- Agronomic: potatoes
- Crop Production: conservation tillage, no-till, strip tillage
- Pest Management: mulches - general, mulches - killed, mulching - plastic, soil solarization
- Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis
Small vegetable farms depend heavily on tillage for soil preparation and weed management even though the negative effect of deep tillage on soil health are well documented. Tarping has been shown to be beneficial when combined with reduced tillage practices however the practice is still relatively new, and farmers need more examples of how to combine tarping with specific crops in a rotation. In this study we propose to assess the effects of tarping and mulching on small-scale commercial production of potatoes to increase the profitability of reduced tillage potato growing in diverse organic production. Our specific objectives are to assess the effects of three experimental growing methods on weed suppression, moisture retention, marketable yields, and labor requirements. We will trial tarping with and without deep mulching and compare both to farm current practice (untarped, deep mulched system). For each system, we will create strip tilled rows with a rotary plow following a cereal rye cover crop. We will assess the marketable yield for three potato varieties to test if the benefits of tarping are different for an early, mid and late season type. We will also take a snapshot of soil health at harvest time by measuring several biological indicators. For outreach, we propose: 1) writing a general interest article for our community; 2) writing a farming-oriented article for the Small Farm Quarterly; 3) producing a video and posting online; 4) presenting at a regional farming conference (either the NOFA NY or PASA winter conferences, 2022).
Project objectives from proposal:
This project seeks to optimize a reduced-tillage potato growing method by using tarping as a method to improve weed suppression, moisture retention, and labor use. We will compare three experimental growing methods: tarping with mulching (T+M), tarping without mulching (T), and no tarping with mulching (M). For each of method, potatoes will be planted into a reduced-tillage strip following a cereal rye cover crop with the long-term goal of increasing soil organic matter and reducing loss of soil carbon.
Our objectives are to evaluate if and how tarping and mulching can:
1) Terminate a cereal rye cover crop, increase soil nitrate and reduce early season weed pressure;
2) Increase soil moisture content and reduce weed competition throughout the season;
3) Increase marketable yields and reduce labor inputs.
We will compare soil moisture content, soil nitrate levels and weed germination/abundance at specific times relative to tarping, planting and the potato growing cycle. We will take a snapshot of soil health at the conclusion of this experiment, as measured by a suite of biological indicators. We aim to present a method whereby small farms can produce significant potatoes yields on a commercial scale while minimizing inputs, labor, mechanization and extreme soil disturbance.