Transferred Mulch System for Organic Reduced Tillage Vegetable Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2022: $29,587.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Simple Gifts Farm
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Jeremy Barker Plotkin
Simple Gifts Farm


  • Vegetables: cucurbits, eggplant, onions, peppers, tomatoes


  • Crop Production: cropping systems, no-till, nutrient management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Pest Management: mulches - killed
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: nutrient mineralization, organic matter

    Proposal summary:

    Simple Gifts Farm started using a transferred-mulch system to provide weed control as part of our transition into reduced-tillage vegetable production in 2021. While we see great potential for the system to reduce weed control labor and improve soil health, resilience to climate disruption, and crop yields, we found significant challenges in making the system effective, which this project seeks to address.

    Vegetable farming depends on multiple successions and planting dates, so mulch must be harvested from cover crop plantings and/or pasture at multiple times throughout the season. This project will document the production and nutrient content of various pasture and cover crop mulch materials at different harvest dates to help the farmers calibrate their application rates to provide adequate weed control. We also found that nitrogen availability may have been more limiting in this system than what we had experienced in tilled systems. The project will also document the nitrogen release in the soil during the cropping season, and correlate that with the nutrient content of the mulches applied. Finally, soil health measures will be documented over 3 years, to assess the extent to which the new system helps to improve soil health over time.

    Outreach will be in the form of a field day organized by NOFA/Mass, at least 2 presentations at grower conferences, and an article for publication in grower magazines.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 1—Measure contents of mulch material

    Producing enough mulch in the spring, and estimating the mulch available to cut in a given site are key challenges. We will measure total production of dry matter and nitrogen of multiple mulch-producing areas and at multiple harvest dates.

    Objective 2—Track nitrogen dynamics

    We suspect we experienced nitrogen deficiency in some mulched areas in 2021. We will track nitrogen availability in the soil at planting and throughout the season with PSNT sampling in three mulched cucumber plots with different planting dates mulch materials.

    Objective 3—Measure changes in soil health indicators over time

    We have experienced some compaction issues in our first two years of transition to no-till, and want to document the improvements in soil health over time as we transition.  We will assess the soil health annually in both the three crop sites and three areas where mulch is harvested. We will sample these same 6 sites all three years of the study; the soil health changes will not necessarily be correlated with the data gathered in Objectives 1 and 2, but will help us to measure changes over time as we implement the new system.

    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.