There are three practices the Howdy Farm uses in every season every year. Weeding (this is unfortunately inevitable). Mulching. Composting.
I had yet to truly grasp how valuable mulching can be until this semester. With my background in corn and soybean production, the "mulching" we utilize consists of managing the previous season's crop residues with a method called strip tilling. In the past, our production has used manure for fertilizer, but that isn't a practice we use anymore. Through my experience at the Howdy Farm this semester, I have seen how mulching and composting are extremely important practices to implement on a sustainable farm.
This season, we have used various composting materials. Some of the material used was plant materials gathered from prior seasons that were turned and heated up in our compost piles. Other material included the mushroom compost we ordered from a landscaping company and animal manures.
To apply the compost, we would first pull up any left over plant residues. Then we would apply the compost over the top of the plant residues. Finally, we would till the compost material and plant residues into the ground and incorporate it into the soil. We completed this process soon after harvesting the produce to prepare the ground for the next crop right away.
Compost provides the soil with a host of benefits. According to the U.S. Composting Council, compost improves soil structure. Compost promotes the formation of pores to help aerate the soil, creating a favorable environment for root growth. Pores also allow for water infiltration and improve permeability, which are two factors that reduce runoff and soil erosion. Aside from soil structure, compost is a great way to improve fertility. It can provide the soil with valuable micro and macro nutrients, while also improving and stabilizing soil pH.
The mulch material we used this season varied. Sometimes we used either hay, leaves, or wood chips. In most cases, mulch was applied after planting, but in the event nothing was planted in a particular area, we mulched the bare ground.
Mulching has many benefits. It insulates the ground as a buffer to extreme temperature changes. It helps the soil retain water to keep the soil moist for root health. Mulch also prevents weeds from growing (YES, thank you!) to reduce plant competition, and prevents soil compaction.
Mulching and composting are two essential practices at the Howdy Farm. These practices were new to me, but throughout the semester, I have learned how beneficial they are to production.
Kasey is a junior Agricultural Communications and Journalism major from Seward, Nebraska. She loves anything involving agriculture, Texas country music paired with a good road trip, and authentic barbecue.