[Market-farming] Tillage is tillage

Tradingpost tradingpost at lobo.net
Fri Feb 2 22:33:13 EST 2007

Maybe you could explain that last line, since it seems to contradict what
you say about protecting soil structure and biology: 
>	Of course, to reap these benefits you're going to need to use some  
>forms of tillage and cultivation...

I just don't see the need for it. Why the cost and labor to till and

paul tradingpost at lobo.net

*********** REPLY SEPARATOR  ***********

On 2/2/2007 at 2:19 PM STEVE GILMAN wrote:

>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

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