Our Mission:

Our Mission: To enable individuals and communities to take an active part in the cultivation of systems that provide the highest quality fruits, vegetables, herbs and other yields, in a way that benefits themselves, cares for the land and environment, and provides a surplus to use, share and reinvest into the system.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Save the Leaves, Part II

Last year about this time I wrote about saving leaves for an easy way to add organic matter to your soil.  Read that article here-

Organic matter feeds healthy soil life, improves the water holding capacity of sandy soils and the workability of clay soils.

Recently I shared an article on Facebook about how Backyard Abundance, very similar to Abundant Design, is encouraging people to keep their leaves, and even ask for more.  Here's the local news video talking to their director Fred Meyer.

Well, one of my customers from this summer took that advice, and we arranged a load of leaves to be delivered. 

The load arrives, right next to the Norway Spruce we planted

He has been grooming his lawn for some time and it really looks great. Unfortunately homes in newer suburban developments are notorious for having poor soils, low in organic matter.

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More recently they've been looking for natural approaches, from using Milorganite and spent coffee grounds in the lawn, adding a butterfly and vegetable garden, composting and our recent project.

We planted several trees and shrubs to enhance the windbreak and shade their home in summer, along with a strip of native prairie plants for pollinator habitat.  Next stages will include a larger vegetable space, natural playscape and possibly a rain garden.

These leaves are a great natural addition to the soil building efforts going on, that won't contaminate the soil or groundwater, but could actually improve it.

Spread and ready to be mulched

After the first pass with the mower

Ready for the snow, a few freeze/thaws and these leave pieces will be rich soil


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Winding down and Gearing up

What a great season its been!
Preparing beds for next spring
These Echinacea seeds can't wait!

I attended a training workshop to be a Prairie STRIPS consultant this week. More on that training in the near future and how Abundant Design can help reduce nutrient and topsoil loss on your farm.

Grass identification slide

Last week was also the ground breaking on the Healing Garden at the East side clinic.  Very excited to see how that develops and grows over the next couple years!

Now is the perfect time to get a design started for your project. 
Be ready to go next Spring!

Thanks for reading, and have a great week!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Conversation on Soil Health & Cover Crops

As the harvest comes in I see a lot of bare fields...

"What's strange about that, the harvest is in?" you might ask.  

Well, for many years now cover crops have been a topic of discussion and the farmers and land owners experimenting with the practice have had great results - including yield increasesimproved soil health and less erosion.  And year over year the data shows more and more growers are using them.  But by now, I would have thought there would have been a rapid adoption of cover cropping almost everywhere, along with more and more using no-till practices.  The combination can add $100/acre profit!

Here is an email conversation from several years back where I was sharing with my supervisor about cover crops and soil health...

"Part of my performance plan is to share insights of the soils classes I’ve taken and how that relates to our work here.
I have not taken much time for the online classes since the cover crop workshop, but here is a quick video to share from the USDA NRCS that kind of ties together soil health, the industry’s renewed push for biologicals and our company's beginning interest in cover crops."

Thanks for sharing, Jeff! Your interest in sustainability brings another dimension to how we think about agriculture and that is always a good thing.
The expert in the video mentions diversity of crops is best for soil microbe health. Do you think that simple crop rotation is enough to do this? Crop rotation has been a best practice, however I understand sometimes this isn’t done. So are cover crops used in the winter in soy and corn fields? Or are they planted somewhere else?

I don’t know percentages of acres growing continuous corn vs corn-soy rotation. Some growers have also included oats or alfalfa in a multiyear rotation plan, but I think those numbers have really decreased.

However simple crop rotation is not enough for good soil health and conservation. The large amount of time the soil is left exposed to the elements contributes to erosion. Nitrogen off gasses from soil >50°F, the gap from harvest until the soil cools and from warm up to the new Spring growth; fields can lose much of the added benefit if anhydrous or manure is applied at these times. Probably the biggest effect on overall soil health is that the rhizosphere is left without living roots. These are an important piece in the soil food web.

Cover crops are a really great step to bridge the gaps between growing seasons in corn, soy or other annual crops. Late summer aerial seeding into existing stands, planting cover seed at harvest or soon after can have good results too. Cover crops keep the soil biome active (although its much slower in winter) by sustaining the microorganisms with living roots. They also protect the soil from exposure, and the roots help hold soil in place. They take up nutrients and store them in their tissues until released through decomposition post termination.

Use of cover crops is growing but adoption has been quite slow. The combination of no-till and cover crop systems takes ~3years to get established and that plays a big part I think, especially on leased farmland.

If you have more questions just ask, I really like talking about it :)

Spread the word about Cover Crops!


Thanks for the extra information, Jeff! Cover crops sound like a good tool to use. Hopefully they will continue to gain ground :)
As you can see there are numerous benefits with using cover crops, and although not every farmer makes more money on every acre, the majority seem to have more money in their pocket at the end of the season!

Read more on the "Economics of Cover Crops" from Ohio State University

I encourage you to consider cover crops, or talk to your friends and neighbors that haven't.  These are one way to help our soil, water and environment without a major change to a conventional corn and soybean operation.  Resources are available to assist you through the USDA NRCS, USDA SARE, Practical Farmers of Iowa and more.

Have a great week!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Wildlife Habitat on Working Farms

This week I got an email from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Setvice (NRCS) highlighting one of their partner farmers in the Sage Grouse Initiative.
With more and more acres being put into production even after the last corn boom has come back down, and farms becoming larger and larger, less habitat is available.  The windbreak on old farm sites have been taken out, or the whole site itself has been converted to production.  Many rural homes just aren't needed; with the increased efficiency of modern machines farmers can cover more ground faster.
Also cities are growing as fast as administrators can push, with tax abatements and promises of jobs, attractions and services.  In Iowa this urban sprawl happens on some of the most important farmland in the world, putting pressure on farmers to produce more on less. 
With remaining habitat dwindling and becoming more and more fragmented, intentional conservation efforts are needed.  Mike Fenn's story shares his experience and feelings on the topic, this link also includes a playlist of other participants in the program.

Here in Iowa we don't have Sage Grouse, but we do have the Ring-Necked Pheasant.  Originally from China, pheasants were accidentally introduced into Iowa when a windstorm damaged the pens of game breeder William Benton of Cedar Falls releasing approximately 2,000 of the birds. Benton’s birds spread north and west and constitute Iowa’s founding stock. The DNR began stocking pheasants around 1910 with most regions of Iowa receiving large stockings of ring-necks by 1930. The ring-neck has since become the most important gamebird in Iowa with an estimated statewide population of 4 to 6 million birds.

According to The Des Moines Register, pheasants could be key to saving rural Iowa, farming and the environment.  Read that story here-

Here is an Iowa State University Extension video explaining how habitat can be incorporated into your working farm.

Have a great week, enjoy the fall colors and cooler weather!

Don't forget to save your leaves!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Building Soil for Health, Climate & Profit

I often talk about how important healthy soil is for healthy gardens, yards and farms.  Well, what does that actually mean? 

Soil is the foundation for all plant life.  One tablespoon of healthy soil contains millions of bacteria, yeasts, molds, fungi, and other microbes. 

Print this coloring page for your kids or classroom
These organisms are vital to the natural processes of the environment by recycling nutrients, protecting plants from pests and diseases, and allowing plants to receive nutrients from the soil.  Nutrient rich plants are healthy food.

Organic matter in the form of compost and mulch feed the soil microbes.  It also increases soil porosity, workability and moisture-holding capacity.  Increasing your soil organic matter by only 1% can hold more than 20,000 gallons per acre of additional water in the ground.  This increased water holding capacity can help your grass, plants or crops survive longer dry spells with less stress.

Composting your food and lawn waste is one way to boost organic matter and life in your soils.  Using wood and straw mulch around your trees and shrubs is another way to increase organic matter.  While worm castings and compost teas can boost soil life.
Chop & Drop your weeds and mulch plants, that helps too!

See these forward thinking farmers share how taking care of their soil improved animal health, increased profits and resiliency.

Soil Carbon Cowboys from Peter Byck on Vimeo.
Meet Allen Williams, Gabe Brown and Neil Dennis - heroes and innovators! These ranchers now know how to regenerate their soils while making their animals healthier and their operations more profitable. They are turning ON their soils, enabling rainwater to sink into the earth rather than run off. And these turned ON soils retain that water, so the ranches are much more resilient in drought. It's an amazing story that has just begun.

It's not just ranchers either.  Soil health practices such as cover crops and no-till can result in an economic return of over $100 per acre for corn-soybean farmers!

Storing more organic matter/carbon in the soil can possibly even fight climate change, read more from Civil Eats.

With benefits such as these it's no wonder Soil Health is the next big trend:
A new idea: If we revive the tiny creatures that make dirt healthy, we can bring back the great American topsoil. But farming culture — and government — aren't making it easy.
Soil Health: The Next Big Trend Turf Magazine
Integrating biologicals into your program is smart, simple and cost-effective.
As homeowners a major problem in newer developments is the degraded soils, compacted with little organic matter.

Builders strip topsoil off developments to build roads, driveways and homes, but some fail to return it, said John Swanson, a conservationist at Polk Soil and Water Conservation District. "People are left with a rock-hard, compacted soil that builders roll the sod right on top of. It doesn't absorb water much better than concrete," he said. "Homeowners are left with a yard that's not very healthy." The Des Moines Register

We can do things to fix this such as deep-tine aeration, compost addition and supplemental biologicals.  If you are building a new home ask your builder about amending your soil prior to sod or seeding.  Also avoid working wet soils and consider stepping stones or pathways on high traffic areas to avoid compaction.  More tips can be found on our post about the Good Neighbor Iowa program.  Abundant Design can help with any of these and more.

Have a great Fall week!