Note to readers, attached is the complete final report for FNE01-368
Using no-till, ground cloths, cover crops, and a riding mower, the farmer explored whether a small-scale organic vegetable farm can be run efficiently without heavy farm equipment, which can erode and compact the soil. She compared her labor and effort against conventional methods as carried out on an adjacent farm, and tracked plant health, ripening times, production, and water use.
Maggie planted tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and watermelon in comparison plots. One set of plots was tilled and covered with ground cloth, the other set had been in a cover crop of oats, timothy, and other grasses that were cut for hay during the previous six years. The cover cropped set of plots was not tilled but it was covered with ground cloth. She observed no significant differences in plant height, number of fruit set, ripening time, quantity or quality of the fruit, or overall plant health.
Maggie also compared the time spent establishing and maintaining her plots with that of an adjacent grower who used conventional methods of plowing, discing, tilling, and cultivating. The conventional methods required 35.75 hours to establish and maintain an acre of tomatoes; the no-till/mowing system required 33 hours.
Maggie ran into a problem with compatibility of bed widths for rotational purposes. Her three foot wide beds would not be wide enough for the smaller seeded crops and transplants she intended to plant the following year, necessitating tilling beds that she had planned on cover cropping. She recommends that anyone trying this system use four foot wide beds from the start.
Maggie believes that even if her plan to use ground cloth to smother weeds and build organic matter is not successful, a grower can eliminate the use of heavy equipment by using a combination riding mower/rototiller once the beds are established. She believes this system will be feasible on a smaller acreage (2-5 acres) than the 2-10 acres as she originally proposed.