This project was conducted at the North Leupp Family Farms (NLFF).
NLFF is a 100 acre a organically farmed, native/community owned farm in the Western Agency of the Navajo Nation in the state of Arizona.
The project’s goals were to teach and demonstrate to Native Navajo farmers soil improvement. ASAP demonstrated how to increase the soil nutrient content, improve soil quality, increase crop yield, and reduce alkaline buildup through the addition of soil amendments, composting, and cover cropping. What sets this project apart is the use of Mycorrhizae fungi as a major component of the soil amendment process, along with the cover crop of annual rye, Dutch clover, field peas, tiller radish, and hairy vetch.
ASAP conducted the soil management project using four ½ acre demonstration plots.
One plot was the control and three others were comparison plots.
All plots were planted with Navajo White Corn, Tepary beans, Pinto beans, and Navajo summer and winter squash.
What sets this project apart is the use of Mycorrhizae fungi as a major component of the soil amendment process, along with the cover crop of annual rye, Dutch clover, field peas, tiller radish, and hairy vetch.
“Over millions of years, mycorrhizal fungi and plants have formed a mutual dependence. The fungi are nourished by root exudates and in return bring great amounts of soil nutrients and moisture to their host plants. A mycorrhizal plant can uptake 100 times or more nutrients than one without the beneficial fungi.”
Dr. Michael Martin Melendrez
The project will teach and demonstrate to Native Navajo farmers soil improvement. ASAP will demonstrate how to increase the soil nutrient content, improve soil quality, increase crop yield, and reduce alkaline buildup through the addition of soil amendments, composting, and cover cropping.
Four plots was planted with Navajo White Corn, Tepary beans, Pinto beans, and Navajo summer and winter squash.
Plot #1 The control plot. No compost, no soil amendments, no cover crop.
Plot #2 Cover crop plus, compost, and composted animal manure added.
Plot # 3 Cover crop plus, Humates, and Kelp meal were added to the soil. With the addition of humates and kelp meal, the amount of Nitrogen-Phosphate-Potassium was increased. Two thousand pounds of kelp meal and humates was added to plot number 3. This increased the
the nitrogen and potassium uptake from a .03-to-1 ratio to a .08 to 1 ratio and nitrogen and phosphorus ratio went up to a 2-to-1 ratio. A mixture of annual rye, and dutch clover was used as a cover crop.
Plot # 4 A combination of annual rye, Dutch clover, field peas, tiller radish, and hairy vetch was used as a cover crop. Composted animal manure, humates, kelp meal, and mycorrhizal fungi were used also. This combination of cover crops and amendments gave the best results for weed suppression.
Summer squash began ripening around July15 and continued on until frost which was October 17. Winter squash began ripening around August 23 and continued up until frost. Tepary bean ripened around July 28 and pintos around August 14. Corn: milk stage in July, dry in late August. Winter and summer squash that survived the squash bugs were in good shape and very edible. Tepary and pintos were of good quality with no pest damage. Corn ears were mostly full, some ears had worms, but no smut and over 90% was edible.
Our water gauge got broken and was not able to record water usage. However in the plots that used heavy cover crops it appeared to use less water. The soil stayed moist a lot longer. It is an known fact that with more organic material in the soil water is held for a longer period of time.
Plot #1 was over run with weeds. Toadflax, Knapweed, Leafy spurge, Bull thistle
Camelthorn, nightshade, four winged salt brush, and tumbleweed. Corn production was poor, about 900 lbs per acre of corn; tepary beans and pinto beans were negligent. The tepary beans are a low growing plants and did not compete well with the more aggressive weeds. Summer and winter squash also did poorly, yielding only about 500 lbs of squash due to weeds and squash bugs. Soil test were done: nitrogen and potassium and phosphorus were negligible. The pH factor was 4.3
Plot #2 had fewer weeds than the the control plot. Twenty pounds of rye grass was seeded in the number two plot as a cover crop and tilled under in the early spring. Composted animal manure was also added. Soil tests were done and the nitrogen and potassium uptake was .03-to-1 ratio and nitrogen and phosphorus was 2-to-1 ratio. Which was not ideal but better than plot number one. The pH factor was 5.3. The corn yield was 1,700 lbs per acre. Summer and winter squash was planted in with the corn and beans. About 5,000 plants per acre were planted. Squash bug killed a lot of the plants and 1,400 lbs of squash was harvested. Tepary bean yield was 400 lbs; pinto beans production was 900 lbs. There was less competition from the weed; however, there was still a small infestation of Camelthorn, nightshade, four winged salt brush, and tumbleweeds. Toadflax, Knapweed, and Leafy spurge were completely suppressed.
The yield on plot #3 was 2,500 lbs of corn, 1,700 lbs of squash, 700 lbs of pinto beans, and 600 lbs of tepary beans per acre. Again Toadflax, Knapweed, and Leafy spurge were completely suppressed. There was still an infestation of Camelthorn, nightshade, four winged salt brush, and tumbleweeds, but considerably less than plots #1 & 2.
Plot #4: Camelthorn, nightshade, four winged salt brush, and tumbleweeds were still present but in smaller amounts. This plot also had the best yield. The nitrogen and potassium uptake went from a .08 to 1 ratio, to a 1 to1 ratio. The nitrogen – phosphorus ratio went up to a 4-to-1 ratio, pH was a healthy 6.2. The yield on plot 4 was 3,500 lbs of corn, 1,900 lbs of squash, 410 lbs of pinto beans, and 700 lbs of tepary.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Cover crops are an effective weed control tool, particularly where herbicides are not
or cannot be used.
Cover cropping improves the soil conditions.
Cover cropping helps to conserve water.
Cover cropping improves crop yields.
Therefore cover cropping is a valuable tool for farmers that are concerned with sustainability and the reduction of reliance on herbicides. This system of cover cropping provides many benefits to the farmer. The use of annual rye, Dutch clover, and hairy vetch adds a large amount of organic material to the soil which helps to retain moisture. Cover cropping with annual rye, Dutch clover, and hairy vetch suppresses the noxious weed population. The addition of humates and kelp meal along with field peas causes a Nitrogen-Phosphate-Potassium increase.
The increase in crop yield is very dramatic. Nine hundred pounds of corn was harvested from a field where nothing was done to the soil. When cover cropping with annual rye, Dutch clover, and hairy vetch was done on the field along with the addition of humates, kelp meal and field peas, the corn yield went as high as 3,500 lbs’ an improvement of almost 4:1.
Cover cropping is responsible for the dramatic increase in crop production and improvement in soil condition, which translates into more dollars for the farmer. This system is highly recommended for both the small and large farmer.
Because of the generous grant given by Western SARE Navajo farmers now have the ability to supply locally grown, healthy, fresh, wholesome, food to the local senior citizens center and the local schools. Local farmers are able to be more sustainable. There are also economic and health benefits to soil improvements. Local farmers have learned that there are many advantages and benefits to soil improvement and how to integrate it into their farming routine.
The communities of Leupp, Birdsprings and Tolani Lake have enjoyed the benefits of more fresh wholesome foods. The availability of more fresh produce means less trips to town (60 to 80 miles round trip), less money spent on gas, and more to spend on much needed food.
Because of the project and better looking produce, farmers have been invited to participate in the Flagstaff farmers market which is 60 miles away. The community is now thinking about developing it’s own farmers market, as well as establishing a CSA. Farmers are considering value-added Native American corn products. Some of the local restaurants have indicated an interest in purchasing native corns and squash.
Cover cropping needs to be integrated into the entire planting cycle. The farmers will gain further knowledge in understanding the value of cover cropping. Studies should be done over a five (5) year period so the people can see the long term effects of cover cropping and the addition of soil amendments.