Farming family in the Dresden area uses mustard as a cover crop

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Red clover, grain rye, oats, daikon radish, and even sunflower have all found their place as cover crops in the agricultural landscape of Chatham-Kent.

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But mustard is a more unusual choice and the Zonderland family near Dresden makes it work.

Although mustard has a reputation for being an organic soil fumigant, they believe the cultivation also helps build or maintain organic matter and supports good soil structure with its extensive root system.

“It’s important. We have to keep the ground in good condition. We can take, take, take, but you have to give something back every now and then,” said Huib Zonderland.

The family operates a relatively small land, barely 100 acres, but it is a busy place. They operate a custom spraying operation covering about 25,000 acres a year, largely corn, working almost round the clock sometimes with the help of two part-time drivers who haul water.

Onions, a labor-intensive crop, are grown along with sugar beets and wheat. Members of the Huib family and his father Jan and their respective wives Cori and Dil provide most of the labor.

There is also a quarter acre of flowers – peonies – which are harvested, packaged and wholesaled. Up to three acres of potatoes are grown. They are sold at the farm gate or sold to restaurants in the area. Jan is an avowed fan of the Yukon Gold variety, but this year they also planted a yellow-fleshed, reddish-type potato intended for French fries.

Mustard at the Zonderland farm is established after wheat. The soil is first worked with a disc to a depth of about three inches. With a second pass, the mustard is sprinkled over the soil surface at a rate of five to six pounds per acre – the seed is fine – and is lightly sunk into the soil.

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To support the cover crop, nitrogen at a rate of 40 to 50 pounds is also applied.

The crop reaches three or four feet in height. In addition to the massive root system, there is a large amount of top growth.

In the fall, often around mid-November, the crop is cut close to the ground and finely chopped. It is then driven into the ground with a mouldboard plow or PTO driven crankshaft spade that works the soil with a shoveling action to a depth of 10 to 11 inches without disturbing the subsoil.

“We dug 20 or 24 inches when we were tiling and we found roots. Mustard has a massive root system, ”Huib said.

Jan is not sure the variety of mustard used, supplied by a local seed merchant, lives up to its reputation as an organic soil fumigant.

“It’s a practice that is still developing,” he said. “We would plant a cover crop anyway. “

The practice is widely used in Holland, where the family immigrated 23 years ago. It was used there as an alternative to chemical fumigants which were banned.

“They needed an alternative to grow mustard or sometimes certain types of radish to fumigate the soil.”

When mustard is also used specifically as a fumigant, the plants should be in full bloom and the soil should be either tamped or irrigated after its incorporation when the soil temperature is not lower than 10 degrees Celsius. Although the Zonderlands do not perform this additional operation, they believe that cultivation may still have some effectiveness.

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The Zonderlands cultivate sandy loam soils with a few heavier pockets.

According to Anne Verhallen, soil specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, “mustard has been shown to control certain diseases and nematodes. It is quite commonly used as a biofumigant. There are a number of market gardeners who use it.

North Delhi potato grower Charles Emery uses a combination of mustard and radicchio, Verhallen noted.

Unfortunately, mustard is not an effective soybean cyst nematode control, but there is another consideration, Verhallen said. Visually in the fall, mustard is an attractive crop and not just for people who can drive by. Pollinating insects like it too.

According to a report from the New Brunswick Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries, mustard and other crucifers contain glucosinolates, chemicals that interact with water and plant enzymes to produce compounds endowed with of bio-fumigation properties. A variety of soil pests can be controlled when the top mustard growth is incorporated into the top few inches of the soil, including verticillium, rhizoctonia, fusarium, pythium, sclerotinia, common scab and a range of nematodes. .

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