ISU Horticulture Research Station and at the Muscatine Island Research Station. Treatments included a hairy vetch/rye cover crop with sidedressed chemical nitrogen, the cover crop alone, the nitrogen treatment alone, and a control without the cover crop or nitrogen addition.

The cover crop was planted in the fall prior to the muskmelon season (40 lb/A vetch and 30 lb/A rye), and was killed by rolling the crop with a cultipacker after flowering. A slit was made in the mulch using a chisel tooth, and transplants were inserted.

Cover cropping appears to be a successful, sustainable strategy for weed management.

4. Watermelon Cover Cropping with Wheat and Barley in Niigata, Japan
Agroecological Case Study

5. Selection of Vegetables for Intercropping as a Pest Management Strategy
Mark G. Wright & Michael P. Hoffmann
Department of Entomology, Insectary Building, Cornell University, Ithaca
_____ 10-page PDF

Organic Agriculture at Cornell University research report

6. Lana vetch / winter rye living mulches in organic pumpkins: competition, weed suppression, and insect pest mitigation effects
Organic Agriculture at Cornell University research report

7. Guide to the Expert Farmers’ DACUM Chart for "Manage Crop Rotation System"
_____ 27-page PDF

NEON -- Northeast Organic Network

8. Cover Crops and Green Manures
Vern Grubinger, Univ of Vermont



Coleman, Eliot. 1989. Fertilizer from the garden. Mother Earth News. September-October. p. 112, 114, 116-120.

Foulds, Chantal. 1989. Interseedings in vegetable production. REAP Canada. Vol. 2, No. 4. p. 6-7, 14.

Foulds, C.M., K.A. Stewart, and R.A. Samson. 1991. On farm evaluation of legume interseedings in broccoli. p. 179-180. In: W.L. Hargrove (ed.) Cover Crops for Clean Water. Soil and Water Conservation Society, Ankeny, IA.

Grubinger, Vernon P. 1990. Living Mulch for Vegetable Production. University of Vermont Extension Service, Windham County. 14 p.

Hofstetter, Bob. 1993. Smother crops: Plant a grain in the "wrong" season for the right cover. New Farm. May/June. p.39-41.

Jurchak, Thomas. 1989. Growing vegetables with the living mulch. American Vegetable Grower. May. p. 22-25.

Lanini, Tom. 1989. Subclovers as living mulches for managing weeds in vegetables. California Agriculture. November December. p. 25-27.


Further Reading on Living Mulches:

Anon. 1993. Alternate vegetable systems tested in new “living lab.” Innovations in Sustainable Agriculture. Fall. p. 1, 6-7.

Butler, Jack D. 1986. Grass interplanting in horticulture cropping systems. HortScience. Vol. 21., No. 3. p. 394-397.

Brown, Martha. 1990. Cover crops: soil and water management options. The Cultivar. Winter. p. 1-2, 15.

Brown, Martha. 1990. Cover crop study concludes second year. The Cultivar. Summer. p. 3-4.

Cook, Tom. 1982. The potential of turfgrasses as living mulches in cropping systems. p. 23-35. In: J.C. Miller, and S.M. Bell (ed.) Crop Production Using Cover Crops and Sods as Living Mulches. International Plant Protection Center, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR.

Cramer, Craig. 1988. High value hillsides. The New Farm. September-October. p. 54-55, 59.

DeGregorio, R.E., and R.A. Ashley. 1985. Screening living mulches and cover crops for weed suppression in no till sweet corn. Proceedings of the Northeast Weed Society. Vol. 39. p. 80-84.

Eberlein, C.V., C.C. Sheaffer, and V.F. Oliveira. 1992. Corn growth and yield in an alfalfa living mulch system. Journal of Production Agriculture. Vol. 5, No. 3. p. 332-339.

Elkins, D.I. et al. 1983. Living mulch for no till corn and soybeans. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. Vol. 26. p. 431-433.

Enache, A.J. 1989. Weed Control by Subterranean Clover (Trifolium subterraneum) Used as a Living Mulch. Ph.D. Dissertation. Rutgers University. 137 p. Dissertation Abstr. Int'l., Volume: 50 11, Section: B, page 4825.

Enache, A.J., and R.D. Ilnicki. 1990. Weed control by subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum) used as a living mulch. Weed Technology. Vol. 4, No. 3. p. 534-538.

Enache, A.J., and R.D. Ilnicki. 1993. Chapter 19, Subterranean clover: Nitrogen contribution. p. 215-226. In: M.G. Paolettie, W. Foissner, and D. Coleman (ed.) Soil Biota, Nutrient Cycling, and Farming Systems. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL.

Fischer, A.J. 1988. Intra and Interspecific Interference Between Sweet Corn (Zea mays L.) and a Living Mulch of White Clover (Trifolium repens L.). Ph.D. Dissertation. Oregon State University. 151 p. Dissertation Abstr. Int'l., Volume: 50 05, Section: B, page 1697.

Fischer, Albert, and Larry Burrill. 1993. Managing interference in a sweet corn white clover living mulch system. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture. Vol. 8, No. 2. p. 51-56.

Grossman, Joel. 1993. Fighting insects with living mulches. IPM Practitioner. October. p. 1-8.

Grubinger, Vernon. 1989. Augmenting a Low Rate of Nitrogen Fertilization for Sweet Corn Production with Strip Rototilled White Clover Living Mulch (Fertilizer, Corn, Clover). Ph.D. Dissertation. Cornell University. 170 p. Dissertation Abstr. Int'l., Volume: 50 07, Section: B, page 2682.

Grubinger, Vernon P., and Peter L. Minotti. 1990. Managing white clover living mulch for sweet corn production with partial rototilling. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture. Vol. 5, No. 1. p. 4-12.

Ilnicki, R.D., and A.J. Enache. 1992. Subterranean clover living mulch: an alternative method of weed control. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. Vol. 4. p. 249-264.

Nicholson, A.G., and H.C. Wien. 1983. Screening of turfgrasses and clovers for use as living mulches in sweet corn and cabbage. Journal of the American Society of Horticultural Science. Vol. 108. p. 1071-1076.

Reiners, S. and O. Wickerhauser. 1995. The use of rye as a living mulch to control weeds in bell pepper production. HortScience. July. p. 892.

Sarrantonio, Marianne. 1992. Opportunities and challenges for the inclusion of soil improving crops in vegetable production systems. HortScience. Vol. 27, No. 7. p. 754-758.

Schonbeck, Mark, Judy Browne, and Ralph DeGregorio. 1990. Cover crops for weed control in lettuce. New Alchemy Quarterly. Fall. p. 8-11.

Schonbeck, Mark, Peggy Elder, and Ralph DeGregorio. 1995. Winter annual cover crops for the home food garden. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture. Vol. 6. No. 2-3. p. 29-53.

Scott, Thomas W., and R.F. Burt. 1985. Cover Crops and Intercrops for New York. Cornell Field Crops Fact Sheet 452. 4 p.

Vrabel, T.E., P.L. Minotti, and R.D. Sweet. 1981. Legume sods as living mulches in sweet corn. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting &—Northeast Weed Science Society. Vol. 35. p. 158-159.

Vrabel, Thomas Edward. 1983. Effect of Suppressed White Clover (Trifolium repens L.) on Sweet Corn (Zea mays L. var. Rugosa Bonaf.) Yield and Nitrogen Availability in a Living Mulch Cropping System. Ph.D. Dissertation. Cornell University. 176 p. Dissertation Abstr. Int'l., Volume: 44 06, Section B, page 1670.

Waters, M., and Ilnicki, R.D. 1990. Use of subterranean clover as mulch for weed control in summer squash. Proceedings of the Northeast Weed Science Society. Vol. 44. p. 58.

Wiles, L.J. et al. 1989. Analyzing competition between a living mulch and a vegetable crop in an interplanting system. Journal of the American Society of Horticultural Science. Vol. 114, No. 6. p. 1029-1034.

William, R.D. 1987. Living Mulch Options for Precision Management of Horticultural Crops. Extension Circular 1258. Oregon State University Cooperative Extension Service. 5 p.



Permalink What are some perennial forages with high protein that a dairy farmer could grow in Vermont?


Answer: Vermont has a very well established forage livestock industry with many resources to assist the dairy grazier.

Alfalfa provides high quality forage for many producers in the northeast, but it cannot be grown everywhere. However, there are many other legumes that can provide high quality forage for lactating dairy cattle, and some do not require as much management as alfalfa does.

Two principle legumes to consider in northern Vermont are ladino white clover and red clover. These two species mix well with highly competitive grasses such as orchardgrass and meadow brome, and when mixed at about 30% with grasses can achieve crude protein levels greater than 25% while vegetative. In addition, these clovers tend to be somewhat prostrate in growth pattern making them more grazing tolerant than some other legumes, including alfalfa. Seeding rates for the clovers are about 2 to 4 pounds per acre for red clover and about 1 pound per acre of ladino white clover interseeded into grass. Clover can be frost-seeded in the spring (broadcast after snowmelt but before thaw) or drilled in the spring. It’s best to increase seeding rate by half for broadcast applications.

Other legumes
Some other legumes to consider are birdsfoot trefoil and cicer milkvetch. These highly palatable and nutritious cool-season legumes require more management than the clovers, but have the benefit of being completely bloat-free. Birdsfoot trefoil is a little more difficult to get going, but is relatively drought resistant and very productive when established. Varieties include prostrate or low-growing types such as Empire, Leo, or Dawn, erect or hay types such as Viking or Maitland, and semi-erect such as Norcen. The low-growing or semi-erect varieties would be best in grazing applications. Specific recommendations for interseeding birdsfoot trefoil include:

• high seeding rate (8 to 12 pounds per acre, normal is 4 to 8 pounds per acre) and frost-seeded for increased germination and establishment
• maintenance of neutral soil pH
• maintenance of phosphorus fertility to encourage legume productivity (soil testing)
• interseeded with less competitive cool-season grasses such as tall fescue, orchardgrass, or Kentucky bluegrass to maintain around a 30% legume portion of the pasture stand
• yearly drill-seeded in the fall or frost-seeded at 4 to 5 pounds per acre to ensure stand persistence (based on observation of stand viability), and
• grazing management to ensure stand persistence.

Grazing management is particularly important for birdsfoot trefoil to remain productive. A grazing system that allows cattle to begin grazing birdsfoot trefoil when the plants are 8 to 10 inches tall and that leaves a stubble height of 5 inches should be adequate. Regrowth time is important, and depending on moisture the paddocks should be rested adequately between grazing to allow sufficient regrowth. This could be problematic if the grass becomes rank in these paddocks. It is preferable to graze them according to grass productivity and lose the birdsfoot trefoil over time rather than to allow a productive paddock to deteriorate through misuse.

Cicer milkvetch might be a legume species to consider in controlled grazing systems in Vermont; however, it does not have a proven track record in the northeast, and is difficult to establish. Once established, its rhizomatous root system contributes to its longevity and persistence. It is very tolerant of grazing and has rapid regrowth potential, as well as allowing longer season grazing then do alfalfa and many other legumes. A good improved variety to consider is AC Oxley II. The seeds are hard so it’s best to buy scarified seed, and plant shallow on a well prepared seedbed. Expect slow establishment and optimum stand development within a few years. Like birdsfoot trefoil, grazing management is important for cicer milkvetch to persist in a pasture system. You could drill-plant it (shallow) at about 6 to 8 pounds per acre into at least one grass paddock in the fall after the cattle have grazed it very hard (to reduce competition), and observe how it does.

Dairy cattle grazing nutrition, Shelburne Farms Pasture Quality study
There are several reliable methods of measuring and comparing forages for nutrient quality. These laboratory values include acid detergent fiber (ADF), neutral detergent fiber (NDF), crude protein (CP), and, though less reliable, total digestible nutrients (TDN). The measures are generally used for the following purposes:

• ADF for predicting energy: ADF less than 35 is optimum
• NDF for predicting intake: NDF less than 50 is optimum
• CP greater than 19 is optimum
• TDN greater than 58 is optimum

The reference forage quality study results from Vermont (2005) utilize these measures to compare the nutritional attributes of pastures under Management-Intensive Grazing, clipped at different times throughout the grazing season. This study illustrates the kind of quality that can be expected from well managed grass-clover grazing paddocks in Vermont. Throughout the grazing season, the legume fraction maintained itself between 15 and 50% of the paddock stand, depending on where and when the plot was clipped. In addition, CP was maintained at above 20% and ADF below 34%. This is high quality feed, and any dairy grazier would be very happy with nutrition like this.


University of Vermont. 2006. "Pasture and Grazing Management." Burlington, VT: University of Vermont Extension


Bosworth, S. 2005. Pasture Quality at Shelburne Farms – 2005. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont.



Permalink Where can I find information about safely using raw milk in cheesemaking?

New Mexico

Answer: First of all, a new book seems to have just what you are looking for. The title is American Farmstead Cheese: The Complete Guide to Making and Selling Artisan Cheeses. It was written by Dr. Paul Kindstedt (University of Vermont) with the Vermont Cheese Council; he is a food scientist and is a great contact. The book is published and sold through Chelsea Green Publishing.

The book has a chapter addressing pasteurization and raw milk. The Resources below also list another article by Dr. Kindstedt on the subject of raw milk cheeses.

Dr. Rosenberg (University of California-Davis) wrote a very interesting article about the challenges and opportunities of raw milk cheeses. He closes with a great list of suggestions for how you can safely manufacture raw milk cheeses of lower risk. Also, his contact information (including phone number and e-mail) are included at the end of the article, and he invites those with questions about cheesemaking and in particular raw milk cheese to contact him.

The Vermont Cheese Council has a web site ( that includes very helpful information, including an article about "Official Controls and Auto Controls." This article addresses quality control and measures that will safeguard the cheesemaking process. It also gives information about which bacteria are of most concern, and what levels of bacteria are acceptable.

The University of Guelph has a Cheese Technology Department. Two of their useful and interesting articles are included in the resources below. The first article, "Manufacture, Ripening, Process Control and Yield Efficiency," seems to be a very practical and thorough treatment of cheesemaking, including trouble-shooting and problem-solving. It is followed by "Selected Recipes" and includes specific guidelines for making and aging various cheeses. There are specific recipes, including aging temperatures and humidity.


Kindstedt, Paul. 2004. Views on raw milk cheese: why raw milk cheeses are worth saving. Cheese Reporter. August. p. 4, 10. Part 2: September. p. 4.

Rosenberg, M. no date. Raw milk cheeses: challenges and opportunities. Department of Food Science and Technology. University of California, Davis. 11 p.

anon. no date. Official controls and auto controls. Vermont Cheese Council. 15 p.

anon. no date. Section E: Manufacture, ripening, process control and yield efficiency. University of Guelph Cheese Technology. 32 p.

anon. no date. Section F: Selected recipes. University of Guelph Cheese Technology. 33 p.

Gage, James D., and Debra L. Crave. 2005. Affinage discovery session. Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection & Babcock Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison. 23 p.

Crave, George and Debbie. 2004. Specialty cheesemaking and aging in Switzerland. The Babcock Institute. Dairy Artisan Series. 16 p.

Topham, A. Anne. 2004. Cheese aging in France. The Babcock Institute. Dairy Artisan Series. 16 p.

Anon. no date. Aging cheese at Bleu Mont Dairy. The Babcock Institute. . 4 p.

The Mont-Laurier Benedictine Nuns. 1983. Goat Cheese: Small-Scale Production. New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. Ashfield, Massachusetts. p. 62–65, 67, 68.

Anon. 2003. The art of flavor development in cheese. California Milk Advisory Board. See 29 p.

Anon. 2004. Inspection of cheese making operations. USDA.

Dairy Science and Technology
This site is worth exploring; lots of details and technical information about cheesemaking.



Permalink Where can I find equipment for producing soy flour?


Soy flour is made from whole soybeans that have been roasted and ground. Most soy flour is defatted to keep the flour fresh.

You can find detailed technical information on soy flour manufacturing and equipment at Another great place to get started is the International Soybean Program (INTSOY).

For equipment sourcing, INTSOY can assist individuals and organizations looking for soybean processing equipment and related supply sources. As each individual case is different, please contact INTSOY with your needs and they will contact you with some suggested sources. Contact:

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
169 Environmental & Agricultural Sciences Bldg.
1101 West Peabody Drive
Urbana, Illinois 61801 USA
FAX: 217-333-5838

A good place to go for more information and technical assistance publications is the Soyfoods Center at (see listings for soy flour under "Bibliographies and Sourcebooks").

You may be interested in the U.S. Soyfoods Directory, a free resource that gives details on all known U.S. manufacturers and distributors of soyfoods. Call 1-800-301-3153 for a copy.



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