Mulching of vegetable crops in the South provides an effective way to maintain soil and plant health by reducing soil-borne pathogens, weed pressure, and soil moisture loss while increasing organic matter over time. However, the cost of mulching decreases early season cash outlay, potentially lowering seasonal and overall farm profits due to the increase cost in materials and labor if yields aren’t increased. Farmers in the Southeastern U.S. need a way to offset the cost of mulching through either an increase in overall farm sales or a decrease in cost of straw and labor.
By incorporating mushrooms like Stropharia rugosoannulata and Hypsigus ulminarus into the mulch, farmers have the potential to further increase soil fertility and plant health while increasing revenue across the Southeast as both of these species can be grown in temperate and subtropic climates.
Mushroom mulches would also rapidly build soil because the enzymes the mushrooms exude for digestion would increase the decomposition rate of debris into organic matter, micro, and macro nutrients. This research project will provide tangible, Southeastern specific results as to whether and by how much mushroom mulch intercropping increases vegetable yields while bringing in new, diversified income to small farmers. This research is critical in providing data for Southeastern U.S. growing conditions, to determine potential vegetable yield increases, sustainability benefits, and potential additional revenue from mushroom crop. While the benefits of mulch are known, mushroom crops may be a way to reduce financial risk of mulch by increasing diversified revenue streams. Intercropping mushrooms with vegetables has some anecdotal evidence of providing these benefits.
Project objectives from proposal:
We will measure relative costs of set-up and maintenance of various mushroom mulches, comparative yields between mulched and non-mulched vegetable cash crops, and soil moisture and weed pressure in the various treatments.