Strategies for small organic tomato farms: effects of different mulch treatments on tomato production and soil health - an interdisciplinary field study
I am learning a lot about agricultural systems and how to apply basic research principles to management challenges through an interdisciplinary, collaborative project with Dr. Heather Reynolds, Dr. James Farmer and three local small organic farms. We evaluated the ecological and economic costs and benefits of various mulch treatments (straw or synthetic ground cover, cover crops, and plant litter) on tomato productivity and soil health. Several excellent undergraduates drove the soil health component of this project forward, including Caleb Smith and Hongxi Liu who both completed honors theses as part of this project.
We found that while net tomato profits were highest with straw or synthetic ground cover (i.e., the standard farmer practice), cover crops and plant litter treatments showed promise for improving soil C sequestration and overall soil health. Our peer-reviewed manuscript is forthcoming, but a summary of the project and results can be found here.
Undergraduate student, Hongxi Lyu, sampling soils at Strangers' Hill Organic Farm