- Crop Production: conservation tillage, cropping systems, no-till, transplanting methods
- Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture
- Soil Management: composting, soil quality/health
Our farm struggles tremendously with time management. With just 2 adults and 7 young children, we are always behind schedule. Added weed pressure from tilling our heavy clay soils often overwhelms us when we are also juggling harvesting, planting, delivery, marketing, and childcare activities. Anything that will decrease labor in the field is highly valued by us as we work to heal the soil to a point where we get acceptable yields and plant vitality, and ultimately, become profitable. With the widespread damage to the soil due to decades of chemical mono- culture growing methods, and the current movement to bring young farmers back to the land in small scale market gardens, our farm’s situation is not unique. For the scope of this project, I have focused on the task of transplanting seedlings into the garden beds, along with the attendant preparatory work required to successfully establish the seedlings. This is because the way you prep your beds, start your seedlings, and place them in the garden sets the stage for all the work required for the remainder of the growing cycle for those crops. There are a great many labor saving transplanting tools out there for the small market gardener, but they tend to be geared to conventionally tilled gardens, and rely on clean, residue-free beds with loose soil. When you bring those tools to our heavy clay soil in Kansas, and add residue from cover crops, they lose effectiveness. Farms like ours need tools and methods that are adapted to our heavy soils and wild Kansas weather in order to have a chance at succeeding in becoming profitable while regenerating the soil.
I am evaluating a method of no-dig gardening which uses thick layering of compost directly on top of the soil for weed suppression and to provide a looser medium in which to use transplanting tools for setting seedlings. This is a long term regeneration effort for the soil that promises to reduce weed pressure by not bringing up weed seeds through tillage and disruption of the soil structure. In order to start a “no-dig” bed with the heavy layer of compost, and reduce the incidence of weeds emerging through the compost from the soil below, it is good to start with some sort of sterilized bed, or use cardboard or heavy paper as a blocking layer. We made extensive use of plastic mulch for weed suppression the year prior to project initiation, and removing the plastic mulch leaves a weed free bed of bare soil with a drip irrigation line already installed. This is ideal for beginning the no-dig beds. Some no-dig beds will solely utilize compost, while others will have cover crops grown and rolled down in order to have natural plant cover and a living root system in place ahead of transplanting seedlings.
The other part of the project involves evaluating and comparing different methods of transplanting seedlings out into the prepared beds. Three different transplanting methods are compared in this project: hand setting, the Stand ‘N Plant transplanter, and the Japanese paper pot transplanter. Modifications to the paper pot transplanter will also be developed and tested in order to allow the paper pot transplanter to be used in beds with varying degrees of residue, including rolled down cover crops. The ultimate goal is to determine the most effective method of transplanting seedlings that is compatible with no-dig gardening and cover crop use on regenerating soils.
- Evaluate and adapt the hand pulled paper pot transplanter for use in no-dig garden beds with cover crop residue, and compare the transplanter against other hand transplanting tools that are available to the small market gardener in the areas of seedling vigor and vitality.
- Benefit the environment by working to regenerate degraded soil.
- Help farmers benefit economically and socially by maximizing efficiency through reducing time invested in seeding, setting, and weeding.