Unless you have been asleep for the last decade or maybe you're just really out of touch you are bound to heard of the No Till movement that is sweeping the nation in both the farming and gardening sectors of agriculture. Like the term implies no till is a method of growing crops on both large and small scales without tilling the soil. To those of you that have been raised in what became industrial farming/gardening this idea of not tilling the soil will seem just backwards and potentially a waste of your time.
After all we have been tilling the soil to plant seeds since the dawn of agriculture and in one sense that is true. But when you really think about it what we call tillage and what those farmers called tillage are two very different things. For most of human agriculture we use very stick or furrow plows that moved a relatively small about of dirt basically just enough soil to plant the seed in and better insure its survival. While today someone that tills a field or a garden expects the soil to be flat, smooth, free of weed and clods of dirt.
While this looks really good from a aesthetics point of view and it does plant really easy it is basically a slow moving natural disaster for the soil and its associated web of life. A way to think of it that I really like is the following,
You are sitting in your house next to a nice bubbling creek and you are thinking to yourself what a nice place to be. Then out of nowhere a storm comes up it starts to rattle the windows and shake the house right downs to it foundation. This storm is so fierce that it creates a tornado that touches down right on your roof and it rips it right off your house. In the process of ripping the roof off it causes the electricity to surge from all the now broken wires and they catch everything nearby of fire. So now you are in a house that is being ripped apart by a tornado burned down by fire and you think to yourself what's next. That of course is when the nice little creek next to your house floods from all the rain and washes you and what's left of the house away.
This is basically what happens the soil organisms and the web of life that make good soil good every time you till the soil. Now soil is resilient some more than others and it can take a lot of abuse before it stops functioning as a soil but in the long run even the best of soils can’t take this abuse forever.
So what it to be done about this natural disaster that occurs every time you till the soil. The answer is of course simple and obvious,
Easy said than done if you have a garden that you have been tilling for years. By this point the soil is dependent on that tillage to be able to grow anything and you have some work cut out for you.
Going to a No Till Gardening.
To take a tilled garden and turn it into a no till garden is very simple it mainly requires time and organic matter.
Sell your tiller just so you are not tempted to break it out. There will be times where you say screw this it's too hard and nothings it growing right I'm tilling the garden. This is where the time factor comes in most likely the first couple of season after going no till will have reduced yield.
Find yourself a easy to get reliable source of organic matter a.k.a compost and apply it liberally to the top of the garden. You should be applying compost at around two to three inches deep on top of the soil. Please restrain yourself from incorporating or otherwise mixing the compost in the soil. The point of the compost is to jump start the web of life in the soil and mixing it in defeats the purpose of not tilling the soil.
If planting season then go ahead and plant like you normally would. If it’s the fall than feel free to add more compost, wood chips or other organic matter to the garden beds.
Wash rinse and repeat.
Overtime the soil structure will be rebuilt and natural soil health will take over for tilling and the added chemical nutrients. This will lead to lower costs for you, healthier soil, and better growing garden produce in the long run.
For more information like this feel free to check out other articles on the Green Living Library.
Hello my name is Josh Larson and I am the creator of the Green Living Library. Here on the blog you will find updates to content found in the Green Living Library as well as stories from those living the sustainable life already.