The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) works extensively with the nation’s farmers and ranchers to protect soil, water, air, plant, and animal resources while meeting production goals.
Working with agricultural producers allows NRCS to promote conservation practices approximately 1.4 billion acres of the privately held land in the United States. About 92 million acres of land in our country is tended by home gardeners. In an effort to promote conservation on these lands, NRCS has partnered with other organizations to produce, Backyard Conservation: Bringing Conservation From the Countryside to Your Backyard.
This full-color and informative online resource highlights 10 conservation activities that can be used in your backyard, shared spaces, and public places too.
- Trees add beauty and so much more.
- Trees, shrubs, and other plants can provide homes and food for wildlife.
- A backyard pond will likely become the focal point for all your backyard conservation.
- Wetlands filter excess nutrients, chemicals, and sediment and provide habitat for a host of interesting creatures.
- Composting turns household wastes into valuable fertilizer.
- Mulching cools, protects, and enriches the soil.
- Apply only those nutrients the plants can use. (See our previous post on soil test kits to help you get accurate test results.)
- Terracing makes flower and vegetable gardening possible on steep slopes.
- Drip irrigation and other water conservation practices can save water and money.
- Early detection and treatment of pests means a healthier growing environment.
Food and water scarcity are simply a part of life for most in this region. Since 1992 the Sahelian Solution Foundation (SASOL) has been constructing dams and working with Kitui communities to address water scarcity and issues of community development and agricultural production.
Agricultural production in Kenya is full of challenges. Water is carried by hand from wells or dams for household and agricultural needs. Previous to this mission crops were watered inefficiently by flooding small basins. Nitrogen tests in some locations revealed levels at which most vegetable crops would be nitrogen deficient. Some of the villages have no road access.
They met with village leaders and SASOL personnel in Kitui. Here they provided training and demonstrations covering topics including:
- Demonstrations of gravity-flow drip irrigation systems from water tanks to individual beds with irrigation lines
- Discussed use of mulches on soil to minimize evaporation and enhance soil conservation
- Solarization, nursery for transplants, diseases and insects, training tomato plants and culture
- Soil types, determination of soil moisture, quick nitrogen test, use of cover crops and mulches
- Water quality (pH, hardness, salts), organic fertilizers, collection and use of urine as a rapidly available nitrogen source.
Later the information was shared in the Maito village, where onions, green kale and green grams (Phasleolus aureus) are grown. The next day found the group in the Kituvwi village, where due to poor crop production meals are currently limited to once a day. The following day was spent in the Kathayoni village. Farmers in the Kathayoni village grow kale, onions and tomatoes.
SASOL will continue the training for members in villages not reached during this visit.
The majority of farmers in the Kitui District are women. Information was well received in all locations and many questions were asked. At each village the scientists were fed a stew of corns and beans, supplemented by avocado slices or bread, with tea and milk to drink.
The last day time was spent at the South East University College. Potential for agricultural experimentation and greenhouses was discussed, and UC scientists gave a seminar about UCCE function and on anaerobic soil-borne pest control.
Many food producers use mulches for weed, insect, and disease management and for water conservation to improve crop production . Depending on specific production goals, growers use reflective plastic or cover crop mulches.
Most plastic mulch materials are made of either high- or low-density polyethylene. They typically range from 0.3 to 0.79 inches thick (7.7 to 20.2 mm), 5 or 6 feet wide (1.5 to 1.8 m), and 555 to 1,138 yards long (60 to 1223 m). The additional benefits of plastic mulches in vegetable production include: crop earliness, increased yields, improved crop quality, and reduced fertilizer leaching in some cases.
Challenges with this type of mulch include: removal and disposal, higher production costs, specialized management and equipment for installation, and increased susceptibility to frost.
Use of cover crops as mulches is currently being refined and evaluated in a wide range of vegetable production systems. Additional benefits of cover crop mulches in vegetable production include: enhanced nitrogen availability, reduced soil erosion, increased soil organic matter, reduced intercrop tillage, increased soil quality, and offset payment incentives possible through U.S. Farm Bill conservation programs.
Challenges with this type of mulch include: cooler temperatures above and below mulch, slower-maturing crops, cover crop mulch re-growth, specialized management and equipment in some cases, limited in-season weed management options, cost, and allelopathy (plant chemical interference) between cover crop and production crop.
UC ANR’s free Mulches in California Vegetable Crop Production publication is full of information on this subject with suggestions for further reading at the end.
The new issue of Landscape Notes, written by Ventura County Cooperative Extension’s Jim Downer is now available. While written mainly for landscape professionals, home gardeners will also find useful information.
Topics covered in this issue include:
- Upcoming Landscape disease symposium information
- Use of mulches to control weeds in landscapes
- Potting media studies
- It’s conk season so keep an eye on your palms
Join expert composter Lorraine Walters on Saturday, September 4 and learn about composting, vermicompost and mulch to improve the health of your soil. Healthy soil can increase production, reduce the likelihood of insects and disease, reduce water needs and more.
This class will be held at Community Roots Garden. Scheduled topics include:
- How to make compost from common materials such as food scraps, grass clippings, and leaves.
- Faster composting methods that take more attention as well as the slower, easier methods.
- How to make extra high-grade compost using redworms (called vermicomposting).
- How to use compost to build your soil.
- How to use mulch to build your soil, and the difference between compost and mulch.
Composting expert, Lorraine Walters