Demonstrating Higher Yields and Market Opportunities of Mixed Annual and Perennial Intensive Planting in Appalachian Ohio
In December of last year, I requested a no-cost extension on my project, so it ends in March of 2013 instead of March 2012. That request was accepted.
I explained that a combination of the work I am engaged in on regional staple foods systems taking off, and an injury to one of my primary SARE workers, and another’s machine breakdown and repair schedule delayed the work necessary to be on schedule. Ross Martin, Kurt Belser, Weston Lombard, and Rusty Kisor are unable to do the work they were lined up for this fall and I did not have time to find suitable replacements.
At the start of the grant and through the summer I focused on laying out black plastic and white plastic on two areas within the fenced site.
We were also able to bring in more than ten dump truck loads of wood chips, some of which were used to mulch perennials already on the site. The remaining material will be used to line swales, mulch beds and paths, and provide material for on-site composting.
Our preliminary site assessment over the summer and fall included using a transit to lay out the site’s contours, do soil tests, and general site analysis and assessment which included a survey of vegetation (chickweed, dead nettle, dandelion, bittercress, Johnson grass), prevailing winds, sun, and shade.
With delays in design, labor, and machine work, we continued site design in March, after an unusually long winter. Spring rains have delayed some work parties we planned early in the month, and they are rescheduled for May, when student groups are available.
Ross Martin and Kurt Belser are my primary partners on site design. I worked with them and six other community members to lay out contours in the fall of last year, and start the mapping process of the site. Later, in early March, Martin and Belser added bed and path placement to the maps and I started planning the year ahead—planting, setting up a nursery, field days, web presence–while Kurt and Ross attended a day long workshop with Mark Shepard, a farmer who started a forest farm 30 years ago.
We also used our time to learn about dynamic accumulators and succession models. Dynamic accumulators are plants that include those we found on site, as well as others. For example, native grasses like switchgrass, blue gama, bluestem, Indian grass not only send down deep roots but increase glomalin levels and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi that help “glue” the soil together, make it coherent, and most importantly, shuttle biologically available nutrients from soil to plant.
In keeping with the succession model, in which design is phased into being, we decided to keep several of the plants on site (chickweed, dead nettle, dandelion, and bitter cress) in place to act as ground covers/herbaceous plants that are characteristically advantageous as cover for fragile soil, and anticipate that many of them will be phased out as other dynamic accumulators and crop perennials on site mature.
Use of grant funds was limited this year, given the delay, and funds were only spent on labor for initial site preparation last summer and plastic mulches.
Despite setbacks that led to our request for a no cost extension, we have used the time to gather plenty of mulch, and draw up the site for laying out the beds and do site analysis that has revealed soil variation, sun and shade, an area that holds water, and several patches of unwanted perennials like Johnson grass and thistle. Although this project will use only a portion of the site (as far as planting this cycle), we learned it would be advantageous to lay out contours for the whole site to help inform how we choose where best to conduct plantings for this project.
After site analysis, we decided to lay beds along two contours that span the site, maximizing the soil, light, shade microclimates across the project.
At the end of the summer, we learned that the black plastic was more effective than the white plastic in suppressing weeds. The white had acted like a greenhouse, with lush vegetation growing under it for several months. By late winter, it seemed the black plastic had caused a degree of soil compaction, perhaps from rain and weight of the snow cover over the winter.
As stated above, we also learned about adding dynamic accumulators and decided they will be part of the planting for the project.
WORK PLAN FOR 2011
With most of the site design complete, our first work plans for the spring will be to-
• Create a Facebook page as our first set of activities.
• Choose and order plants stock and tools
• Complete the water system design
• Contract machine work to lay out water lines
• Build paths and beds
• Modify the fence
• Divide and move mulch
• Set up an on-site nursery
• Have two to three field days
• Work with faculty/students to integrate the project into their course work, and
I will set up a Facebook page to document our progress, and organize field day events this year (2011), the first of which will be in early June, followed by student field work opportunities over the summer, and a fall community-wide field day in late September.
Planting stock will focus on stone fruit, berries, and nut perennials with nitrogen fixing ground covers, asparagus, and dynamic accumulators.
Once the water system design is complete, we will lay out the path for the line, and start building paths and beds. Much of this work will happen with interns from Hocking College who will help for six days over a three-week period starting in early May.
Our nursery plan will be to lay out a 200 square foot area in medium shade to hold the potted plants in a deep layer of wood chips. Over the summer, we will continue to build the site, adding compost sites, path material, and beds. We will plant late spring cover crops of buckwheat and alfalfa–buckwheat on those beds that will be planted in the fall, and alfalfa on beds that need the benefit of a longer cover material. By late fall, most nursery stock will be planted and mulched for the winter, asparagus beds will be prepared.
In early spring of 2012, we will plant all asparagus and other plants held back the first year.
While the students help do site prep and planting, build beds, and lay out the fence, they will learn about and participate in our design process, hear about the SARE Farmer Rancher Grant Program, find out how we chose the plant varieties, and be asked to help us conduct outreach to other students. At the end of each field day, we will ask everyone to tell us what information from the day they would most like to have in print or via the web, and we will post it on our FB page and listerv, which they can join. We anticipate similar arrangements with alternative agriculture and botany faculty at Ohio University for summer interns and will design community wide field days similarly.
We didn’t share much outside of the two listservs we belong to.