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.

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!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Grow! Community

Last week we attended and shared about the Good Neighbor Iowa event.  This is one way to be a good neighbor by not using harsh chemicals on your lawn.

Being responsible with what we put on our lawns is important, but even more important are the personal relationships we develop.  People Care is one of the Three Ethics of Permaculture.

With the tragic news out of Las Vegas and lots of other bad things going on in our country, cultivating a feeling of community is critical.  Communities with strong relationships are stronger, more resilient.  People who feel part of a community are not likely to lash out violently. 

You and I are empowered to help stop these acts. 

Community food forests and healing gardens are also places where people can interact with their community and nature.  They can also be beneficial helping people overcome traumatic injuries and experiences.

"Even if a person is unwilling or unable to be active in a natural setting, studies prove just living near nature and trees can have such effects as better test scores for girls and decreased instances of domestic violence. Access to nature simply makes people exhibit “more pro-social behavior.”  Read more "Heal the Landscape and Ourselves"

Community organizer Nimrod Hochberg, of the Kidron Food Forest, is building relationships through their community food forest in Tel Aviv, Israel.

“Every Friday people come here, get together and plant.
We are creating a community.
And people need it.”

Although I'm not a huge country music fan I do like certain songs from all across the music spectrum.  I remember I liked this one that makes me think about being a good neighbor and building strong communities.  I wonder how things would've played out differently if the people we see as monsters had spent a little more time in nature or with their neighbors on the front porch.

I hope you'll take time to visit with your neighbors, coworkers and maybe those you don't normally interact with.  We may never know the impact we'll have!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Good Neighbor Iowa, Des Moines Kick-off

Yesterday was the Good Neighbor Des Moines Kickoff EventGood Neighbor Iowa is a statewide public education campaign to reduce children’s exposure to commonly-used lawn pesticides. It involves school districts, park managers, childcare centers and other community leaders who are demonstrating that it is possible and practical to manage large areas of turf without the use of pesticides such as herbicides, insecticides or fungicides.
Their ultimate goal is to transform our culture so that we appreciate diverse lawns as a way to protect child health, water quality, and biodiversity.  These goals align with Abundant Design's work and I was glad to attend and promote their mission.
Four main tips for a healthy lawn without pesticides:
  • Mow high (at least 3”) so that grass develops strong roots to compete against weeds.
  • Over-seed and add compost periodically. In Iowa, late Aug-Sept are the best times. If there are bare areas, rough them up and seed them.
  • If you have high foot traffic or athletic fields, aerate and seed.
  • Consider converting certain lawn areas into native Iowa prairie plants.
You can do it yourself or have your maintenance service do it and encourage your school local parks and churches to take part as well.  To learn more, please see their Resources page.

For even more resources on natural lawncare practices visit RichSoil.com

Dogpatch Urban Gardens (DUG) hosted the event, with other organizations attending who support Good Neighbor Iowa's mission. 
Kids Yoga in front of DUG's new Hoop House

Farm Baby Foods had their local, organic baby and toddler food

The Cutler Kitchen had energy bites, Brightside Kitchen brought treats and local coffee. Des Moines Children's Museum brought their "Let's Play Outside" exhibit.  The Des Moines Water Works provided refillable water bottles to the first 100 guests.

Urban Ambassadors shared their mission to empower and inspire sustainable living

I talked to a lot of great people interested in healthy yards, and healthy landscapes like Abundant Design provides. Brandon from Browne Atlas joined me and shared information about their worm castings.

Chatting with visitors interested in sustainable & regenerative land use and permaculture
Good Neighbor Iowa will provide you with a yard sign (in various colors) to show your support and invite conversation with your neighbors.
Here's our yard sign in purple and gold for Waukee, even if they said UNI :)