Permanent raised beds (PRB) have been shown to provide various agroecological benefits without compromising yields. Farmers around the world have implemented PRB systems to improve soil structure and nutrient retention, increase soil water holding capacity, and reduce weed pressure. Little, however, is known about how these systems function in the Northeastern United States. Between 2018-19, my research proposes to test a PRB system in use on my farm to assess its effects on three agroecological parameters: (1) weed suppression, (2) soil health, and (3) production potential. I have established a new PRB in one of four sections of my farm each year, creating a time series of bed establishment, allowing me to assess how PRB affects these parameters over time. To assess weed suppression, I will measure the abundance and community composition of the soil weed seed bank, as well as aboveground weed biomass. To evaluate soil health, I will have soil samples tested for physical, chemical, and biological factors. To determine production potential, I will harvest and weigh marketable produce from three crops, day-neutral strawberries, garlic, and leafy greens. These data will be shared with other farmers through Cooperative Extension publications and at twilight meetings conducted at my farm. I will also report the results at local and regional farmer and professional meetings and in peer-reviewed journals. The impacts of this research will extend beyond New Hampshire farms, as PRB systems may represent a cost-effective, low-input, low barrier strategy for mixed-vegetable production throughout the Northeast.
Project objectives from proposal:
My farm is located on a glacial Esker, with a thin organic horizon on top of 1.5-2 meters of sand. To address the lack of organic matter on the farm, I decided to establish a no-till Permanent raised beds (PRB) system to build soil and soil water holding capacity. Anecdotally, the no-till PRB system I have established on my farm has allowed me to effectively build soil organic matter, manage weeds, and increase overall yields compared to the more traditional organic agriculture practices our colleagues have been using. However, I have not formally collected the data necessary to validate these observations.
My research has three main objectives that will provide quantitative data to help improve on-farm productivity, reduce production and management costs, and improve farm viability, while building healthy soils. To better understand how our PRB system works, I will (1) assess effectiveness of weed suppression, (2) evaluate soil health, and (3) calculate production potential for three main crops, strawberries, garlic, and mixed leafy greens. I will conduct the proposed study for two growing seasons in 2018-19.