As told by Manuel Reyes, professor in Biological Engineering at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University:
- Manually till and weed a small plot of land (no more than 200 square meters).
- Make vegetable beds.
- Find a source of mulch for your site. Mulch should not contain seeds and not grow vegetatively.
- Cut mulch and let it dry.
- Install drip irrigation on the site.
- Put dried mulch on the entire area including the furrows between the vegetable beds. Mulch should be at least 2.5 inches thick.
- With your hands, push mulch and expose soil (about 2 inches in diameter). Dig a hole and put vegetable seed or vegetable transplant in the hole. Depending on the type of mulch you use, you will likely need to add nitrogen fertilizer at this point.
- After planting is complete, turn on drip irrigation. Check that water drips from each emitter.
- After a few days, inspect for weeds and make sure to weed by hand immediately, including in furrows.
- Keep manually weeding on a regular basis.
- Inspect mulch. When parts of the mulch degrade, add new mulch to keep the area well covered.
- Make plans for planting the next (different) vegetable crop before the current vegetable crop is harvested.
- If possible, plant the next vegetable crop between the current crop. Do not till. Do not remove drip tape. No need to rebuild vegetable beds. If properly mulched, the vegetable beds should still be intact and weeds should be under control.
- Repeat the process of weeding, inspecting mulch, and replanting a new crop before harvest.
Our research in Cambodia (and in North Carolina too) so far has shown no decrease in yields for vegetable crops using conservation agriculture and drip irrigation. So far, the big advantage in using these practices has been reduced menial labor in manual irrigation, land preparation and weeding.
Conservation agriculture practices have the potential to increase vegetable yields and soil health as well, after repeated use. In grain production, the use of conservation agriculture practices usually decreases yield for two to three years, followed by an increase in yields. Our vegetable field trials are ongoing.
Don Immanuel Edralin, Ph.D. student at NC A&T State University, also contributed to this blog post.