Organic Slot farming: a new approach to growing farming and gardening
Last year we found that when using the slot method, plant growth was hindered due to soil compression. Our traditionally farmed plant growth outpaced our slot farm plant growth because of the inability of the plant root system to grow in compacted soil. Our goal this year was to fix this issue by introducing the angled-slot method, which we believed would allow for more root growth by widening the area in which we planted our seed.
In March, we began by preparing our land, raking out any small rock or chat that was still present in the field, and extending the area of our slot farm. We then aerated the site to allow water and air to get into the soil. Then we created our first slots using the angled slot method. We planted Swiss chard, Kale, Collards, Sweet Cabbage, and Broccoli from seed. After planting, we applied compost to the rows planted. At the end of March, several of the rows began to sprout. We continued to maintain the slot farm by watering (when watering we used an average of 42 gallons each time watered and we watered every two to three days throughout the project) and pulling weeds.
In April, we continued maintenance on the slot farm by weed-eating in between the rows and pulling out the weeds in between the plants. Weeds that were growing in close to the plants were hand pulled. We also obtained another load of straw and applied straw to all slot rows.
In May, we continued maintenance of the slot farm, but noticed that the slot farm plant growth was still very slow and the plants that had sprouted were not very robust.
In the beginning of June, we decided that the growth of the slot farm plants was still inadequate even using the angled slot method. The plants were still struggling to grow even with the additional room the angled slot method provided for root growth. Addressing this issue, we decided to use transplants (plant starters), our logic being that plants which already have a root system established may be better able to grow in the angled slot and keep the grass from taking control of the slot, thereby also decreasing our labor.
We acquired several tomato plant starters and planted several rows of them using the angled slot method. We continued to monitor, weed-eat, lay straw and water them through the month of July and August. We were very encouraged with the growth of the tomato transplants using the angled slot method (see pictures below). The tomato plants not only grew at a rate comparable to traditionally farmed crops but also began to flower and produce tomatoes. Unfortunately, the production stage of the tomato plants was affected by the extreme heat and drought that fell upon the Midwest, severely hindering the growth of these plants at the fruiting point in their plant cycle. However, we are confident now that combining the angled slot method with the use of transplants, we will be successful in making slot farming a viable method for farming. We requested a project extension through 2013 to allow us continue the project and make adjustments for the drought. Some of these adjustments will include heavier applications of straw and longer watering periods.
Picture 1: Tomato transplants after planting
Picture 2: Tomato transplants after two months of growth
We learned that growing from seed using the original slot method or the angled slot method can be very difficult and laborious. Plant growth is slow and plants do not grow to the same robust size as in a traditionally tilled farm. However, when we switched to the use of transplants the results were much more encouraging. We believe this is because a transplant’s root system is already established by the time we insert it into the angled slot. The root system is then under less pressure to compete with the surrounding grass for resources. The applications of straw were still effective in keeping the grass at bay when growing from seed, but were more effective when using the transplants.
Next year we plan to continue to build on our work with transplants from last year. Last year we planned to plant a quarter acre using the slot method, however our plans were delayed when we observed the continued lack of growth when growing from seed in the angled slot method. This year, we feel more confident about our ability to grow a quarter acre using the angled slot method and transplants.
Additionally, because we will start with transplants this year, our plants should have ample time to produce before the late summer heat wave. We hope the ongoing drought will not have an overly negative affect on the project.
We have also found a resource for elephant manure from our local zoo and will be applying the manure either directly to the slot plants or in the form of compost. We believe that this will also assist in the growth of our slot farm.
In July, we shared our project with a group of youth from our summer program, Learn to Earn. The youth were able to use the sidewalk edger to create rows in the slot farm and participate in a plating demonstration. The kids enjoyed running the sidewalk edger. The feedback they provided was positive; most of the youth thought slot farming was a good idea because their yards at home are small with limited space and the slot farming technique would allow them to grow at home.
We were also able to provide a presentation about our slot farming at the Kansas City Kansas Public Library’s Entrepreneurial Endeavors Program.
This year we plan to create our slot farm outreach packet, which will include a summary of our trials, tribulations, and successes in creating a slot farm. We will share this packet with our neighborhood farmers and our youth from our summer program. We will invite other local farmers to our slot farm demonstration site and offer to help them create a slot farm if interested. This outreach packet will be finished mid-summer 2013.
- Picture 2: Tomato transplants after two months of growth
- Picture 1: Tomato transplants after planting