[Market-farming] Tillage is tillage
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...
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
> "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
> been demonstrated to work with very little if any hand weeding or
> You're incorrect about me insisting that "every detail of what
> works for
> Coleman must work for every other farmer". I said nothing that
> that. I stated he was writing for market gardeners and he's very
> at if after 30 years of improving his methods.
> It's pretty clear from a lot of extension research that tillage
> soil organic matter almost as fast as it can be added. And constantly
> adding organic matter by spreading compost or growing green manure
> 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
> 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
> and get enough return on their time and investment to stay on the
> land and
> keep growing.
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