This project will test the efficacy of using compost, as a mulch and weed suppressor, in small-scale no-till vegetable production.

Progress report for FNC22-1355

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2022: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/15/2024
Grant Recipient: Pine Creek Farms LLC
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Jonathan Stensgard
Pine Creek Farms LLC
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Pine Creek is a small 3-acre vegetable farm, entering its ninth season, consisting of owners Jonathan Stensgard and Jordan Flynn. After working on organic farms in Oregon and Minnesota, we decided to start our own farm back home in Southeastern Minnesota. Over the past several years, we have become a successful small-scale vegetable farm through our CSA program, Farmers Market, and wholesale accounts, which include: local restaurants, co-ops, and grocery stores, such as Hy-vee and Natural Grocers. We grow many different varieties of produce, but our most profitable crops include tomatoes, lettuce, and spinach. We love what we do, and we hope to continually build our community in a positive way. Though we plan on hiring our first employee during the 2022 season, this project will mainly consist of relying on our own abilities to design, create, and implement each aspect of the process. Most notably, we would like to share our findings, and Self-Loading Compost Spreader design and operation techniques, through social media and on-farm showcases with local community members, newspaper journalists, CSA members, produce managers, and most importantly, other farmers! Cloey Walsh, of Clomotion Pictures, will also be posting a DIY video of our Self-Loading Compost Spreader design, and the systems we use, on social media.


Our main objective at Pine Creek Farms has always been quality over quantity, and the single most important step in achieving this goal, is soil health. After reading the works of Andrew Mefferd's The Organic No-Till Revolution and Jean Fortier's The Market Gardener, we quickly realized that no-till agriculture, with the use of compost, is the most sustainable, and surprisingly, efficient way of building our soil structure to promote higher yields, and subsequently, a more profitable farm. Where the problem lies, is how to efficiently incorporate compost into our soil in a no-till operation. We believe the solution is to utilize the compost, as both a mulch, and weed suppressor. Our objective is to measure the benefits of compost mulch, through the use of a self-loading compost spreader, by transplanting and seeding crops directly into a two inch thick layer of compost. This process counteracts the usual method of spreading and tilling the compost at the beginning of each season, by helping us achieve our no-till goals, while still promoting good soil health. Most importantly, we will be sharing our findings with the community and other famers through social media, an on-farm showcase, and our local newspaper. 

Project Objectives:
  1. Evaluate the efficacy of using compost, as both a mulch and weed suppressor.
  2. Evaluate if such practices will promote higher yields and profits, while cutting down on work load, such as weeding and tilling. 
  3. Share our findings with the community, and other farmers, through an on-farm showcase, social media, and our local newspaper, as well as posting a DIY construction video of our Self-Loading Compost Spreader design. 


Materials and methods:

Due to unforeseen complications, Pine Creek will start activities for this project December 2023. (UPDATE) We have started the process of designing the self loading compost spreader and field planning for the 2024 season. We have decided to change how the research will be conducted. We feel as though in order to truly see the results of how using compost as a mulch and weed suppressor, we need to do weekly (instead of bi-weekly) side by side comparisons. This will help ensure that outside forces such as weather, health of seedlings, and transplant timing do not sway the results. One bed will be planted using the tillage method, while the other will be planted using compost as a mulch and weed suppressor. The transplants will be seeded on the same day, transplanted on the same day, and will be watered at the exact same time. We feel this is the best and only way to see true results. Because we will be doing weekly plantings instead of bi-weekly, we will use two test plots instead of the original six, resulting in about the same amount of comparisons. To make the soil samples more accurate we will be testing specific beds with in these plots. 

Research results and discussion:

We will be posting on social media on how the operation is going leading up to our Farm Showcase day. 

Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Learning Outcomes

Lessons Learned:

Will have more information leading up to the end of the 2024 season. 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.