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

road's end farm organic101 at linkny.com
Tue Jan 30 11:00:36 EST 2007

On Jan 29, 2007, at 11:28 AM, Tradingpost wrote:
>  there's nothing mysterious about no-till
> annual organics. Evidently the NOFA-NY crowd didn't include Eliot 
> Coleman
> from Maine, who's been doing it for years, and quite successfully as 
> in my
> original post from his book.

No, I don't think Eliot Coleman was physically present at the meeting. 
I think that all or most of us have read him, however. Although Four 
Season Harvest is primarily and explicitly aimed at the home gardener, 
there's a great deal in there that translates well to the smaller scale 
market gardener, and some to larger scale operations; and of course he 
has also written specifically for the market grower.

However, he isn't describing what I think of as a no-till system. I've 
rechecked your reference from your original post (to pp. 38-40 of Four 
Season Harvest) in my copy. On, p. 40, he writes that the beds are 
aerated once a year with a broadfork, "doing by hand what large scale 
organic farms do with a winged chisel plow". Page 40 also says "We 
spread compost on the surface and mix it in shallowly".  On p. 44 he 
says "incorporate the green matter residues by turning over the soil 
shallowly with a spade" or "chop the surface clean with a hoe to 
prevent regrowth, rake the bed smooth". He does also discuss, as an 
alternative, planting into a mowed green manure that is left in place 
in the field. It's my actual experience, as well as that of others, 
that this will cause a flush of enthusiastic weeds a couple of weeks 
later. Coleman doesn't discuss this effect; but what he does about it 
is quite clear.  On pp. 62-64 he discusses, at some length, the 
importance of controlling weeds in his system through frequent shallow 

To translate this to a farm scale: chisel plow once a year; incorporate 
compost and/or green manure crops shallowly (possibly with a spader); 
control weeds as they germinate with shallow cultivation (presumably, 
according to crop, growth stage of crop, and soil type, with anything 
from a wiggle hoe to basket weeders; there are lots of options.)

That's not what I meant by a no-till system. If what you meant was just 
not using a moldboard plow or similar implements, yes, there are lots 
of people farming organically with little or no use of actual plowing.

Are you yourself using an entirely no-till organic farm-scale system? 
If so, could you describe it for us?

By the way -- as with any farm or garden system, not everything that 
works for Coleman will work for everyone else. The Coleman collineal 
hoe, for instance, is very likely great if you have light sandy soil 
without rocks. I have one hanging in the barn; the very light blade 
lasted something like ten minutes before bending uselessly out of 
shape. There are sturdier hoes that are used in the same or similar 
fashion; try a good swan hoe or diamond hoe. (My favorite, the Doug 
Black hoe, doesn't seem to be available anywhere.)

-- Rivka; Finger Lakes NY, Zone 5 mostly
Fresh-market organic produce, small scale
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