[Market-farming] Loss of Soil Carbon After Tilling

waldenfarm waldenfarm at bellsouth.net
Mon Oct 26 12:33:14 EDT 2009

Answers to both questions:

I used to farm commercially. I had 60 beds, 100 sq. ft. each. I sold most of 
what we grew through a CSA, market and email orders with pickup on the farm. 
Physical challenges prevent me from farming now- I really miss it! But we 
plant a few beds at a time for our own use and to give away. I learned 
intensive methods and taught with Steve Rioch at Ohio U. Their program lost 
funding and he gave me the program. I got a SARE grant and taught farming 
and gardening workshops based on his work and research.

Steve also consulted with farmers on how to do field-long permanent beds 
using machinery. He applied the soil and plant management techniques he 
developed to large scale operations. I visited a farm where he consulted. 
The farm manager said they doubled their production the first year they used 
Steve's recommendations. They were already had permanent beds, just changed 
their soil management.

The pros and cons- Kim wrote what she's found. I would add:
- Conservation of soil carbon and structure
- More land used for growing and less for paths or middles
- Put compost & minerals only where you plant instead of spreading over 
whole field- less required
- Less kill off of beneficial and symbiotic fungi, increases soil 
- Some plants are better managed and/or harvested as row crops, i.e. corn or 
anything requiring a trellis
- Beds in clay soils become"bathtubs" due to settling of clay particles to 
the depth of tillage- like sealing a pond with clay- requiring drainage 
- One time tillage works in soils in good condition and in sandy soils. Some 
"no-till" beds need tillage occasionally- beds in poor soil or high clay 

Introducing biochar or terra prita:
I've never considered it for 2 reasons- when I started gardening in 1970 and 
farming in 1991, there was no info that I knew of about this- Pretty good 
reason, huh? ;>)
When I did read about it, I found I could build my soil organic matter to 
7-8% in a few years adding the compost I made. And I could maintain this 
with a minimal addition to the beds. (My soil is sand and silt, no clay, so 
I need the extra OM to hold any water in the soil. I recommend high OM in 
high clay soils because the resulting soil life will "open up the soil," 
allowing better drainage.
Also, burning wood for charcoal just to add to the soil adds depletes 
resources and adds more CO2 to the air.

Alex McGregor
Walden Ridge, TN

> Do you do it at a commercial level?  Ie, are you selling at least some
> of your produce from no-till gardening?  If yes, what would be the pros
> and cons of this approach for a market farmer?

> Have you ever considered introducing biochar or tera prita into your
> soil. I am looking at it now but not ready to act yet. I would like
> to slow climate change.
> Marty
> Kansas City

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