NYJER in a cover crop cocktail mix

Nyjer as a Cover Crop Mix choice.

My Courtice Niger in flower.

My Courtice Niger in flower.


Aka niger, noog/nugnygernyjer, or Niger seedramtil or ramtillainga seed; and blackseed.  It also gets called niger thistle, but it is not a thistle.  Powers-that-be also implore us to pronounce it Nyjer, not Nigger.

It is an erect, stout, branched annual herb.  This is one of those obscure, off-the-charts species which seems rarely used or promoted for cover crops.  And yet when searching for it, nyjer is definitely used overseas as a cover crop, if not primarily for the seed, as an oilseed source, or birdseed.  I got inspired to write, because I found some!

When I started searching for this a few years ago, the only seed I found was imported for birdseed, and hence irradiated, making it sterile.  I did, however, source some seed from Sally Norton (https://twitter.com/salnorton73) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sally_Norton now of the Australian Grains Genebank. She is the point of call for anyone ‘trialling multiple accessions’ of all sorts of crops.  Back then the list was here.

Sally is keen to be approached for the same reason – the seed and gene banks are not just doomsday collections, but available for sharing seed for small trials.

In the 2012 summer trial I did get some to germinate, grow and flower, but along with everything else, it died before growing much.

Peter and Adele Slade from “Glenmore”, near Quirindi, NSW, grow it! They also grow millets, native grasses and hemp, more their claim to fame.

Under irrigation, (warm season crop) it can grow up to 8’ high, and he sells all he grows for finch seed (a tiny seed).  Apparently finches thrive better on fresh seed than irradiated seed, and the oil in it makes it a vital part of their diet.  The plant won’t compete with dominant grasses, and is a high water user, so I doubt that it would readily go to seed here, in a mix.  He sows in Jan, and windrows and harvests it mechanically.  Nyjer seems to attract bugs, handles alkaline soil, has biofumigant properties and is low seed yielding.

Peter says he can expand his growing area, or contract out, as demand rises.

There is an established American source, useful for info.

And to be fair, it is also sold by RB Dessert Seed Co in the Ord RIA, but only by the 25kg bag.

By the bag it sells for ~$6/kg.  Now, that begs the question, why would we grow it? It comes back to the Big Question, what do we want to achieve?  If a part of a 20-30 species mix at a very low rate, to add to diversity (of genus, root depth and plant height) & attract insects, then maybe it has a place.  If we have a $10/ac budget for seed, then probably not.  Then again, that is cheaper than some wildflowers by the seed packet.

My point is, if you want it, you can get it, in the mail.

Find Peter Slade in the white pages under Slade A, Quirindi. (I have his permission to promote his work.)

Posted in Climate, Method, Seed, Summer broadleaf spp, Trials | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Twitter example

Robbo Robinson’s Twitter.com profile.

The more I see about cover cropping being toyed with in Australia, especially via Twitter.com, the more I feel redundant, as if “my work here is done”.  And anything else I can add will verge on rambling, when there plenty of growers having a go, sowing paddocks with CC mixes, and publishing results with photos and captions.  Maybe they were doing so a few years ago, but I wasn’t seeing it in my Google searches, or it wasn’t getting published.

So, to help things along, if you want to learn more now, I suggest you get yourself on Twitter, and start following and reading.  For a start, search for (in no particular order): https://twitter.com/FreddoMorgan



























Also, simply do word searches: cover crop, covercrop, #covercrop, #tillageradish #rootsnotiron etc.  With and without gaps, the hashtag (#), singular and plural.  You will end up finding growers, agronomists, seed merchants and researchers having a crack.  You will discover permies and gardeners, Poms growing feed for deer, pheasant, quail etc, Yanks being mandated to cover their soil in winters to stop erosion into streams and lakes, and getting subsidised for it.  You will find unusual uses for common and obscure species of plants getting used for cover crops.  Get down that rabbit hole and enjoy.  (Sleep is important, remember).

You could also search for mentions of the gurus who are not on Twitter: eg Gabe Brown, Dave Brandt, Rick Bieber, Jay Fuhrer, Elaine Ingham, Rolf Derpsch, remembering to use “” marks to help search for names, like a phrase. You might find more links to talks on Youtube, or written articles.  Or Nuffield Scholars.  Another rabbit hole.

Should I keep this up?  I see a future in the CC practice in Australia, and with it a seed industry.  It is already happening: AGF seeds at Smeaton, Vic, is distributing Tillage Radish ™ and mentioning sunn hemp.  Any number of NSW & Qld seed distributors are supplying tropical species which are appropriate for southern growers in the summer.  Field days and crop walks are already happening to see what is happening in different rainfall zones.

I’ll just keep asking the hard questions and bouncing ideas.

Posted in Shout | Tagged | Leave a comment

David Cook, Nuffield Scholar

David Cook, Nuffield Scholar

David Cook with wife Tracey, on right, with hosts Ulrich, Beate and Clemens Tink, on David’s Nuffield Scholarship European tour.

I want to promote the blog of David Cook, of Shepparton, Vic, Australia.  http://davidcooknuffield2013.blogspot.com.au/  I’ve met David on a few occasions, and I thank him again for his helpful pointers on my quest.  His blog tells his story well, and if you google his name and association with the Cross Slot seeder, he has considerable publicity already.  Thinking of David and others in Australia who are having a crack, reminds me I am not doing any trailblazing, but exploring and adopting what has already been done in the world, in some ways from decades before.


Image | Posted on by | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Summer Cover Crop Trial Feb 2014 Week 2

Summer Cover Crop Trial Feb 2014 Week 2

After week 1 the weather was cooler, not many days over 30C.  These tropical plants still grew noticeably.  It made me wonder if I had, again, missed the boat for a real summer growth test ie planting anytime in Dec.

ImageAdzuki Beans,coming along better than I expected.

ImageAfrican Marigolds, Crackerjack, making a good start.

ImageBlack Chia, progressing nicely.  Small plants coming from small seeds is to be expected after 2 weeks.

ImageBurgundy beans.

ImageButterfly pea.  If these grow well, it will be for the first time.

Clitoria ternatea  is the scientific name.  I just love to say it.  Look it up to see why it is named so.  It is a pity they will hardly flower enough to demonstrate it.

ImageEbony cowpea.  Sown right in the chaff trail, I tried to weed it a bit, but the wheat crowds it easily.

ImageFoxtail millet.  All the millets can be distinguished from wheat by the leaf and plant shape.  I’m glad I sowed them in rows though.   In the mixtures the grasses are not so easy to identify.

ImageFrench white millet, being consistent with the identifiable leaf shape.

ImageGrain amaranth.  It didn’t germinate very thickly, and I don’t have high hopes for its potential.

ImageGreen amaranth.  Although with red leaves I wonder if something got mixed or mislabeled.

ImageGuar.  At this stage the plants had germinated well and were growing well.

ImageThe poor lone Kenaf seed is still keeping up with the rest.

Image Kow Kandy.  At this stage very few plants of anything were taller than the 1-2 leaf wheat plants.  The odd Kow Kandy plant was taller with a different colour.

ImageLab Lab, still being comparable to the cowpeas.

ImageAmaranth, Love Lies Bleeding.  Still a very small plant, but growing nicely.  Unless they thrive in an earlier summer planting, I get the impression we would have to be keen to keep any amaranths in the mix, if for the sake of producing biomass.

ImageMung beans.  At this stage, looking good, comparable to sunn hemp.

ImageFoxtail millet, panorama.  At this stage, looking similar to wheat.

ImageParsely, the ‘just for fun’ wildcard.  Slow to germinate, which by itself cuts it off a list of potentials.  Maybe I’ll stick to sprinkling seed over the lawn, to make it smell good at mowing.

ImagePearl millet.  To be fair, since all millet seed is small, and some smaller than others, I reckon I sowed them too thickly, resulting in overcrowding, and not being a fair test to the growth potential.  It may have been an overwatering issue, but some patches look a big Nitrogen hungry.

ImageRed Caloona cowpea, comparable to ebony.   Their leaves follow the sun like sunflowers.

ImagePigeonpea are a skinny unimpressive plant, trying to grow tall.  For all the size and number of seeds sown, few germinated, and my past history with them has me skeptical.  But the seed is readily available, and popular globally, so still worth a shot.

ImageRice beans.  Another tall skinny plant, but my best year for them to date.

ImageSafflower, as always, looking good so far.

austcovercrop.wordpress.com wk 2 shiroie shirohie millet

Shiroie or Shirohie millet.

austcovercrop.wordpress.com wk 2 sunflower Aussie gold

Sunflowers.  Ever reliable.austcovercrop.wordpress.com wk 2 sunn hemp


Sunnhemp.  I don’t suppose we could ever get it to grow to the 2m height.

austcovercrop.wordpress.com wk 2 tillage radish

Tillage Radish.

austcovercrop.wordpress.com wk 2 ultrafeed sorghum


austcovercrop.wordpress.com wk 2 unknown amaranth

The mystery cv amaranth.

austcovercrop.wordpress.com wk 2 white chia

White Chia.

austcovercrop.wordpress.com wk 2 winfred brassica

Winifred brassica.

austcovercrop.wordpress.com wk 2 mix 4

Mixtures, sown thickly.

austcovercrop.wordpress.com wk 2 mix 3

austcovercrop.wordpress.com wk 2 mix 2And the other spots of mixtures.  One got a ‘night watering’, one got overwatered, one underwatered with bore water and hence the salt was visible on the soil surface, resulting austcovercrop.wordpress.com wk 2 mix 1in stunted growth.  In all the plots the wheat, even out of the direct chaff trail, came up like a brush, some I weeded, most I left for realism.  It says a lot about chaff spreading (or burning) being the first step for no till cropping.

As I post this I have just taken pics of week 5, and have observations on the freshness of mixes vs monocultures. I also rejoice in not having lambs getting into the only green feed on the farm, and curse the long-toothed grumpy dumb alpaca who could get in to… well he reiterated some things I have heard before, and he heard things I am sure he has heard before.  But that is for a later post.

The really good news is that the lambs by tomorrow morning should be on hooks somewhere, so apart from hares, the plot is safe.

Subscribe to see pics on weeks 4 and 5 – use the “Follow” option.















Posted in Method, Seed, Summer broadleaf spp, Summer grass spp, Summer legume spp, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Summer Cover crop in Texas

The Yanks are “miles” ahead of us in cover cropping experience, and their no-till magazines are often highlighting articles about success stories, (or example stories).
‘ “Hot, dry weather is exactly why you would want to plant a summer cover crop — to protect your soil,” he (Tommy Henderson) says’

Ok, the article by Dee Ann Littlefield, USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, touches on the ‘Why?’ But I’d rather let others do the talking on that subject.
See the full online article http://southeastfarmpress.com/grains/no-till-cover-crops-helping-texas-grower-fight-heat-drought?page=1

Posted in Climate, Seed, Shout, Summer legume spp | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer Cover Crop Trial Feb 2014 Week 1

Summer Cover Crop Trial Feb 2014 Week 1

What a difference a good soaking and hot soil will do, after 7 days.

These pics are the plants so far, which have germinated, size being relative to the icypole sticks.  Some strips have not germinated yet.  Most include the selfsown wheat as well, which touches on an old question of mine:  winter or summer, what does all the other ‘rubbish’ do, which comes up among what we sow, and leave to grow?  Will it swamp the desired spp, add to the biomass, carry over diseases etc?  And instead of having the cover crop grow in neat rows for us to sow between next season, will all the rubbish (think of ryegrass, hogweed) between the rows create extra problems for us ‘tyned’ croppers?  But I digress.

I’m amazed at what does come up, and yet would be disappointed if nothing did.  There is a hint of mustard and paddy melons.  Btw, this paddock did NOT get sprayed with Ally or any SUs last year, so nothing should hold back the seedlings after the dry summer.


Black Chia, cover crop sp.Image

Adzuki beans. cover crop sp


African Marigold “Crackerjack”, cover crop sp.


Aussie Gold Sunflowers, cover crop sp.


Burgundy Bean, cover crop sp.


Butterfly pea, cover crop sp.  The seed was treated with boiling water first.


Ebony Cowpea, cover crop sp.  As always, very impressive, and it is easy to see why it is a staple part of a cover crop mix.


French White Millet, ever reliable, possibly the cheapest part of a mix.


Green Amaranth, cover crop sp.  With red leaves as a seedling, go figure.  I am impressed that they have shown up after a week – usually I see nothing for 2 weeks.


Guar, cover crop sp.  This is the untreated strip, the seed strip innoculated had not shown much growth yet.  Indeed, none of the legumes have been innoculated, but ideally should be.  That is a discussion for another post.


Kenaf, cover crop sp.  This one poor seed was lucky to hide in a packet last year.


Sorghum X sudangrass hybrid “Kow Kandy”, competing with wheat. It’ll grow.


Lab Lab, cover crop sp.  So far it is as impressive as the cowpeas.


Love Lies Bleeding Amaranth.  A cover crop contender?  If someone thinks I’m gambling with creating a weed problem for myself, just sing out.  The true Grain Amaranth hasn’t shown yet.


Mung beans, cover crop sp.  So far this “top 4 legume choice” is proving its worth.  I’ve heard it called ‘mongrel bean’ by those trying to produce seed.


Foxtail Panorama Millet, cover crop sp.  Small so far, but give it time.


Pearl Millet, cover crop sp. So far the most impressive grass.


Red Cowpea, cover crop sp.  On a par with the black, but one type usually outdoes the other here.


Foxtail Red Panicum Millet, cover crop sp. Small seedlings, but give them time.


Rice Beans, cover crop sp.  I won’t hold my breath for these, and it took me a while to see they had come up.  But they obviously come up with a good soaking.


Safflower, cover crop sp.


Shiroie millet, or Shirohie millet, cover crop sp.  Small so far, and looks very much like a summer ‘weed’.


Sunn Hemp, cover crop sp.  Since I haven’t said much about it yet, this is a legume, not related to the ‘grass’.  This is one of the most favoured cover crop species in the world, but so far is tricky to source in Australia.  This is the first time I have grown seedlings successfully, so am very happy about the progress.  I do not expect them to go to seed here, nor grow to the usual 2m+ – not enough heat days.


Tillage radish, cover crop sp.  This I DO expect to go to seed, possibly quickly.  This is normally a winter crop (so on late summer or early autumn rains here), and I want to see what they do in a summer mix.  Being a large seed, I should not be surprised they are large seedlings.


Sorghum “Ultrafeed”, a forage sorghum hybrid, cover crop sp.  Given time it will be taller than me.  Don’t mind the wheat.


Amaranth, an unknown sp., the small red leaved plants.  Picked from a local garden from 2m high plants.


White chia, cover crop sp.  I have high hopes for the chias, being impressed 2 years ago on little rainfall.  The small seedlings are no surprise considering the small size of the seed.


Winfred forage brassica, cover crop sp.  I still have small hope for this, but am surprised on the germination rate considering the age of the seed.  There are many forage brassicas which can and should be trialled in a mix.


Overview of the plots, mungbeans in the foreground.


Summer cover crop mix cocktail, seedlings, high density.  Feb 2014 1 week after planting.  This trial will last until the paddock gets sown in late autumn, maybe 2.5 months.

Subscribe to this blog for instant notification of updates.

Posted in Method, Seed, Summer broadleaf spp, Summer grass spp, Summer legume spp, Trials, Weeds, Winter cc spp | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer Cover crop trial Jan 2014

Summer Cover Crop Trial Jan 2014.

summer cover crop mix

A rugged mix / cocktail of summer cover crop seed

The garden sized trial for early 2014 is sown, and watered, finally. So it will be a “February germination” trial.
And from past lessons learned, the walk rows are wide, I can and will irrigate it at the turn of a tap, they will be labelled, and it will be fenced. And I sowed individual trials and plenty of mixture. I still sowed in a chaff trail and in wheel tracks.
It has been hot and dry, the wheat stubble is short, the soil was mostly friable.
My hypotheses are:
– that the chaff trail will need weeding of wheat,
– it should be too early to germinate the autumn weeds (eg ryegrass) but ripe for the summers (heliotrope, melons, bindii if any, etc)
– the plants in the header wheel tracks will suffer
– the heat and moisture will aid a good germination rate, (they are sprouting as I type) unless the seed is too close to the surface.
-unless we do get a rain predicted this weekend, I won’t have to worry about eventual ester drift wiping out all the legumes.
The mix includes: tillage radish, some amaranths, guar, sunn hemp, butterfly pea, adzuki beans, rice beans, burgundy beans, mung beans, pigeon pea, sunflower, safflower, winfred canola, chias, African marigolds, cowpeas, lab lab, french white millet, shiroie millet, pearl millet, red panicum fox millet, panorama fox millet, kenaf, Ultrafeed, and Kow Kandy.
I also predict the winfred and burgundy beans will be unimpressive, and everything will look like it needs fertilising – because nothing gets anything.  More than that, this ground is, IMO, chemically infertile, far off “Albrecht style balanced”, and hardpanned.  Having said that, the topsoil shows evidence of some biological activity.  And I say all that because if we think growing a good winter crop is difficult, try sowing a summer crop with a 4 day germination window with potential heatwaves to follow.

Another impression I got this time was, dry sowing this seed would be easy, by disc or tyne.  But if we get a summer rain and we want to get everything sown, how will a disc go while the soil, and soil cover, is still wet?  What is the experience in the Americas in sticky soils?

I know that by irrigating it well the trial will not simulate normal conditions.  Too bad – our last two summers have been dry, and we know what grows in a hot dry summer.  The power bill.

Let’s see what happens this year.

Posted in Method, Seed, Summer broadleaf spp, Summer grass spp, Summer legume spp, Trials, Weeds | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments