Learning from mistakes

A year ago at this time, I was excited by a new intercrop combination I was going to try.

I planned to grow maple peas, a type of pea that has found a niche market in China where they’re consumed as a sprouted seed. However, the preferred variety has a tendency to fall down late in the season, making harvest difficult. Growing it with another crop, I reasoned, could help avoid the lodging problem and I’d just separate the two crops after harvest.

Intercropping has great potential as long as the combination is right. Here’s what to watch out for.

To make intercropping successful, you have to be able to accomplish weed control and separate the seeds after harvest, and the two crops should have similar maturity. Barley, I thought, would fit those parameters.

It was a dry, hot growing season and yields weren’t stellar on any of our crops, but the maple pea-barley intercrop did well, and harvesting was easier.

The problem came when I tried to separate the two. I have an old Clipper cleaner that I thought would easily do the job. Unfortunately, any screen combinations I tried left way too much barley in the peas.

In the end, the whole crop had to be run through the cleaner and then run a second time through a cleaning spiral that I rented from a neighbour. With spirals, peas roll faster and can therefore be separated from the barley, but the sample has to be reasonably clean of debris first.

There were many, many extra hours of seed cleaning to get myself out of the mess I had created.

I can confidently say that while I believe in the potential of intercropping, I won’t be pairing maple peas with barley again.

Undoubtedly, I’ll find some new mistakes to make in 2019. 

From an AgriSuccess article (January 2019) by Kevin Hursh.