Marco Banks wrote:It's tough to get that initial crop to grow when you are transitioning from a grass field to a no-till garden/field.
If you are doing this on a commercial scale, a no-till drill is the piece of equipment used by farmers. Basically, it has a thin disk that slices through the soil and then the seed drops down into that thin slit before it closes back up. It makes a minimal slice through the soil but doesn't turn everything over. Within a couple of days, you can't even tell that the blade sliced through the soil. In reality, it doesn't cut much deeper than your seed planting depth, so it may be as little as 3/8ths of a inch, or at most, 1 inch for something like corn. For winter wheat, you'd only plant that a half inch deep or so. So a no-till drill barely penetrates the soil but puts the seed down right where you want it in perfect rows. Oh, and you'll need a tractor to pull it.
On a home scale, you obviously wouldn't buy a big farm implement like that.
You could mow (or better yet, graze) the existing plants down as low as possible, and then broadcast your seed over the top. You will get the best germination if you have good soil to seed contact, so it is helpful to run a roller over it to push the seed down onto the soil surface. Then keep it evenly moist for several weeks while your seed germinates. I've seen where people broadcast their seed, and then they drag a harrow behind the tractor over the top of the fresh seed. It rips at the soil surface and chews it up a bit, hopefully mixing the seed down into the soil a bit. Again, rolling the seed flat after you've harrowed is recommended.
If you just broadcast without rolling, you'll still get a certain percentage of germination. Seed tends to drop down and find little nooks and crannies. They wiggle down through the surface organic matter until they can't go much further. If you water it regularly, the seed then begins to swell up and hopefully find good purchase with the soil surface. Roots emerge and work their way down into the soil --- again, as long as the seed stays sufficiently moist and the soil is most enough for the seeds to make purchase with it.
Once you've been mulching regularly with wood chips or any other mulch, and once that mulch has broken down a bit, then it's pretty easy to dig shallow furrows with a triangular hoe, plant your seed, and backfill the furrows. Or what I usually do with cover crop seed, I just broadcast it over the mulch and then use a rake to roughly scratch it in. It isn't tilling, per se, as the soil remains mostly undisturbed. You're just pushing the mulch around, for the most part.
If you choose to seed first and then come back with mulch to cover the seed, then don't mulch too thick. MAYBE 2 inches of chips at the most. But don't be surprised if that really knocks our germination percentage. Fresh chips are not a good growing medium. Once they've decomposed a year, yes, but fresh chips are good at surpressing seeds, not germinating them. That's why it makes such a great weed surpressing mulch.