Sustainable production of summer squash involves multiple management practices. Some cover crops can be “rolled” when mature to produce a ground-covering mat. The cash crop is then planted in tilled strips made in the residue. This “strip-tillage” technique provides a weed-controlling, moisture-retaining mat that is biodegradable, unlike plastic mulches. The reduction in tillage can improve soil health. Row covers provide a favorable microclimate and act as a physical barrier to pests when placed over young transplants.
Biochar is an organic amendment produced by the process called pyrolysis, which is the burning of biomass in a limited oxygen environment. It can be produced using different biomass types, for example, switch grass, corn residue, or hardwoods. Potential benefits of biochar in cropping systems could include nutrient recycling, soil conditioning, and long-term carbon sequestration. Research in corn and soybean production systems has shown promising results with biochar application, however, research in vegetable cropping systems is lacking.
Environmental concerns and the price of fossil fuels have encouraged research on technologies to utilize biomass in energy production. Some technologies being investigated for their potential to provide energy involve a process known as pyrolysis. One of the byproducts of pyrolysis is called biochar. Biochar has shown potential to improve plant and soil health on several unproductive soils around the world. Much of the research on the use of biochar in Iowa soils has been focused around agronomic crops with little research into how it may affect vegetable production systems.