Less Toil, Better Soil
Picture: Locavore volunteers
Over the next year this field lab with social enterprise Locavore will be exploring ways to increase crop yields, improve soil health and reduce the need for weeding in small scale vegetable production. At their Left Field Market Garden they'll be experimenting with seven trial beds of kale and a range of different cultivation methods including planting through black plastic, under-sowing with green manures, and inter-cropping with lettuce & radishes.
We'll be gathering data throughout the growing season and holding a series of knowledge-sharing events on site. To follow the progress of the field lab and to share your own ideas join our Less Toil Better Soil facebook group.
Picture: grower Louis Kitchen
April 23 update Paul Flynn, Soil and Crops Advisor for Soil Association, came along and gave a presentation about soil basics.
March 13 update Louis and the team of growers had been working hard on the plan since we last met. We came up with this overview of what we're working towards..
Aims of Field Lab:
- To reduce labour (time needed for weeding)
- To increase income per bed (higher yields / lower input costs)
- To reduce need for unsustainable inputs (reduce use of black plastic)
- To improve soil fertility & biological activity (higher yields & better soil health)
- To increase soil organic matter (carbon sequestration & better soil health)
Overview of methods:
- 7 x beds (0.75m x 30m) all prepared in the same way, growing Cavolo Nero kale crop
- Testing green manures that help to suppress weeds and improve soil fertility, that suit soil conditions, provide good cover and don’t compete with kale too much
- Testing ways to produce an additional crop (with light feeders like radish/lettuce) while providing ground cover
- Testing timings of planting / sowing for best yield
Seven trial beds:
Control: kale sown mid-March and transplanted through plastic in late April
- Vital Veg Control: kale sown late-April and transplanted through plastic in late May/early June. Using similar timings to Vital Veg's method (from a past field lab) but with black plastic instead of a cover crop.
- Vital Veg Method: kale sown late-April, transplanted late May/early June. Weed until conditions allow under-sowing of a clover/trefoil cover crop
- The Accelerated Vital Veg Method: Sown mid-March and transplanted in late April under fleece, under-sowing of clover/trefoil cover crop and re-cover with fleece.
- Tares: kale sown mid-March and transplanted in late April, under-sowing of tares cover crop.
- Radish: kale sown mid-March and transplanted in late April, under-sowing of edible radish cover crop. When harvested follow with lettuce transplants. When harvested follow with seasonally appropriate cover crop.
- Lettuce: kale sown mid-March and transplanted in late April, transplant lettuce cover crop. When harvested follow with direct sown radish. When harvested follow with seasonally appropriate cover crop.