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Fava Bean Green Manure Replaces Purchased Fertilizers in Continuous Small Grain System

by Manfred Went

In 1976 I began a series of trials on a small portion (20 acres) of my farm which were designed to determine whether or not one could grow small grains biologically without livestock, and without the purchase of imported fertilizers such as horn dust, bloodmeal, or poultry manure.

I developed a system which was so successful that I increased the amount of acreage cultivated in this manner annually, until 1980, which was the first season during which I purchased no fertilizer for my farm. Nor did we import any fertilizers in 1981, in spite of the fact that the fava beans had gone in too late after the grain harvest the previous season. Even though I have yet to complete the 1981 grain harvest, my stands of wheat and rye look good and appear to be well nourished, so I would briefly like to discuss the possibilities of this system. In cautious words, this method seems to offer a good alternative to increasing costly imported fertilizers.

This is how it works. For my total of 75 tillable acres I must grow 12 1/2 acres of fava beans, which easily produce enough to fertilize the remaining 61 which are in rye and wheat. As soon after the grain harvest as possible, the seed bed is prepared and planted with 160 kg/acre (very high rate*) of fava beans. The fields are harrowed once or twice in subsequent weeks to control weeds as well as the size of the bean plants. The plants should never be allowed to get so large (over 20cm) as to clog up the harrow or the grain drill. Harrow in the same direction in which the grain is to be drilled; even the bean plants which have been beaten down keep growing and fulfill their purpose. On the normal fall planting dates, the rye and wheat are drilled into the favas and left alone for the winter. Since the beginning of these trials, every winter has caused the favas to freeze out, and by springtime there is little evidence left of them. Apparently, the rotting roots of the favas leave behind them some symbiotically fixed nitrogen as well as improved soil filth.

Translated by PETER YOUNG

*Editor's note: The maximum seeding rate for bean production (not plow down) is approximately 90 kg per hectare; his seeding rate is almost double. This is not too unusual when you want a lot of biomass for plow down as long as seed is cheap.

Fava beans (Vicia faba) are also called horse beans or broad beans. Unlike the common American kidney, snap or pole bean (species Phaseolus), favas are capable of withstanding frost.

Originally published in "Bioland" 2. 1981. Bahnhofstr. 1. D-7326 Heningen. W. Germany

Copyright 1982 .

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