[Market-farming] Tillage is tillage

STEVE GILMAN stevegilman at verizon.net
Fri Feb 2 14:19:46 EST 2007

	This really isn't so simplistic.

	Our northeast farms, including those in Coleman's Maine, were  
initially hacked out of the forest by burning (a la the Native  
Americans) and then with the coming of the white man, by European  
implements and grazing. I saw an early 1900's postcard of the last  
tree standing in southern VT -- all the mountain ranges in the  
distance  had been denuded for fuel and potash. Sod saved the day,  
protecting the steep slopes and flatlands alike from further erosion.  
That sod is tough (thankfully) -- and primary tillage is necessary to  
open up the soil, while repeated cultivation is needed to keep it  
open and workable. Tillage and cultivation BOTH work the soil to some  
extent but tillage isn't necessarily more injurious than cultivation.  
On a farm scale, chisel plowing is less deleterious than rotovating,  
for example.  They are both injurious to the extent that they destroy  
organic matter and soil aggregation. Modern tractor powered spaders  
are designed to lessen these impacts.

	In the no till approaches, mulching is a positive option, on small  
holdings at least. Growing grass and natural herb biostrips between  
beds takes a third of the field out of cultivation but they need to  
be maintained through mowing -- and the beds still have to be dealt  
with. Planting into winter-killed and scalp-killed cover crops  
utilizes an in-place mulch effect,  without having to haul in and  
spread outside materials. NEWFARM.org, for one,  is refining cover- 
killing machinery for organic growers.

	Conventional no till has been around awhile and is touted as a  
superior way of preventing erosion (and saving the planet, even.) The  
chemical farmers just kill cover crops and sod with herbicides and  
plant directly into the dead stubble with heavy-duty planters. But  
here is the rub: Mulch/no till keeps soils cold well into the spring,  
just by the fact that the sun and warmth don't penetrate. Soil temps  
need to be 60 degrees plus to awaken the microbial activity needed to  
mineralize soil nutrients for crop growth. Organic growers are using  
ridge-till, which plants into the top of open raised ridges exposed  
to sun and warmth, with the base of the pyramid-shaped ridges kept  
deep in winter-killed or till-killed mulch.

	To get around cold soils the chemical farmers just add synthetic  
Nitrogen fertilizer which boosts the plant directly and bypassing  
microbial activity. Of course they don't like to talk about the  
downsides of the Chem No-Till system. Fully HALF of the soluble  
chemical N is "lost" -- going directly into the ground water (and is  
whisked away by the extensive drainage tile networks into streams,  
waterways and dead zones) or into the atmosphere when the nitrates  
are volatilized into nitrous oxide (N2O) -- a potent greenhouse gas  
that is 296 times more injurious than CO2. Conventional ag is a MAJOR  
contributor to Global Warming. N2O also attacks the ozone in the  
stratosphere, increasing dangerous UV radiation here on earth,  
impacting crops and humans alike.

	The basis of organic agriculture is about building soil, crop,  
livestock and human health by building soil organic matter. Adding  
enriched compost is a primary, but limited, method. Soil amendments  
are supplements. A major tool is cover cropping, which increases the  
organic biomass above and below ground (in the rootmass), aerates the  
soil, retrieves and pumps up nutrients from the deeper down soil  
horizons, contributes to building beneficial mycorrhizal fungal mass  
and massive  carbon storage in glomalin, provides room and board for  
soil microorganisms and the entire soil foodweb, protecting against  
erosion, etc., etc.

	Of course, to reap these benefits you're going to need to use some  
forms of tillage and cultivation...

Steve Gilman
Ruckytucks Farm
upstate NY, zone 5

On Feb 2, 2007, at 12:00 PM, market-farming-request at lists.ibiblio.org  

> Message: 2
> Date: Fri, 02 Feb 2007 09:42:51 -0700
> From: "Tradingpost" <tradingpost at lobo.net>
> Subject: Re: [Market-farming] Coleman: "We no longer dig the garden."
> To: market-farming at lists.ibiblio.org
> Message-ID: <200702020942510902.02F0CCAC at mail.lobo.net>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
> And I'm not here to quibble over definitions either. When Coleman  
> states
> "we do not dig the garden" there's no interpretation involved. You  
> can call
> shallow hoeing of a few weeds by hand "cultivation" if you want.
> Personally I favor other non-chemical methods of weed control that  
> have
> been demonstrated to work with very little if any hand weeding or  
> hoeing.
> You're incorrect about me insisting that "every detail of what  
> works for
> Coleman must work for every other farmer".  I said nothing that  
> implied
> that. I stated he was writing for market gardeners and he's very  
> successful
> at if after 30 years of improving his methods.
> It's pretty clear from a lot of extension research that tillage  
> degrades
> soil organic matter almost as fast as it can be added. And constantly
> adding organic matter by spreading compost or growing green manure  
> crops
> gets into a lot of work. Growing in single file tractor rows that  
> use a lot
> of space inefficiently only increases the time and cost of weeding and
> irrigation. Reducing work and cost of machinery should be a goal to  
> work
> for. I just don't think the typical mechanical market growing  
> approach is
> the last word everywhere. And I want market growers to keep doing  
> better
> and get enough return on their time and investment to stay on the  
> land and
> keep growing.

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