[Market-farming] No-till in the organic mainstream

TradingPostPaul tradingpost at riseup.net
Sun Jan 28 12:20:17 EST 2007

It's interesting to see influential sources coming around on the subject of
no-till. Mainstream organics is beginning to admit digging, tilling, and
cultivating degrades soil structure and organic matter. This bit is from
the latest edition, Rodales Illustrated Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening,

	"Dig only when necessary, keeping it to a minimum. Digging is essential to
break up hard and compacted ground, but regular digging increases the rate
that organic matter - that essential component of a goood soil - breaks
down. Digging can encourage weeds too; every time you turn the soil over, a
new batch of weed seeds is brought to the surface to germinate... It is
quite possible to garden without regular digging."

And here's Eliot Coleman in his Four-Season Harvest, p.38-40. He's the
highly successful grower of 30 years on the rocky coast of Maine, on land
originally owned by Helen and Scott Nearing. This was not in his earlier
New Organic Gardener.

	"But isn't it necessary to turn and fluff the soil  to keep it loose and
friable? Isn't that what raised beds do? .. the techniques don't succeed as
well as advertised. In fact, soil compaction studies have shown that
disturbing the natural soil structure by fluffing and turning the soil with
spade and fork is not beneficial. Undisturbed, the natural crumb structure
that characterizes the work of microorganisms, earthworms, and other soil
inhabitants actually has more air spaces than disturbed soil. Applying
compost to the surface of the soil aids the natural process... We haven't
always acted this wisely. In springs long past, we dug and spaded with a
vengeance. .. we no longer dig the garden. We spread compost on the surface
and mix it in shallowly (an inch or two). Crop yields and quality are
noticeably improved... Once a year we aerate the soil in our garden with a
broadfork. It is used to lift and loosen the soil without mixing the

We could ask, so what? If we think outside the box for a change, with
no-till we can cut down on labor as well as cost of mechanical tilling
equipment and fossil fuel. And by cutting time and expense we can
reasonably expect to expand permanent bed growing into market-scale growing
and improve the market grower's bottom line considerably. Financially,
initial bed building is not a barrier but a fixed asset that grows in value
and reduces annual costs and labor in following years. Intensive planting
and season extension grow even more at less cost. With experience and
intelligent planning, market growers can prosper far more without machinery
- and grow more sustainably using far less non-renewable resources. 

paul tradingpost at lobo.net

"Population will increase rapidly, more rapidly than in former times, and
'ere long the most valuable of all arts will be the art of deriving a
comfortable subsistence from the smallest area of soil."
-- Abraham Lincoln

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