Mulching with wool: opportunities to increase production and plant viability against pest damage while creating new regional markets for kempy (unsalable) wool.

Project Overview

FNC10-797
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2010: $5,994.75
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Co-Coordinators:

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Vegetables: eggplant, peppers, tomatoes

Practices

  • Crop Production: fertilizers

    Summary:

    BACKGROUND

    Turner Farm is located in suburban Cincinnati, just inside the 275 belt way. The farm raises certified organic vegetables on 8 acres of land. The farm also produces naturally raised sheep, chickens and pork. The farm sells vegetables and other farm products at the Madeira Farmers Market, from the farm and through a vegetable CSA, a meat CSA, winter CSA, and flower CSA. Turner Farm also offers educational programs, and summer day camps for children. The farm takes on 4 to 5 intern to train each summer and also has a veteran internship program.

     

    Turner Farm has been a certified organic farm since1994. We have 100 acres of woods, 44 acres of pastures and the vegetable fields, all certified by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. We use a variety of sustainable practices, including farming with workhorses. We use animal manures, compost and cover crops for fertility. We have very detailed crop rotation plans for disease and pest control. We grow flowers and maintain an area for wild native plants for beneficial insects.  

     

    GOALS

    This project was intended to explore the use of wool as a mulching agent to enhance plant health and increase production of Solanaceae on farms and to create a new market for wool.

     

    PROCESS

    Our farm raises sheep for meat. The sheep are a mixture of breeds, with Welsh Black Mountain being the predominate breed on the farm. The sheep are sheared once a year. The Mid-States Wool Growers Cooperative Association will only pay seven cents per pound for our wool, because there is not much market for black,wool. Seven cents per pound does not even cover our cost to shear the sheep, or to transport the wool to the Wool Growers Cooperative Association in Canal Winchester, Ohio.

     

    We began using the wool as mulch in vegetable production. My thought was the lanolin in wool might cover the spiracles on flea beetles, thus giving us some protection for eggplant. So we began using our wool on eggplants in a hap hazard way. In 2009, we decided to set the field up in a more scientific way. We had some eggplants mulch with our hay mulch and some rows mulched with wool. We collected, and counted eggplants in the two treatments. I could not tell definitively that the wool mulch gave us protection from the flea beetles, however anyone looking at the two treatments could plainly see that those eggplants mulched with wool were bigger, darker green, and had more leaves. The wool-mulched eggplants did produce more eggplants.

     

    We wanted to expand the experiment to other plants such as tomatoes, and sweet peppers. We made the experiment more scientific by randomizing the panting pattern and adding a control of no mulch. We also used a HOBO U30USB DATA LOGGER-U30   to monitor environmental variables. We were puzzled as to why the wool mulched eggplant grew better, and were trying to find an explanation. We also collected leaves, and sent them to Agricultural Analytical Services Laboratory at the Pennsylvania State University. Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, manganese, iron, copper, boron, and zinc levels were analyzed in a sample of leaves from the 3 different crops and in each of the three treatments. Fruits were also harvested, counted, and weighed, form the three treatments.

     

    PEOPLE

    Melinda O’Briant, primary investigator.

    Katherine Charlton-Perkins, project management, data collection, analysis and reporting.

    David Dyke, Hamilton County Extension Office, experimental design & data analysis consultant.

    Megan Hill, research assistant.

    Jim Rosselot, wool grower/supplier.

    Brad Bergefurd, consultant for experimental design & data analysis.

    David Rowe, wool grower/supplier.

    Mike Anderson, outreach assistance.

    Sally Godschalk, outreach assistance.

     

    RESULTS

    We harvested fruits over the course of 32 days.

     

    We kept careful record of both weight and number of produce.

     

    The HOBO monitored ever 15 minutes.

     

    We too many photographs, and pressed leaves.

     

    We sent leaves to The University of Pennsylvania for nutrient analysis.

     

    The average weight of celebrity tomatoes harvested per day in the wool-mulch treatment was 18 pounds. The average weight of the celebrity tomatoes harvested per day in the hay-mulch treatment was 11 pounds, and the control of no mulch was 10.5 pounds.

     

    The average weight of revolution peppers harvested per day in the wool-mulch treatment was 7.5 pounds per day. The average weight of peppers harvested per day in the hay-mulch treatment was 4.5 pounds and the control of no mulch was the same 4.5 pounds.

     

    The average weight of black beauty eggplant harvested per day in the wool-mulch was 7 pounds.

    While hay-mulch and no mulch harvests weights were 2 pounds and 2.5 pounds respectively.

     

    The results of the foliar analysis showed that Nitrogen levels in the tissue samples were the highest in wool-mulch treatment the lowest or deficient in the hay-mulch treatment, and normal in the control or no mulch treatment.

     

    Soil moisture content was higher in the wool and hay treatment than in the control, no mulch treatment.

     

    Wool had the most insulating effect. There was less temperature fluctuation in the wool-mulch treatment.

     

    We have found that wool is a great weed barrier. It helps maintain soil moisture, keeps soil temperature more constant, and nitrogen is present in greater amounts in the plants when wool is used as a mulch. Productivity and yields are increased when wool is used as mulch. In another plot outside of the formal experiment, we found that it was a deer deterrent. We had 3 row of sweet potatoes mulch with wool the deer did not bother. One row was mulched with hay and the deer did eat them!

     

    DISCUSSION

    I would encourage farmers or ranchers to seek a grant if they are interested in experimenting as most farmers seem to be in the habit of experimenting with different growing methods.

     

    Our only difficulty was in changing personnel before the end of the SARE project ended.

     

    OUTREACH

    We had a farm tour sponsored by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association on July 19 from 6-8 p.m. where we loaded people on wagons pulled by horses and showed them the experimental plot and had samples of the tomatoes and sweet peppers. There were around 50 people that attended. We had another tour as part of the Cincinnati Great Outdoor Weekend on Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.. This event was not well attended this year with a total of 20 or less people. Katie Charlton-Perkins and I did a presentation of our results at the Farmers Forum at the National Small Farm Trade Show and Conference in Columbia, Missouri on November 4, 2011. Katie Charlton- Perkins and I presented our findings at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association Conference On February 19, 2012 in Granville, Ohio. Our presentation was titled Magnificent Material for Mulching an Organic Garden. The presentation was really well received and we had 47 people in the audience. Katie will be presenting this again on Thursday, March 28, 2012 At the Civic Garden Center of Cincinnati Ohio.  

     

    Katherine Charlton-Perkins has been collaborating with Sr. Regnier of the Weed Ecology Laboratory of the Ohio State University. Dr. Regnier will submit data from our project for an internal SEED grant, in addition to a USDA-AFRI Weedy and Invasive Species Control Program. The HOBO weather station was donated to her laboratory in which this project and others of a similar nature will benefit from its use. Articles on this work were submitted and published in The Organic Grower, The Journal of the Organic Growers Alliance Spring 2013 No.22.   Articles were also submitted to Farming Magazine, Small Farmers Journal, and Edible Ohio Valley. We have had correspondence with a writer for Edible Ohio Valley,` she has indicated that she will be working on an article about experiments that farmers do and our wool mulch experiment may be included.

    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.