When it comes to gardening or even small-scale farming, it’s hard to imagine that we can actually grow more by doing less. But, when we work in alignment with the principles of Mother Nature, she gladly rewards our dedicated efforts. And, that’s what no-till practices are all about!
“No-Till” describes an age-old agricultural practice that leaves the tractor behind. Conventional farming methods often rely on a plow-based approach to prepare beds for planting, disturbing the beneficial microorganisms deep within the soil and leaving the topsoil susceptible to erosion, threatening the sustainability of our lands. On the other hand, no-till farms count on a few basic, minimally-invasive hand tools, and the natural processes of decomposition to provide long-lasting benefits to the land (and, your pockets!) for decades to come. So, how exactly does no-till work and why should you integrate this practice into your own garden or farm?
Better Soil, Better Everything!
All good farmers know that the basis for a bountiful harvest rests in healthy soil, high in organic matter and nutrients. Using plow-based methods to turn over beds aerates, or oxygenates, the soil, leading to the overproduction of certain bacteria in the soil microbiota, disrupting the natural balance of the soil ecosystem. This disruption leads to heightened destruction of organic matter and the release of carbon in the soil overtime. Through the no-till process, crop residue following a harvest remains on the surface of the soil, providing a necessary food source for worms, fungi, and other beneficial insects to properly restore organic material to the soil. Thus, the higher the organic matter, the higher the crop yields with fewer soil amendments! Who can deny more nutritious vegetables for you, your family, and your community?!
While You’re At It, Save the Planet
As farmers rebuild the soil with no-till, today’s farmers are also thinking ahead. A result of no-till is the accumulation of crop residue protecting topsoil from the leading cause of agricultural degradation and desertification today, wind and water erosion. No-till also acts as method for water conservation as the increased organic matter holds moisture in the soil for longer periods, preventing water evaporation and reducing your time (and, money!) spent watering.
Need Even More Convincing?
No-till farming practices are becoming increasingly popular amongst small, organic market gardeners not just for its sustainability but also for its ability to drive market profits and lessen labor costs. Of course nutrient-dense soil allows for intensive crop spacing and high-yields, maximizing what you bring to the market. But, what about the endless hours spent weeding your freshly planted beds? Once no-till is in place, most farmers see a dramatic decrease in time spent in weed removal (time that most farmers just don’t have!) as weed seed is no longer resurfacing with plowing methods.
So, although no-till may seem too good to be true, what have you got to lose? Give no-till a try in your own garden or farm, and start saving your soil, your time, and your planet, too!