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Converting Alfalfa Field to No-Till Garden

 
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Hi! New here and newly acquired our homestead. I'd like to start a no-till vegetable garden, and I plan on reclaiming a small part of our field that a neighbor has been using to grow alfalfa the last 5 years. I've read alfalfa can be a good cover crop, so I'm thinking my garden may benefit from this history (as well as the sunny location and decent drainage.)

I'd like to start preparing the soil in advance of starting the garden next year. I've read all about putting down the layers (cardboard, compost, etc.) but I'm wondering if the standard approach to starting the no-till garden will work on a field with established alfalfa. (I plan on waiting until the farmer has taken his final harvest for the year to do anything.)

Another kind neighboring farmer (all conventional farmers) offered to plow up my garden patch for me because he knows we don't have the standard farm equipment. I told him I was planning on doing no-till and he pointed out that the alfalfa roots can be as deep as 30 feet and I'd never be able to get my garden going if I didn't do some serious upheaval. He recommended plowing just this one time and then doing no-till after that.

I'm a little concerned about damaging the microbiome, but I can see his point. I've been looking and looking for anyone who's posted on this topic but can't seem to find any info on this specific topic.

I also just sent in some soil samples to Logan Labs (planning on doing Steve Solomon analysis and amendments for growing nutrient dense food.) So I'm thinking the plowing might be a good opportunity to get some amendments deeper in the soil, since I'm not quite sure how some of the amendments work with no-till gardening.

Does anyone have any advice for me? My plan was to put down cardboard, wood chip compost, some horse manure this fall and let it all sit over the winter. Now I'm wondering if I should just let the kind neighbor plow it up this fall, then add some compost/horse manure on top. (skip the cardboard.)

Thanks in advance!

Btw, I am in Zone 4b, Minnesota


 
pollinator
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Location: France, Burgundy, parc naturel Morvan
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Welcome to Permies Kristin.
It depends, if you've got the time and energy to be cutting it down and down again i would go that way. Because you get all these volunteer seeds ploughed up that have been laying dormant in the soil as well which have now been smothered, the roots slowly dying could be good because they bring life deep into your decaying soil.
But it also depends on how big the plot is. If you've got enough plants to fill it immediately or if you go bit by bit because you have kids to look after or the barn and well to fix first, make money off site.
It's very nice your neighbor offers to help, he might even be willing to do it next year.
Maybe you could design it so that he could still do it easily if need be.
Alfalfa i try to get going on my fields, but it's too acidic where i am. I like to use stuff that pops up as mulch to feed the worms and keep the soil covered, but maybe you get too much slugs then, depends on where you are.
Hope these angles of looking at the situation can help you a bit making a good decision for you and that someone else comes with more hands on advice later.
 
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Kristin Johnson wrote:My plan was to put down cardboard, wood chip compost, some horse manure this fall and let it all sit over the winter. Now I'm wondering if I should just let the kind neighbor plow it up this fall, then add some compost/horse manure on top. (skip the cardboard.)


Hello Kristin. I started my new vineyard on alfalfa field. Alfalfa has very deep root and is very viable plant. If you mulch it only with straw/woodchips/manure, it will not die, but it will sprout through the mulch in spring. I think layer of cardboard will be necessary. If you have enough mulching material, spread some manure just on the cut alfalfa this autumn, cover it by 2-3 layers of cardboard and some straw / woodchips on the top. The manure will atract worms on the surface and will help you with killing the alfalfa plants.. Dying roots will create excelent pores for roots of future plants and for water to soak.. The layer of cardboard will stop the sprouts to get through the mulch.
 
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hau Kristin, This is a definite case where one time tilling is needed, alfalfa (Lucerne) is a deep rooting mineral miner plant so tilling it in will do lots of great things for your soil.
Once it has been disked or tilled you want to get coverage crops going as soon as possible.
I would not mulch with manure unless you are going to do a second tilling at the end of the growing season.

Cardboard isn't going to be the best choice in your case, while the cardboard will stop growth of the alfalfa, it would be far better to turn it under and do the replant with the items you want to grow over the winter.
Cardboard has to be presoaked to work well since the finish on the paper tends to shed water instead of soak it up.
Kale, mustard and or collard greens are good since these shade out the soil so unwanted seeds have a hard time getting started.

Redhawk
 
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Deep plowing is the way that I would go with an alfalfa field. That stuff is aggressive and persistent. Cardboard? Meh, it's got a huge reserve of energy stored underground. Besides, how do you find enough cardboard to cover a field? I tilled an alfalfa field twice a year for 5 years, and alfalfa was still well represented in the field.

 
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