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No Till Farming Has Failed Me

 
pollinator
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Alison Thomas wrote:That's two years in a row now that we've got zip-all from our fields and my husband won't tolerate any further experiment.

How on earth does this system work right at the beginning?



short answer :
lots and lots, and then later lots more, mulch.

this can be as simple as a thick layer of straw/woodchips/grass clippings, then seed into this...all the way to a full on tall layered lasagna bed with sheet mulch of cardboard on the bottom for weed supression.
 
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I've heard from no-till consultants that years 1 and 2 are bad, year 3 it really kicks in since all the carbon has been added and given meal to the microbes and fungi. That advice is for bigger agricultural projects, so I don't know if that helps the OP. Also, of course, much of traditional no till includes herbicide treatments to deal with weeds. I think it is possible to use a cover crop seed mix to avoid herbicides.
 
leila hamaya
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i dont know anyone who does no till who uses herbicides, or any fertilizers, or insecticides....outside of an occasional soapy water spray or something simple like that. i have made teas of strong herbs as a simple insecticide, but no chemicals or anything like that.
i dont know, but i am guessing that no till people use very little on their gardens, no herbicide, insecticide or any of that kind of stuff.

i'm only just starting to really get into it, but IMO and other ferments/compost tea/fpj inputs also help a lot. you might think of these just as nutrients and substitution for fertilizer...but it actually also somehow works against compaction ...swells the soil from all the increased micro organisms activity.

i do something of a light quick tilling from time to time. there should be a better word for this, the quick stirring up of the soil and loosening it a bit. in spots digging one shovel width and then flipping the sod dirt clump upside down, that slows the grasses down a bit. then whatever mulch you have gathered for the top layers gets worked in a little and it all gets stirred up.

or even just quickly randomly poking at it here and there with the broad fork and getting a bit loosened here and there....doing that quickly and in just some spots here and there seems to help a lot, the ground likes to be lumpy and the plants like it to be loosened up now and again..

so i think no one should feel that they can never ever dig or use a broad fork, completely never till ever, every once in a while doing this stirs things up enough so that the plants really thrive. but thats my way. for the most part i am using a no till system, but theres occasionally something like tilling involved, or even digging trenches and then flipping the soil over on top of the "lasagna".... and breaking up the soil here or there. especially at the beginning. so i suppose i cant say i am doing no till, but this is what comes naturally to me and works for me.
 
George Meljon
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leila hamaya wrote:i dont know anyone who does no till who uses herbicides, or any fertilizers, or insecticides....outside of an occasional soapy water spray or something simple like that. i have made teas of strong herbs as a simple insecticide, but no chemicals or anything like that.
i dont know, but i am guessing that no till people use very little on their gardens, no herbicide, insecticide or any of that kind of stuff.

i'm only just starting to really get into it, but IMO and other ferments/compost tea/fpj inputs also help a lot. you might think of these just as nutrients and substitution for fertilizer...but it actually also somehow works against compaction ...swells the soil from all the increased micro organisms activity.

i do something of a light quick tilling from time to time. there should be a better word for this, the quick stirring up of the soil and loosening it a bit. in spots digging one shovel width and then flipping the sod dirt clump upside down, that slows the grasses down a bit. then whatever mulch you have gathered for the top layers gets worked in a little and it all gets stirred up.

or even just quickly randomly poking at it here and there with the broad fork and getting a bit loosened here and there....doing that quickly and in just some spots here and there seems to help a lot, the ground likes to be lumpy and the plants like it to be loosened up now and again..

so i think no one should feel that they can never ever dig or use a broad fork, completely never till ever, every once in a while doing this stirs things up enough so that the plants really thrive. but thats my way. for the most part i am using a no till system, but theres occasionally something like tilling involved, or even digging trenches and then flipping the soil over on top of the "lasagna".... and breaking up the soil here or there. especially at the beginning. so i suppose i cant say i am doing no till, but this is what comes naturally to me and works for me.



I am only speaking of no till big ag type of projects when I say that most use herbicide to kill the cover crop. Garden farming is a different thing.
 
pollinator
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George Meljon wrote:
I am only speaking of no till big ag type of projects when I say that most use herbicide to kill the cover crop. Garden farming is a different thing.



The only way for big ag to do it without herbicides is to roll over and/or crimp the cover crop.
 
George Meljon
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CJ, I think you are mostly correct. However, I recently ran across a link on this site to a guy in North Dakota who is managing cover crops without the roller crimper (I think). I will try to find the link.
 
George Meljon
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CJ, while I can't say he doesn't use a roller for sure, I've just not seen it in his explanation of his operation. The farmer's name is Gabe Brown and he's farming 5000 acres in ND near Bismark. Here is a quote about what they do with the cover crop:

The use of cover crops has allowed us to integrate the cropping and livestock enterprises (think holistically). For example, following a winter triticale/hairy vetch crop we will plant a warm season cover crop cocktail of hybrid pearl millet, sorghum/sudangrass, soybeans, cowpeas, sunflowers, sunn hemp, along with radishes and turnips. This mix helps increase the organic matter content of our soils (approximately two-thirds of organic matter increase comes from roots). This cocktail is then grazed anytime between October and January. We have the flexibility to use it when we feel it will best benefit our situation. Our moderately, sized, easy fleshing cattle thrive on it. The cattle are healthier because they are getting plenty of exercise and are not locked in a corral. They are depositing dung and urine on the cropland where it will be consumed by macro and micro-organisms which, in turn will supply the nutrients needed for subsequent crops. We don’t have to haul manure out of corrals and onto the fields. It is a win-win-win situation and it is occurring in a profitable, sustainable way!



Basically, with a cattle operation tied into it, he can use the cover crop for forage and feed. This guys is doing great work and should be encouraging to all the anti-big ag people. Maybe they will all figure soil health out some day.
 
leila hamaya
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^^^^^
yes that is interesting.

and i did totally miss that you were referring to bigger ag projects, as far as i knew there werent any or many using no till systems. its actually good to know i was wrong and there are some.

i still dont know anyone personally who uses herbicides, insecticides, or any thing like that when growing food. no till or otherwise, and i know a lot of small farmers and gardeners, including elder members of my family. i suppose my experience is limited and i am lucky in that, but i would sort of assume that supporters of no till systems would also be supporters of not using chemicals.
 
Cj Sloane
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The USDA is pushing no till but most use herbicides with it to kill the cover crop so they can drill seed the next crop. You can do it without spraying, but like I said, it means killing the cover crop by rolling over it with heavy equipment.
 
George Meljon
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Cj Verde wrote:The USDA is pushing no till but most use herbicides with it to kill the cover crop so they can drill seed the next crop. You can do it without spraying, but like I said, it means killing the cover crop by rolling over it with heavy equipment.



Or cutting it to feed your livestock.
 
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Location: Central New York - Finger Lakes - Zone 5
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There are many ways to beat weeds while improving soil. One way I found that works is to plant two successive crops of buckwheat and till these in, followed by winter rye cover crop. The rye comes back in the spring and is allowed to grow. When planting time arrives, the rye is cut or knocked down and you plant through the rye rubble which acts as a mulch.
Much depends on the soil you start out with. If you have very poor soil you can't just jump into no till - a parking lot is a parking lot and plants just don't grow well there. But if you take some time to enrich the soil, results will be much better.
This makes me think of Paul Gautschi's "Back to Eden" methods with wood chips...not unlike Ruth Stout's methods with straw/hay mulch. A lot of folks just piled on wood chips, planted in the chips and had poor results. In fact, Paul doesn't plant in wood chips at all. All of his yard and garden waste goes into the chicken run and they convert it to compost which Paul adds to his garden in the fall. (If you do use wood chips for the garden, he recommends no more than 4" and you pull back the chips to plant in the soil)...BUT unless you have rich soil to begin with, these methods may take many years to develop good soil tilth.
A point here is that you need a good cover crop you can cut or knock down to act as mulch and then plant through it....or you need a good continuous layer of cover (mulch) you can plant through.
 
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