Mulching with wool: opportunities to increase production and plant viability against pest damage while creating new regional markets for kempy (unsalable) wool.
We purchased all supplies to start eggplant, tomatoes, and sweet peppers. This included potting soil, seeds, and eggplant plugs. Plants were started in the greenhouse and later moved to the field where they were set out. Wool was purchased for mulching. Plants were set out in a randomized pattern. Colored flags were purchased and put in the field to indicate the treatment blocks. Tomatoes and peppers were staked with purchased t-posts in the Florida weave method.
Treatment blocks were either mulched with Turner Farm hay (Pseudo Control), or wool (Treatment Group), or left without mulch (Control). A HOBO U30USB Data Logger-U30 unit was set up in the experimental area. This piece of equipment collected environmental data, including rainfall, air temperature, soil moisture, soil temperature, and available sunlight. Fruit from the experiment was harvested 3 times a week over the course of 90 days. Fruit in each treatment group was collected, counted, and weighed. Leaf samples from each treatment were collected and sent to Agricultural Services Laboratory, at Penn State University for Foliar Analysis.
All results indicate that both average row yield and row weight were significantly higher in the wool mulch treatment groups of all plant types.
Plants used in the experiment included: ‘Celebrity’ tomatoes, ‘Revolution’ peppers, and ‘Black Beauty’ eggplant. Soil moisture content was more constant in the wool and hay treatments than in the control or no mulch treatment.
Wool had the most insulating effect. There was less temperature fluctuation in the wool mulch treatment than in hay mulch or control.
Nitrogen levels in the tissue samples were highest in the wool mulch treatment and lowest or deficient in the hay mulch treatment. Nitrogen levels were lower, but normal in the control treatment.
WORK PLAN FOR 2012
We plan to purchase more wool and mulch more crops on the farm this coming growing season. We would like to try the wool mulch on a perennial crop: raspberries. We will be using wool mulch on sweet potatoes, and we will trial it on brassicas. We are watching what happens to the wool mulch when left in the field after the growing season. (I have picked up the wool and put it in the compost pile after the growing season in the past.) This year we left it in the field over the winter to see if it will interfere with machinery the following year.
Katie Charlton-Perkins is planning to write up the results of our experiment and submit the findings for publication.
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 55 people who 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 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.