Video Clip: Soil Spader to Incorporate Cover Crops and Compost from Vegetable Farmers and their Sustainable Tillage Practices


Vegetable Farmers and their Sustainable Tillage Practices [DVD]. V. Grubinger. 2007. University of Vermont Extension. Available for purchase at: (verified 31 Dec 2008).

This is a Vegetable Farmers and their Sustainable Tillage Practices video clip.

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Jean-Paul Cortens and Jody Bolluyt, Roxbury Farm. Kinderhook, NY.

Audio Text

I’m Jean-Paul Cortens and we are at Roxbury Farm in Kinderhook, New York. It’s a 250 acre farm - we’ve been here since 2000 and we bought it from a potato farmer. I’m Jody Bolluyt and each season we have 40 acres in vegetable and 40 acres in cover crops, different grasses and legumes so that we can have a good rotation. We grow for a 1000 member CSA and we deliver from New York City all the way up to Albany. And each season we grow a wide variety of vegetables, we also include some strawberries and some herbs.

Well, our goal here is soil health and soil heath to produce healthy cash crops. In order to do that we need to till the soil, we cannot do no-till because it is too cold where we are. We need to expose the soil and in the process we are aerating the soil. We incorporate our cover crops for nutrients and we create a seedbed.

Because we’re an organic farm we have to get most of our nutrients from our cover crops and our compost. So before we till for our vegetable crops, we’ll either mow our cover crops that are really lush like sweet clover, red clover, or hairy vetch and then we’ll spread twenty yards of compost to the acre. For winter kill oats and peas we don’t need to mow, so we just spread the compost and then spade that in.

In our rotation we’re growing two years of cover crops that is followed by two years of cash crops. In order to prepare land for our cash crops we are using a spader. We chose a spader because it minimizes passes and we are able to incorporate a full standing cover crop almost immediately before we plant our cash crops therefore minimizing inputs from other sources.

This is the spader consisting of two components, in the front there are the spades themselves that are mounted on a rotating axle and they move around at a relatively slow speed and grab big chunks of soil and invert that deeper down. Then it’s followed by the power harrow which is also relatively slow moving, and these tines here, they push the larger chunks of soil deeper into the soil along with that the debris, the plant debris deeper into the soil. So what happens here by moving it further, by pushing it deeper into the soil, it will be able to decompose, then when we come back a week later we are not dealing with dried up plant debris that can clog up our seeders. So the action of the spades is actually very slow compared to say a rotovator. The rotovator moves at high speeds and would destroy the aggregation of the soil. What it does it leaves the soil in very large clumps. This is like one clump where you can see that not a lot of damage has been done to the natural structure of the soil. So the whole idea is that we want to have an inversion, we want to incorporate, what we don’t want to do is destroy the aggregation, and this is possible with the action of the spader.

This field was spaded a week ago. The hairy vetch was worked in and hairy vetch has been starting to break down, and when it’s broken down, which can take anywhere from one week to two weeks depending on the warmth of the soil, we’ll start making beds.

This video project was funded in part by the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (USDA).  

Published June 3, 2011

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