Tillage was necessary to make the prairie into a garden but at this point it is simply causing destruction. I’ve studied the no till method and though I still have many questions I’m sold on it because:
- Tillage breaks up the soil but in doing so it fractures the structure which accelerates water run off and erosion. Wyoming only gives our area 22 inches of precipitation so we need every drop to penetrate. The earth worms and holes from decaying roots form tunnels for penetration of water in a no till operation. Can you imagine the frustration of earth worms when the tiller arrives?
- Tillage is used to eradicate seeds but in reality it brings to the surface thousands more which now have light and oxygen to grow. I know, Canadian thistle came by the hundreds and it did not exist before I tilled.
- Fungi dominate the soil biomass when the soil is not disturbed. That is where you get your mushrooms. I grew lots of lovely black ones in the south garden where I piled manure and wood shavings on the ground. Someday I’m hoping for the good kind of mushroom I can eat but at least I knew fungi was alive and well and that was a good sign. Bacteria is hardier and can tolerate more disturbance and so dominates tilled soils. You do not want a balance between fungi and bacteria. Soil should ideally look like cottage cheese from the glomalin which is a fungi.
Our earthworms would love it if I hauled some sawdust from the local sawmill. I can almost hear them call, ‘Let’s party!’ when I dump the bedding from the chicken coop and goat stalls. It is always evident they have been at work as the soil becomes crumbly, soft, and loose shortly after the deposit. Pine shavings acidifies our extreme alkaline soil and adds fungi to our bacteria dominate sand. The only tomato this year that is happy is set in a pile of sawdust with a covering of manure.
- Soil microorganisms exist in large numbers in the soil as long as there is a carbon source for energy. CO2 is released into the air when you till. There goes the microorganisms. Organic, no-till practices, when combined with cover cropping help increase soil organic carbon by up to 9 percent after two years and 21 percent after six years.
- Tillage destroys through oxidation the SOM which is all the organic substance. The stuff I work so hard to haul onto the garden.
- Nitrogen and phosphorus scream off when you till. Can’t hear them? I’m sure Horton, the Elephant can hear and see. Come on, you know Dr. Seus. Just because we can’t hear doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Sorry, had to do that. I know, too much reading “one fish two fish, red fish, blue fish”. I’ll be quiet now. But plants talk vocally so why not living nutrients? I wish they’d send me a note to help me along in my process of restoring this ground.
- The rototiller blades create a hardpan where they pound at the same depth over and over compacting the soil to the point where roots can’t penetrate. Some garden plants like pumpkins can form roots down to 36 inch. Well past rototiller depth.
Did you know that soil penetration on much of today’s agricultural lands is a half inch deep? That’s bad!!!
‘Be the change you want to see in the world’
Man’s way is not working. I say go back to Nature and observe. She knows that rain on tilled soils churns as if it were placed in a blender separating out the layers. Clay on top, then loam, and sand on the bottom. Clay on the top then forms a coating that when dry seals off the soil and cracks. Water struggles to penetrate. It’s why she works so hard to cover bare ground sending in the recruits, the ones we call weeds. This separation of the soil is where the only 1/2 inch penetration comes in on farm lands.
If there is a cover crop, then it diffuses the water droplets or sprinkler system’s impact lowering the compaction level and separation of the soil. Instead of running off with your nitrogen and phosphorous, which is in the top soil layer, it penetrates.
Since tillage only brings up a huge crops of thistle, I’ve been hauling manure and dumping on top. We don’t produce enough but our ranching neighbors love to share. That means gas, time, and wear and tear on a trailer to get it done even if it is at the bottom of our hill. Because it’s all wheel barrow after wheel barrow, it’s too much input and my back would be screaming but my knees get there first. It’s necessary for now. I’ll plant my cover crop in the manure without disturbing the soil underneath in the north garden. Just one section at a time which may take a couple years to complete. That is when the dump trailer becomes available.
The truck is off getting a new transmission. The trailer is sitting waiting tomorrows ripping of siding off the east side of the house. When it rains, it pours, and things fell apart this summer. I keep saying, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
This is manure we place under “Hoola” the tree next to the kitchen window. A granddaughter named it because it hoola hoops when the wind blows.
After the chickens went to work. I really need to use those chickens more.
A no-till method to the garden should help future finances. Less watering and greater yield, with less work. I’ll keep studying cover crops and companion planting to take advantage of the synergies they offer which lowers the need for tillage and fertilizers. I’m trying to figure out a four sisters approach without using pole beans. Not long enough growing season and we lack warmth from the sun so it’s a challenge. Right now, I need to go and convince the chickens to follow me to the north garden. I’ve cleaned one of the small goat pens and dumped the goodies. They need to sort through it and spread it like only they can. I’ve got to get smarter. I’m definitely not getting any younger. Here chicky chick, chick, chick!!