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License to-Till?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 4
Location: Portland OR
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Hey folks, hoping to get some good advice on my first post as a total newbie (and NOT a natural greenthumb). I have recently become interested in soil ecology and pest control (I'm an exterminator -- I call myself a "double agent"). Maintaining a good soil ecology where beneficials outnumber pathogens and plants are getting everything they need to stay resistant is definitely the key to "pest control" in the lawn and garden. In fact, I transitioned to all organic no-till halfway through the season last year and got amazing results.

Here's the problem, my garden and home have VERY high pest and disease pressure. It's a 110+ yr old former punk house rental in the middle of North Portland, Oregon. We have every pest you could think of and some you wouldn't. Unfortunately this plagued my plants and without very regular Neem Ninja and high quality vermicompost tea applications I believe that I would have had 99% mortality in my basement starts. I lost about 50%. Those that did survive indicated instances of mosaic virus on cucurbits, root canker on tomatoes, blights on legumes, etc. It was difficult to diagnose everything, and I'm too cheap to get lab testing.

OK so here is my question: Do I till my garden this year in hopes to nuke off some of those microscopic pathogens, or do I leave it? At this point it hasn't been tilled in about two years and I have applied lots of fun compost teas so I'm wondering if I have a decent enough population to keep relying on teas and Neem Ninja to keep the pathogens at bay. It's been a mild year so far and the soil might even have time to dry out a little unlike the past two years which were very wet. My garden is currently covered with fabric then a 3" layer of soil "Mulch." I realize the best thing to do would be fallow for a few years, but it's a rental, and I want to practice gardening. I want to learn how to best these pests and get my yields! Please, any feedback is welcomed, Thanks.
 
gardener
Posts: 2278
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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Hi Keith.  Welcome to Permies!  And welcome also to the no till, organic veggy growing world.

I'm not familiar with Neem Ninja, so I won't discuss any particulars of it's use.  But apart from that I would say that rather than tilling, you would be just as well off---if not much better off---just applying more compost teas, including possibly spraying your seedlings and maturing plants with dilute mixes of it and if you have the means then aerating it to boost the microbial life in it before applying it.  Pathogens tend to dominate in the early succession stages of a garden, and, as the beneficial communities develop the pathogen population reduces; every time you till it, you knock your garden back to an earlier stage of succession-thus more pathogenic population pressures arise.  You might be well off to buy an organic potting soil that will help to eliminate pests in your seedlings.  Sometimes a layer of fabric can be a source of anaerobic conditions and thus increase pathogen pressures; beneficial microbes tend to prefer aerobic conditions.

I'm not sure what you mean when you say that you are an exterminator; is that your profession, or are you simply eluding to your desire to get rid of pathogens in your gardening?  At any rate, my advice would be the same.  :)  I think that since you are a double agent, you are working in the exterminator business, but practice organic gardening, which would be quite the paradox, in a way, and make sense of your double agent statement.  But I shouldn't talk, I work in a very toxic heavy industry (welding on a railway) at the moment myself.

Be well, and please post about your garden, your results, and about any other thing you think us Permies might find interesting.  We don't however tend to talk much about using chemicals, as it goes against the flow of the permie direction, if you understand what I mean.  I imagine that Neem Ninja is a fairly organic and less brutal agent on your ecology, but any strong deterrent can cause enough harm in the garden.  So even these should be used with discretion/moderation. 

I hope my advice is useful to you. 

Good luck, and once again, welcome to Permies!  If you have any questions about this site in general, please check out This Page first and if that doesn't help, then ask.  :)
 
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Posts: 3551
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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My recommendation for how to deal with any particular gardening method, and any combination of pests or diseases, is to grow your own seeds, and let different varieties of the same species promiscuously pollinate each other. What that does, is over the long term, the genetics of the plants adjust to the farmer's habits and way of doing things, and to the growing conditions, diseases, pests, soil, weather, sunlight, etc...

If I were maintaining a no-till garden, it would be my goal to only plant seeds that were grown in my own no-till garden in previous growing seasons.
no-till-gardening.jpg
[Thumbnail for no-till-gardening.jpg]
No till gardening
 
garden master
Posts: 204
Location: Morongo Valley
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Hi Keith!  Can you be specific as to the pests you are dealing with? 

I'm from Oregon, and there are certain pests endemic to it that can be overcome with shifts in how you manage the soil and surrounding plantings.  But each one is sort of specific. 

I.E., when one adds too much wood chip or wood debris compost to a soil, or plants directly in such compost (especially wood debris compost like that from Rexius - the big black piles with lots of splinters), excessive sow or pillbugs (roly-polys), or symphylans can develop.

I've done this myself as I was learning.  Pill bug explosion.  Not a little green start could survive the pill bug onslaught.  They were caught in the act, every day.  Thankfully, I had birds to feed them to and eventually overcame the issue.  But raised beds + too much wood compost can = explosion of "land shrimp".  That's what I like to call them, since my birds relished them.

I've also seen this sort of "planting mix" (it's not really) create a bed of writhing crawly symphylans.  And again, not a green plant left.

Another big issue in Portland is brassica pests.  Those are in part because so many people grow brassicas, but also that so many grow wild. If you have neighbors, I've heard this can be a challenge to deal with.  I didn't have close neighbors to worry about, and was able to use rotation to prevent major explosions of brassica pests.

So what are you running into, and are you sure they are coming from your property?

 
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Posts: 5189
Location: Pacific Northwest
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Kim Goodwin wrote:
I.E., when one adds too much wood chip or wood debris compost to a soil, or plants directly in such compost (especially wood debris compost like that from Rexius - the big black piles with lots of splinters), excessive sow or pillbugs (roly-polys), or symphylans can develop.

I've done this myself as I was learning.  Pill bug explosion.  Not a little green start could survive the pill bug onslaught.  They were caught in the act, every day.  Thankfully, I had birds to feed them to and eventually overcame the issue.  But raised beds + too much wood compost can = explosion of "land shrimp".  That's what I like to call them, since my birds relished them.



This must be why my ducks LOVE poking their bills into the woodchips under our trees. I never see any pill bugs, but those ducks probably eat them all, like they ate all the slugs and spiders. Sure love those ducks!
 
Kim Goodwin
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Location: Morongo Valley
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Nicole Alderman wrote:
This must be why my ducks LOVE poking their bills into the woodchips under our trees. I never see any pill bugs, but those ducks probably eat them all, like they ate all the slugs and spiders. Sure love those ducks!



Gosh we miss ducks (in a desert at the moment...)  

How cool.  I think pill bugs are really, really good for birds.  I noticed our birds' feathers filled out after the pill-bug-splosion.  Lots of keratin in the little land shrimp?  Gotta love those ducks.  They made Oregon gardening work smoothly.  I raised chickens for years before switching to ducks, and it was such a wonderful change.  Finally, animals that didn't wreck the garden, didn't bloody each other, and weren't miserable all winter (wet and cold).  They are so hardy!

We found the ducks to be quite essential for no-till gardening.  Otherwise we would get slug-splosions, too.  The slugs seemed to live in the vole holes and come out in droves- until we got the ducks.  Five ducks wiped out hundreds of slugs in our approx 1/2 acre gardening space.  I think two could have done it about as well.

We didn't find they ate many of our food plants.  There would often be one single plant they'd go after and nibble down to nubbins, like one Brussels sprout plant.  I just considered it payment.  For strawberries, we trained them with red painted stones before fruiting season, and that worked perfectly.
 
Nicole Alderman
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We've found them essential, here, too. Before we had ducks, we had our vegetables eaten by slugs before they even had a chance to grow out of the mulch. There were slugs everywhere. Now, it's rare that I find a slug, and the ones that I do find are usually leopard slugs that don't eat plants. And, I have lots of duck bedding for my fruit trees and to compost for my garden. It's wonderful! And, I've had the ducks eat some of my plants, but they aren't nearly as quick nor devestating as our one chicken, and they're a whole lot easier to keep out of a garden bed.

I'll have to try the painted rocks, because my ducks eat all my strawberries under my fruit trees unless I put a fence around them!
 
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Keith Chaloux wrote:Hey folks, hoping to get some good advice on my first post as a total newbie (and NOT a natural greenthumb). I have recently become interested in soil ecology and pest control (I'm an exterminator -- I call myself a "double agent"). Maintaining a good soil ecology where beneficials outnumber pathogens and plants are getting everything they need to stay resistant is definitely the key to "pest control" in the lawn and garden. In fact, I transitioned to all organic no-till halfway through the season last year and got amazing results.

Here's the problem, my garden and home have VERY high pest and disease pressure. It's a 110+ yr old former punk house rental in the middle of North Portland, Oregon. We have every pest you could think of and some you wouldn't. Unfortunately this plagued my plants and without very regular Neem Ninja and high quality vermicompost tea applications I believe that I would have had 99% mortality in my basement starts. I lost about 50%. Those that did survive indicated instances of mosaic virus on cucurbits, root canker on tomatoes, blights on legumes, etc. It was difficult to diagnose everything, and I'm too cheap to get lab testing.

OK so here is my question: Do I till my garden this year in hopes to nuke off some of those microscopic pathogens, or do I leave it? At this point it hasn't been tilled in about two years and I have applied lots of fun compost teas so I'm wondering if I have a decent enough population to keep relying on teas and Neem Ninja to keep the pathogens at bay. It's been a mild year so far and the soil might even have time to dry out a little unlike the past two years which were very wet. My garden is currently covered with fabric then a 3" layer of soil "Mulch." I realize the best thing to do would be fallow for a few years, but it's a rental, and I want to practice gardening. I want to learn how to best these pests and get my yields! Please, any feedback is welcomed, Thanks.



In a house that is 110+ years old I would want to know the moisture content of that basement before I tried to start any plants in it. Moisture is the #1 draw for pest insects, a humidity gauge is not expensive and can tell you a lot about that space and the insect quantities.

Landscape fabric is not a good thing to have under (or over) any garden spot. It tends to shed water rather than letting water seep through. I have used it for commercial strawberry beds once (only once), it was the way the farm owner wanted his beds setup, it worked great at keeping down weed growth but it didn't do much else that I would consider good, might as well use plastic.

DE should become part of your planting / plant care regime, it will reduce the bug numbers, isn't a poison to anything, and those are both great things for gardeners. Dusting the plants when they are dry works the best and you just reapply after a rain. There is the bonus of DE also being good for your soil microbiology since it will help with friability of your soil and that means nice micro channels for air and water to seep into.

Tilling is an option, but it will destroy much of your precious soil microbiology that you have added with your use of teas.  Keep in mind that pathogens are microbes, to reduce these you need fungi growing in your soil, fungi die when tilled or otherwise disturbed.
Pests (insects) are best controlled by rotational plantings and the liberal dusting with food grade DE (easy to get at a feed store, 25 dollars for 50 lbs. at my feed store).

Redhawk
 
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Keith, welcome to the party. In the PNW we have rampant fungal pests. You will never stop it fully. Like Bryant mentioned, avoid your basement, start your seeds somewhere with natural light and a regular human visit. A good option short of tilling is mowing low and mulching deep. This time of year you can mow hard (leave all the plant matter chopped where it is) and then mulch heavy and chill for a couple weeks. Spread a local cover mix in 8 or 10 weeks and then deal with planting areas another couple months later when you have starts.
 
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