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A garden is only as good as the ground that it's planted in. Discussion forum for the many ways to improve the soil where we plant our gardens.

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Old September 28, 2012   #1
halleone
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Default No till gardening

I have been reading about no till gardening and am giving it some thought. Having been a turn-it-under gardener all my life, I have a hard time getting past not putting soil conditioners in the soil, but on top of it.

Doea anyone have experience with this method they can share with me?
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Old September 28, 2012   #2
saltmarsh
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I think it's great. I'm trying to develop a method of no till using a base of 95% clay. Results are not good so far. Claud
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Old September 28, 2012   #3
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I tried it last year to this year. Instead of breaking out the rototiller and churning the earth to dust I just took a spade fork and wiggled it back and for a few times and covered the area with chopped up leaves. The next Spring when it came time to plant my tomatoes I just dug a 12" square area and set them in in. I noticed that I had alot of earthworms and that the soil remain moist longer than the other areas of my garden. The plants seem to do better as well but have to admit this was a terrible year to evaluate anything with the heat and lack of rain. After I ripped out the plants this fall I just took a hoe and loosened the soil again. If nothing else it reduces the amount of work one has to do. There is no doubt that rototilling in my mind reduces the tilth and soil organisms that we are finding contributes more than we thought in creating healthy soil.
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Old September 28, 2012   #4
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I'm trying no till and I use a broadfork to work the soil. I too have read about the benefits of no till gardening and what proponents say sounds good to me. I like what I read about the use of a broadfork too. I expect it will be a couple of years if not more before the benefits kick in; however, I sure like the looks of my soil now compared to what it looked like a year ago when I stopped using a roto tiller.
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Old September 28, 2012   #5
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It has been shown that soil disturbance through tilling can dramatically affect the functioning of mycorrhizzae and other beneficial soil organisms. I stopped turning the soil in my raised bed three years ago and my crops get better every year.

A picture of my raised bed at work with a coworker standing in front of. Ami
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Old September 28, 2012   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by halleone View Post
I have been reading about no till gardening and am giving it some thought. Having been a turn-it-under gardener all my life, I have a hard time getting past not putting soil conditioners in the soil, but on top of it.

Does anyone have experience with this method they can share with me?
It will take 2-4 years to get the full benefit. But you will eventually see results. Spectacular results.

The first year is the hardest. It is VERY important the first year to cover the whole garden with newspaper then cover that with mulch. Old moldy hay and/or grass clippings work best for me.

For first year.

Step 1 Get the mower out and mow the old trash and new weeds that sprout in the spring, or any winter cover crops you grew.

Step 2 Feed your worms. I find cracked corn is best. Just sprinkle it all over like you are sowing wheat. I cant emphasize how important this step is. Worms will be your new tiller and cultivating system. If you have not fed your worms it is like pushing your car to work because you are too cheep to buy gas. If you don't have many worms, then buy some and throw them on the soil too.

Step 3 Lightly wet the ground with a sprinkler or hose nozzle. Not too much.

Step 4 Cover the ground with 6 or less layers of unfolded news paper. (I have used cardboard or other types of paper too)

Step 5 Cover the paper with a thick layer of mulch or combination of mulch and compost. If I have enough good compost, I like to layer it. Compost then old moldy hay or straw and grass clippings.

Step 6 Lightly wet the mulch to "settle" it down on the paper and settle the paper down on the soil. Not too much.

Step 7 You are done for today.

Next day your garden is ready to plant. Just dig a hole for each seedling. I like to use a bulb planter, but you can use a garden hand trowel too.

Step 1 Get these supplies. A large sheet of cardboard, a bucket of water or transplant solution, some "special soil" (there are a million recipes to make your own or you can buy a soil mix at your gardening store), a bulb planter, your seedlings, something to measure with, so your rows and plants are spaced correctly.

Step 2 pull back the mulch from the news paper where you want to plant a seedling. Use the bulb planter or trowel to dig a hole a little more than the depth you want to plant.

Step 3 Shake the soil onto the sheet of cardboard and separate out any roots or weeds from the soil.

Step 4 Fill the hole with water to the top.

Step 5 Put your seedling in the hole and use the dirt to fill in around it. Often if there was a weed or a lot of roots you will run short. Use the "special" soil to make up any difference.

Step 6 Pull the mulch back around to the base of the plant.

Repeat until all your plants are in the ground.

Let nature do the rest of the work.

PS I am working on a commercial version of this method and will try a prototype next year. I will post next spring my attempt. If anyone wants to try it with me, let me know and I'll share my ideas.

PS I have been no till gardening since the mid 1970's. Never once, in all the places around the country I have tried it, has it failed me yet. Although that first year in Oklahoma was tough. In fact I bought my first tiller of my life a month ago. Just a tiny electric one for special cases.
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Old September 28, 2012   #7
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I think it's great. I'm trying to develop a method of no till using a base of 95% clay. Results are not good so far. Claud
Keep trying. I also had a tough time in this red clay here in Oklahoma too. But now the soil is so loose I can normally dig a hole with my bare hands it has gotten so loose.
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Old September 29, 2012   #8
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Thank you all for your replys; the more I read, the more convinced I am that this is the way to go.


I had decided next year to use half of my garden space to grow green manure crops for their bio-mass, to be cut for mulching the rest of the garden, and to then let those spaces over-winter, mulched, for the following years growing space. I'm not sure that sentence made any sense, but one area will be for growing food for me, the other area will be for growing food for the soil, and it will rotate on a yearly basis.

Jerry and Ken, I think a broadfork definitely is in my future - pricey, yes, but a lot easier on both my back and the soil.


Ami, the plants you grow always look so healthy, it is a good advertisement for no-till, for sure.

Claud, we'll just have to keep at it; my soil is ugly, heavy, gray clay, so my beds are earth berms. I've got earth worms in the berms, but there ain't NO worms out in those pathways, believe me - I've been out there putting down concrete pavers for the pathways and not a worm or anything alive has been turned up yet when setting them!

Scott, I direct seed alot of things; I'm guessing it is a bit more work to fiddle with shoving the mulch and newspaper out of the way, initially, but the end result HAS to be better for all concerned. Thanks for the fine detailed instructions.

If I forgot anyone, my oops...I am very excited to do this and look forward to learning from all of you.

Lynn
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Old September 29, 2012   #9
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Scott, I direct seed alot of things; I'm guessing it is a bit more work to fiddle with shoving the mulch and newspaper out of the way, initially, but the end result HAS to be better for all concerned. Thanks for the fine detailed instructions.


Lynn
That was the "condensed" version! And also primarily first year. After a few years you don't need the newspaper any more. That is a "Jump Start" method that is more concentrating on growing worms than growing veggies! That's the whole point of no till. You worry about the soil first and later the veggies pretty much grow themselves.

For direct seeded row crops I plan ahead. Instead of over lapping an inch or two with news papers, I leave a few inches gap in a straight row then mulch over the whole thing. (don't forget to mark the gap with a stake so you can find it later) Later when I am ready to put in a row of sweet corn or beans..etc... I pull back the mulch and get to the bare earth. Then with a hand cultivator (or broad fork) I scuff up the soil and plant. After the plants sprout, I pull back the mulch around them.

And remember the tiny electric tiller I bought a month ago? That's for "special cases" like block planting where I direct scatter seed something with tiny seeds that need a fine soil bed. I would leave that small section without newspaper and pull away even the mulch. I block plant spinach that way. Then I thin the spinach and have whole "baby spinach" for salads several "thinnings" until my spinach is finally spaced correctly for full sized adult plants and only then do I pull back the mulch around the plants. Before getting the tiny electric tiller this year (Only goes down an inch or two), I always prepared for block plantings with just a garden rake. But at 50 I am preparing for my aging body to start giving out on me. I can feel it coming.

As far as I know the originator of the no till method was Ruth Stout. She did it at first just because her garden was getting to be too much work for her and she was tired of waiting for someone else to come plow for her. This was her solution. I recommend her book "The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book: Secrets of the year-round mulch method." She was able to keep gardening this way well into her 90's. So if you do it right, it should actually be LESS work.
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Old September 29, 2012   #10
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Tilling comes from plowing to bring nutrients to the top in vergin soil like in the great plains.

The only reason you would want to till is to get rid of weeds and such and to break up hard soil.
Once the garden is in place and the weeds gone I see no reason to till.
Heavy mulch for weeds and no tilling is the best way to go.

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Old September 29, 2012   #11
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Tilling comes from plowing to bring nutrients to the top in vergin soil like in the great plains.

The only reason you would want to till is to get rid of weeds and such and to break up hard soil.
Once the garden is in place and the weeds gone I see no reason to till.
Heavy mulch for weeds and no tilling is the best way to go.

Worth
Obviously that is the (un)conventional wisdom. However I will attempt next year to prove even that is false. Next year I will attempt to do a scalable version prototype that never tills even going over sod. I'll attempt to do it in a way that is commercially viable in the worst possible conditions without ever tillng or plowing the land. Instead of virgin plains I will use my lawn. A section of my lawn that sucks. Poor drainage, un-fertile, floods in spring, cracks in summer, has a black walnut at one corner, weed infested, hard pan clay, negligible worms, plenty of pest swarms, drought conditions for the last few years, you name it I got it. AND it will be my first time trying this system. I will attempt to pull off what people say is impossible and I will try to do it organically without ever plowing or tilling. On top of everything I will try to do it at a profit and prove a commercial grower could use the same method for 100+ acres at a profit.

The only reason I am telling you guys this is because after reading this forum thoroughly I realised pretty much anyone here is good people willing to show off both their successes and failures. So even if my experiment is a complete flop, I still may turn it into a model of what NOT to do to raise tomatoes. And maybe even find one guy crazy as me to do it in a bit better conditions in another part of the country better suited to tomatoes. (or any other crop)

If I can get my whole system to work it would actually revolutionise the way agriculture is done here in USA. But that is later. First year I have to prove this part can work. Next I'll need to find a real farm to prove other parts of the system can work. But lets see if this works first.
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Old September 29, 2012   #12
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You need a new name for the method. The widely accepted commercial meaning of "no-till farming" means the use of Round-up Ready crops. The newest planters are "one-pass," meaning they spray and plant at the same time.

Those tomato plants in the raised bed look great. Are you growing tomatoes in the same bed every year or rotating crops?
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Old September 29, 2012   #13
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You need a new name for the method. The widely accepted commercial meaning of "no-till farming" means the use of Round-up Ready crops. The newest planters are "one-pass," meaning they spray and plant at the same time.
I actually am well aware of how they do it now. Monsanto was quick to hijack an idea first found in "New Farm" magazine by Rodale Press (same people who publish Organic Gardening Magazine) and add their chemical dependency and GMO's to it. A similar thing happened with the mulch idea when plastic companies hijacked the mulch concept and we now have "black plastic mulch". Sorry guys but in no way shape or form is plastic any kind of "mulch"! They can label it whatever they want but I will argue the point until I am blue in the face. Mulch is biodegradable organic plant material, not plastic. (and yes I know that organic has 2 meanings)

Both "mulch" and "no till" were around long before the corrupted modern commercial meanings of the terms. I am not against commercial, I am against poison in the food chain or the environment.

Think about it. Why would I need a GMO plant resistant to herbicides if I found a way to grow without weed problems? Do that and there is no need for either the GMO or the poison spray.

Then just maybe in the ideal world we could focus on commercial breeding of a nutritious tomato (or whatever) that actually tastes good!
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Old September 30, 2012   #14
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That Black Walnut tree could skew your results (juglone). You need
to move it to some other place where you do not grow anything that
you care about. (Or just cut it down and give it away for firewood.
Dig out the stump with a backhoe or similar and haul it to the county
dump would be my suggestion.)
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Old September 30, 2012   #15
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That Black Walnut tree could skew your results (juglone).

I know. That's why I mentioned it. If I can make it work under the worst possible conditions including an allelopath, then there really is no excuse for others in good prime ground not to make it work. But the plot I will plant will be large enough that there should be only a corner near enough the tree to be effected. So I will be able to tell hopefully one more possible environmental effect.

Remember what I said, "So even if my experiment is a complete flop, I still may turn it into a model of what NOT to do to raise tomatoes."

I know some of you guys may think I am crazy. But it isn't as crazy as you might think. When I worked for Calahan seeds in the early 1980's we commonly did test plots on soil over sprayed with herbicides etc.... or purposely planted too closely.... or inoculated with disease....or any number of known bad things .....on purpose. This is how you find out how resilient it is.

I am 50. I already know that no till and mulching works in good conditions. I have done it over 35 years. But a big farmer doesn't always have the option of babying his plants along like we do in gardens. He needs something fast and cheap that works even in horrible conditions and if conditions are good works even better. He also needs it scalable to any size field.

So I will try it under these terrible conditions. I will even keep track with notes on labor materials etc... And we will see if it really is scalable. But like I said. Anyone who wants to try it with me in a better situation is welcome. Or you can wait for the results.
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