Living Mulch Cover Crops on Small Parcels for Urban and Small-scale Applications

Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Desert Ballroom: Salons 7-8 (Desert Springs J.W Marriott Resort )
Anne Pfeiffer , University of Wisconsin, Madison, Madison, WI
Jed Colquhoun , College of Agricultural & Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Madison, WI
Erin Silva , Agronomy, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Madison, WI
One of the production aspects that most distinguishes small-scale and urban farmers from their rural counterparts is extremely limited land availability in urban and peri-urban areas.  Soil quality is critical to any farming operation but poses a special challenge to small-scale growers who commonly use intensive production systems.  Given limited ability to effectively rotate crops or use typical soil building techniques, growers have identified maintaining and building soil quality as one of the primary challenges of extremely small acreage production. A multitude of studies have established the ability of cover crops to reduce erosion, build soil organic matter, improve water filtration, and provide weed control. Non-conventional tillage systems, including living mulches and strip tillage, offer alternatives that allow growers to gain the benefit of cover crops while simultaneously producing crops for food and income. To investigate alternative production systems that allow small-acreage growers to integrate cover cropping techniques into their production systems while maintaining cash crop production, a cover crop trial was designed with the goal of identifying effective living mulch systems applicable to small scale organic vegetable production. Four cover crops (buckwheat, field peas, crimson clover, and medium red clover) and a control of no cover were planted in early spring.  Covers were mowed in early June immediately prior to planting vegetables (snap beans, bell pepper, and broccoli) directly into living mulch.  Mulches were mowed throughout the season and biomass samples of weeds and living mulches were collected.  In addition to vegetable yield, biomass of weeds and living mulches, mulch height, weed species, and labor/management time were recorded.  Drought conditions in 2012 likely impacted cover crop mulch and weed growth with implications for vegetable crop yield.  The study will be repeated in 2013.