Final Report for FNC10-812
Oak Grove Neighborhood Association originally started with a community garden on a quarter acre located in the inner city of Kansas City, Kansas. We had several community gardeners who participated in farming smaller plots within that quarter acre. Unfortunately, several of those community gardeners were no longer able to keep up their plots and the neighborhood association made the decision to relinquish the community garden program in favor of a more focused and structured program involving the youth of the community. The program, Crops for Kids, is run by the not-for-profit organization Isaac Eugene Jefferson Farms, Inc. The organization is named after the neighborhood association member who founded the original community garden.
Before receiving this grant, we did not engage in very many sustainable practices. We did plant the occasional cover crop to protect our soil over the winter. Due to the exposure to SARE resources that this grant has provided, we now engage in composting, rotational planting, and have installed a water catchment system. We plan to install a drip irrigation system in the 2014 farming season.
This year our goals were to plant a quarter acre using the angled slot method. We planned to use transplants to allow for better root penetration into the compacted soil of the slot farm. We also wanted to further explore the possibility of planting with root vegetables; in previous years our main focus was leafy above-ground vegetables.
We spent the months of March and April preparing our new land. The previous year we relocated to a new farm plot and therefore had a lot to do in preparation for both our traditional farming and slot farming. Preparation involved clearing trees, rocks and other debris from the site. We also started our indoor transplants.
In early May we planted our first tomato transplants. Unfortunately, these transplants died in an unexpected late May snow. Our second round of tomato transplants were adversely affected by an outreach training class which unknowingly destroyed the plants while creating new slots. However, before the plants were destroyed, they did not show the type of growth that we had hoped to see by using transplants. We also attempted to grow sweet corn using the angled slot method but the stalks were stunted and only grew to a foot in height. Therefore, we focused our efforts on using the angled slot method to grow root vegetables and leafy lettuces. We felt that the use of root vegetables (known to have less of a root structure) might lend itself to the slot farming method.
In June we created the angled slot rows with our Learn to Earn summer youth program. We created a second SARE plot and planted butter crunch lettuce, purple mizuna, arugula, black-seeded simpson lettuce, and radishes as well as the second round of tomato transplants (the aforementioned destroyed plants). In July, we applied an elephant manure compost tea to the angled slot rows. The compost tea aided the growth of the radishes, but had no noticeable effect on the lettuce.
At the end of July, the slot farm had produced butter crunch lettuce and radishes. The lettuce formed heads but was stunted and the leaves were no bigger than the size of a quarter. We harvested fifteen pounds of radishes. The vegetables were small in size and unsellable but had good flavor with a nice texture. The other seed planted (mizuna, arugula, simpson lettuce) either did not germinate or was too small in size to harvest. Lack of germination was an ongoing problem with the slot farming method throughout the project.
In early August, we continued to plant radishes, as they had shown to be the most promising of the crops planted this season. In late August, when deciding on a fall crop, we planted carrots at the recommendation of our tour participants who suggested that if radishes were growing well in the slot method, carrots might as well. Unfortunately, the carrots grew the top leaves, but the actual vegetable was stunted. In the beginning of September, we created a third SARE plot and planted turnips, beets and kale. Similar to the carrots, the beets and turnips produced above ground leaves, but did not produce the actual vegetables. The actual greens were small in stature. We were able to harvest three pounds of turnip greens that were donated to the Oak Grove Neighborhood Association.
We continued to harvest radishes through the rest of the fall season. We harvested approximately sixty pounds of radishes, but as with previous harvests, the radishes were too small to sell and were also donated to neighborhood association members as well as our Learn to Earn summer program youth.
We maintained all SARE plots by weed-eating the rows as often as two times a week. We also applied heavy applications of straw to each row and each row received regular watering.
In previous seasons we consulted with professionals from Cultivate Kansas City, previously known as the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture. This year we did not consult with any outside professionals, excepting a farm tour we hosted in which we presented the slot farm project to farmers on the tour.
Near completion of the project, we spoke to a SARE regional coordinator who suggested using a ten inch rototiller to loosen the soil before creating the slot rows. While the goal of the project was to create a viable no-till method, this idea offers some potential for future research.
Unfortunately, we did not achieve the results we expected when starting this project three years ago. From experimentation conducted before receiving the grant award, we believed the slot method to be a viable method of farm production. We expected the slot method to result in reduced labor and reduced water usage with produce yields similar to conventional farming. This was not the case. The slot farming method was just as labor intensive as conventional farming, requiring a combination of maintenance methods including hand-pulling weeds, and extensive straw mulching. The water requirements were comparable to that of conventional farming methods, and in some cases required more water than traditional methods.
Additionally, though the slot farm method required labor and water inputs comparable to conventional farming, the vegetables produced were stunted and not equal to vegetables produced with conventional farming methods. We were unable to sell the vegetables produced from the slot farm and donated the majority of the vegetables that were harvested from the slot farm.
We do not believe slot farming to be an economically viable method of farming. If this method were to be attempted again, we would suggest following the recommendation of the SARE coordinator with whom we spoke and tilling the top 6 inches of soil of a 10-inch-wide row before creating the slot. Perhaps this would help with seed germination and root growth as well as weed control.
I learned a great deal about the necessity of properly prepared soil in relation to growing vegetables and fruit. There are many factors that go into good soil, organic matter, proper pH, tilth, etc. It is very difficult to grow in compacted soil without the addition of a medium for root growth. Unfortunately, it is impossible to recommend growing vegetables using the slot method.
Compared to other methods of sustainable farming, I would not recommend slot farming as a no-till method. Other methods of no-till farming having proven to be successful, methods that are less labor intensive and require less water inputs and produce yields comparable to conventional farming. Disadvantages include the same if not more labor, water and mulch inputs when compared against conventional farming methods or even other proven sustainable farming methods (such as lasagna gardening, or planting in cover crops). Additional disadvantages are reduced produce yields.
For eight weeks throughout the 2013 summer we hosted an ongoing outreach class with our summer youth program. The ten youth in this program spent approximately half of their eight week course creating slot rows using the angled slot method and planted several rows of leafy greens and root vegetables. We also taught the class how to create a compost tea from elephant manure. The youth then applied that tea to all of the slot rows.
Even though the project is not an economically viable method of farming, the youth in our summer program were exposed to alternative methods of farming. They were able to compare conventional farming with an experimental farming method and engage in research outside of a traditional classroom setting. They were able to compare the slot method with conventional farming and hypothesize as to why the two methods produced very different results.
We conducted a farm tour as part of an Urban Grown workshop we hosted in conjunction with staff from Kansas State University. Members of the Kansas University Departments of Agronomy and Landscape Architecture were present on that tour. It was at their suggestion that we planted carrots using the angled slot method. This tour also included eight local community gardeners and farmers and four members of the neighborhood association.