Evaluation of efficiency and efficacy of a method for managing the nutrient cycle on a bio-intensive micro-farm

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2015: $6,344.00
Projected End Date: 02/15/2017
Grant Recipient: Urban Roots Farm
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Adam Millsap
Urban Roots Farm

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Vegetables: Multiple vegetables


  • Crop Production: cover crops, multiple cropping
  • Pest Management: physical control, mulching - plastic
  • Production Systems: general crop production

    Proposal summary:


    We are always seeking methods, tools, and philosophy with the potential to make our farm more productive, more sustainable, and more efficient. The natural nutrient cycle dictates that a farm, which strives to operate within the constructs of nature, return as much plant matter to the soil as possible. Of course for this plant matter to be converted back into useful nutrients takes time, and space, two commodities often in short supply on a tiny vegetable farm. In order to be profitable on a micro-farm we must plant a new crop in place of the old as quickly as possible once the bed is harvested out. This leaves us little opportunity to let beds rest, or go fallow, and no opportunity to allow crop residues to decompose in place. Coarse crop residues are moved to a compost pile for later return to the soil and fine residues are incorporated with multiple passes of the rototiller. Then finished compost is moved to the bed, other amendments are added and the bed is tilled again to prepare a suitable seed bed. What all this means is we spend a lot of time moving things to and from the bed, and erode our soil structure through repeated tillage in order to effectively recycle plant nutrients. If we can encourage our crop residues, cover crops, and green manures to rapidly decompose in place, we can drastically reduce the labor and tillage required to return nutrients to our soil. Jean Martin Fortier is a Canadian micro-farmer who authored the book “The Market Gardener”, which was published in English earlier this year. In this book he lays out methods, which I believe could solve many of the challenges micro-farmers face with regard to green manures, cover cropping and reduced tillage. When a bed is harvested out, Fortier uses a 30” flail mower on his walk behind tractor to finely shred the crop residues. He then covers the residues with a tarp, creating conditions in which de-composing microorganisms thrive. A couple days later the tarp is removed, any required amendments are spread, and a shallow horizontal tillage is performed with a power harrow. Finally the bed is replanted. The use of the flail mower creates small particles and greater surface area, which allows for accelerated decomposition of the residue. Because the material is finely chopped, and well on its way to decomposition when the tarp is removed the deep tillage of a rototiller is not necessary, and the soil structure may be spared by the shallow horizontal bed preparation of a rotary harrow. These practices do not appear to be in wide use and we believe it would be valuable to have a farm in our area demonstrating the techniques for fellow farmers, as well as up and coming farmers. We would like to implement, evaluate, and demonstrate these strategies within our farming community.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1.  Evaluate and demonstrate a system for managing crop residues and soil health on a micro-scale vegetable farm.
    2.  Benefit the environment by determining which of the tested systems most improves organic content and nutrients of soil.
    3.  Enable farmers to increase profits by decreasing labor required and increasing time beds are available for production.
    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.