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To Till, or Not to Till, and WHY

 
Posts: 63
Location: high desert and mountains of Idaho and coastal Atlantic Canada (migratory)
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To till 1 foot and to mow at 1 foot is that root-to- soot ratio which concentrates organics in that 1 foot? Does the same thing work with lawns which get continually cut at 1 1/2 inches?  Or the golf course "greens" which get cut to like 3/8 inch?

Doesn't nearly all organics come from "outside" a soil? Isn't the vast majority of the mass which makes up organics taken from the CO2 in the air?  Photosynthesis assembles this CO2 along with water and trace minerals/chemicals/nutrients into organic matter. Carbon is the stuff of life. This matter can be converted into other forms of life.  -or converted back into CO2 in waste treatment facilities. In a strange abstract way the entirety of the system of agriculture, which includes all farm land and all grazing land might be seen as a way of "feeding" our waste treatment facilities (i.e. CO2 production facilities) with the human being as just one step in that process of converting life back into carbon.  Don't try to find a point in all that. It's just an observation.

Join me in emoting. See the powerful film The Field. Here's the opening scene: "God made the world. Seaweed made that field."



Seaweed soil amendment is not a feel good myth. It is a historical reality. See the documentary shot in 1934 when this lifestyle still existed.




 
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To till 1 foot and to mow at 1 foot is that root-to- soot ratio which concentrates organics in that 1 foot? Does the same thing work with lawns which get continually cut at 1 1/2 inches?  Or the golf course "greens" which get cut to like 3/8 inch?



This has to do with pulsing of the system. Letting the grass or other vegetation grow wall provides maximal solar collection area, which in turn fuels more root growth, pumping carbon deeper into the soil in the form of roots, root hairs, and exudates. Then, before the plants go to seed, the vegetation is cut (or grazed with animals.) The roots die off to balance the top growth. Then the plants start growing again, and pump another round of carbon into the soil. The chisel plowing is to loosen the soil, speeding mineralization which supports fast growth. Of course, too much tilling or plowing will cause so much mineralization that there will be a net loss of carbon. The reason for proceeding in 1 foot increments is because the first time around it will probably be too hard to pull a chisel plow through the soil at three feet deep.

Doesn't nearly all organics come from "outside" a soil?



It does. If one could just import carbon grown on another soil, that would be fine. But it will inevitably bring other minerals with it, minerals that will eventually deplete in the source soil and may over accumulate in the sink soil. And there is also the energy consumed in transport; it is much more efficient at large scales to grow in place.

Seaweed is perhaps an exception; it would be difficult to deplete the sea!
 
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My stance is pro tillage - to me a human is an animal that digs for its food - if I couldn't dig to produce food, then I couldn't imagine being alive for very long. Any system inhabitated by humans has to allow and account for this behavior.

I agree that tillage causes very real damage to the soil, and have seen healthy soil turned into concrete desert through tillage. Thankfully, there's a substantial knowledge base for minimizing and repairing the damage when it happens. Not tilling when it's too wet/dry, cover crops, encouraging worms, etc. all come to mind.

I disagree that the cultivation of annuals has only a negative impact on the soil. In my experience, many species of annual plants noticeably improve soil quality. Grasses and psuedograins come to mind, producing immense biomass in soils too harsh for many other species. I've seen radishes and turnips break up soil compaction fantastically.

Overall, tillage is a great tool that must be handled with care, much like fire. Much like fire, it would be hell to try and live without it.
 
Tom Turner
Posts: 63
Location: high desert and mountains of Idaho and coastal Atlantic Canada (migratory)
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Thanks Gilbert. Now I get the 'pulse" thing. And I like it. You, and your website, have also taught me about the balance of nutrients and the possibility that you might over-amend with certain nutrients. I had always seen it kind of like taking vitimins, if you take too many you simply urinate the excess out. A gram of vitamin C turns your urine a festively bright shade of orange. It seems to me that soil analysis should become an indispensible and integral part of agriculture, agriculture that is, that feeds their crops with their soil instead of with chemical spray tanks. The industry of inexpensive laboratory soil analysis should be a growth industry.  

Apologists for our globalized industrialized agricultural system, where it is the norm to eat foods grown on the other side of the world, make the argument that it is more healthy because we get a more balanced diet. They claim that in the bad-old-days when people ate only foods which came from the same patch of ground that deficiencies were common. If I remember correctly iodine deficiency is the common one cited. If the movement to grow and eat locally takes off then we may need to move certain nutrients around because the balance of our diets come from the balance of our soils.

In the middle of the so-called fly-over zone, say in the middle of Iowa, it would probably be difficult to find organic material without paying market price for it. But in urban areas there is an abundance of organic material, the product of aesthetic landscaping. Marcos seems to be very successful finding organics in LA at a very cheap price. (He might give credit for his soil fertility to his herd of long thread fungi but I think it is the 8 inches of wood chip he top dresses with every year.) In urban areas landscapers are always looking for dumping places for their organic waste (except beware the chemical rich grass clippings which have even more chemicals than what we eat out of the grocery stores). If we move towards urban/rural desegregation, then the market for alien organics opens up. Full integration might be two acres per family, 1 acre pasture bounded by wooded hedgerow, 1/2 acre garden and 1/2 acre aesthetic landscape surrounding the house which also incorporates a massive green house. People should live with the flora and fauna they intend to eat ... but no chickens in my bed, only dogs.

.  
 
Gilbert Fritz
pollinator
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Hi Tom,

Yes, there is so much to learn about soils. Every time I think I understand it I find a huge new piece I have to integrate into my thinking.

I agree that in the city it makes sense to import organic materials so long as contamination can be avoided. Persistent herbicides are becoming more and more common, so I've stopped importing grass and leaves from lawns I don't control. Even wood chips are becoming suspect as the city injects systemic insecticides to kill emerald ash borer. Then the ash trees get killed by other things, and the chips end up in a tree trimming truck!

I agree with you about putting some of a system into carbon crops to support the production areas. Some gardeners have four or five plots, most of which are in grass in any given year. Once a year they till up a new patch and seed an old one.

One interesting way to grow organic matter for a plot is with azolla ferns in a pond. Azolla fixes nitrogen from the air, so you would be importing nitrogen and carbon. The pond will only benefit from removed nutrients, not suffer. And the azolla mat makes a good weed smothering mulch. Azolla is one of the fastest growing plants on earth under ideal conditions.

I'm glad you liked my website! As always, when soil balancing comes up, I'd recommend Steve Solomon's book, The Intelligent Gardener. I disagree with him on some things, and his tone can sometimes be off putting, but it is the best book I've found yet for small scale growers looking to balance their soil.
 
Tom Turner
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:One interesting way to grow organic matter for a plot is with azolla ferns in a pond. Azolla fixes nitrogen from the air, so you would be importing nitrogen and carbon. The pond will only benefit from removed nutrients, not suffer. And the azolla mat makes a good weed smothering mulch. Azolla is one of the fastest growing plants on earth under ideal conditions.



Azolla?! I grew some fast growing Asian poplars (andrascogins). One grew to 16 inch diameter in three seasons (at it's base there were a couple raised beds which didn't get tilled and the andrascogin sent it's roots UP into the beds and quickly root-bound them. I've thought andrascogins might be a good way to turn human poo into firewood. But a better way would be a global market for home grown textile hemp raised on human poo. My grandmother would bring the wool from the few sheep they had to the local woolen mill in exchange for yarn. If we had a socially organized system of poo to textiles, and a hard-working diligent woman who would make me clothes -custom tailored clothes- on her high-tech sewing machine working from computer-generated patterns. That would be living large on appropriate technology.

I could live my whole life without ever consuming any of the by-products of that 2000 mile swath of corn and soy bean along I80.  But what I would really love to have is a four season greenhouse supplying me kale and other greens, but mainly kale, all year long. And I would love to have fish three times a week. My Dad said that when he was a kid in rural Boston fish was a poor man's food. Kale was the traditional poor man's food in England, "kale yards" being a somewhat derogatory name for slums. I would love to eat fresh kale and fish three times a week, but, ironically, today it's too expensive. I've thought about if that could be a symbiotic system with the fish (vegetarian tilapia) and hydroponic kale sharing the same water. But I don't have the soil nutrient and aqua biology knowledge. It seems that the hydroponic kale would want the water dirty with nutrients and that the fish would want the water kept clean of their "ahem..." nutrients, which usually demands a high exchange of fresh water, making fish farming not that attractive.  

I'm rambling here. My point/question is: Would Azollas grow in the relatively clean water of a healthy tilapia pond, the moment a tilapia relieves himself there is an azolla root to immediately take it up. The azolas keep the water scrubbed clean and then are harvested to provide rich soil nutrients which then grow the grains to feed the tilapia. Kind of a closed-loop symbiotic system to turn CO2 into protein.

Gilbert Fritz wrote:I'm glad you liked my website! As always, when soil balancing comes up, I'd recommend Steve Solomon's book, The Intelligent Gardener. I disagree with him on some things, and his tone can sometimes be off putting, but it is the best book I've found yet for small scale growers looking to balance their soil.



The objectivity required to separate an idea from an off putting source is admirable. Kudos. Quite often the opposite is true, often people want to know the source of an idea before they form their judgement about it. That is a negative aspect of the academic principle of citation. It, perhaps unwittingly, forms ideological camps. The ultimate test of a truly courageous objective thinker is one who could quote Adolf Hitler (surely he said something quotably good). I can't do it though, I don't have the courage. I've had too many ideas rejected out-of-hand because of my own off-putting-ness or the pigsty where I might have found such a pearl of wisdom (E.G. quoting GK Chesterton or Eric Hoffer in a forum of high-brow intellectuals).

.
 
pollinator
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We sort of, kinda, till, but only once: we're busy making terraces and we do it for a lot of different reasons. Erosion control and loosening our compacted clay soils, creating a flat surface to walk and work on, water control etc. The results are great, things grow faster and bigger, the difference with plants growing on slopes is huge. But after we're done digging all our zones one and two, which is about a hectare (2.5 acres) I never ever want to do it again! So we'll turn to every permaculture technique to make sure nature herself will maintain the improved situation by herself. Mulching, chop and drop, you name it. It's just too much work to till (or dig terraces) by hand.
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Here was my small-scale experience:

Tilled the garden into existence for time's sake, then put on cardboard and then straw. First round was pretty good.

The next year, we pulled off the cover for most of the beds and re-tilled to "fluff" the dirt and add more worm castings, and re-covered.

That year we noticed a marked decrease in fertility and health in the tilled beds, but a marked INCREASE in the ones we didn't get to. The double-tilled beds didn't have the mushrooms and worms, but had many pests and strangely "blank" dirt-absence of life. The untilled beds made me regret tilling anything.
I would say untilled was better than what we started with, and tilled was worse.

I generally view human-tilling as a form of earthworks. Sometimes it can save you time/money for the initial planting. If your soil is healthy, the bugs do the real "tilling" for you, and not just once a year. Also, tilling some plants like grasses under the soil seems to be a nitrogen problem, but if you used it as surface fertilizer, you attract more free continual-tiller/fertilizers like worms.

Also, tilling is a lot of work. I don't want to bother if I won't get a lot of direct benefit. As it is, it has brought negative stuff so far.

Now, we did this with clayey soil. I wonder if different soils score differently on the success/failure scale of tilling?
 
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I love tilling perennial beds. It's a great way of incorporating organic matter into the soil and of minimizing annual weeds and some grasses. I till my raspberry patch under in the fall (only works with fall bearing raspberries).  I till asparagus, sunroots, chives, Egyptian onions, mints, etc... The perennials come back just fine after tilling.  I rejuvenate the strawberry patch by tilling.



Joseph. I have never even heard of this - eg tilling raspberries with the intention of them coming back. Can you talk us through the details?
 
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My soil is mostly rock flour. Not much structure to destroy but all the minerals a boy could want. I don't purposely dig deep and turn every portion of soil. Instead, I scrape the surface to remove unwanted growth, and then cultivate planting furrows. Organic materials are always incoporated during this process. When you look at the improved and unimproved soils at my place, it is dead obvious that this tilling has made vast improvements.

My brother Brady occupies a similar patch of ground. He is constantly digging, whether it be to plant things or to dispose of pet poop and other organic waste. After 10 years on the same spot his ground has vastly more organic matter and is highly productive. He never tills it all completely , but most areas see regular disturbance during planting and harvest. Plenty of root crops.

For me, no till is a great way to go when producing grains on the Great Plains. Soil in this temperate rainforest seems to improve every time it's disturbed and amended.
.......
Most of the tillage at my place, is done by worms, snakes and other critters. I dump lots of organic materials on the surface. The critters eat it, burrow in it and drag it around.
 
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When I tilled my clay soil for the first time as far as I could go I couldn't believe how much soil I ended up with- at least 5 times more volume than I started with. I could have filled a raised bed with that soil and still had more left over. That's how compacted the soil had become.

I removed it all, filled the garden with just horse manure and a thin layer of the original clay soil on top to stop the smell and flies, and to hold seeds in place. A few weeks on and the vegetables grown in the fresh manure are growing like crazy. When I plant any seedling deep down I don't need any tools, just a thin stick which sinks through with ease. I'm letting it build up in volume over time just through adding organic materials on top with time. My point to this is that no tilling will ever be required of this garden bed so it's entirely a non-issue to me now. It was hard work to dig out the original soil but a lot less work after that.
 
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I'm now following the Ruth Stout method of gardening which is no till. I've read her books, watched videos and I believe this is the way to go. Last summer was my first with her method and it was the best garden that I ever had so I'm hoping that its uphill from here on in
 
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I would wonder if adding a good amount of humate, regardless of weather it’s til, or no til would address the need for carbon?
 
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Location: North FL, in the high sandhills
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In the Pacific Northwest you have mountains and valleys where there is rich, fertile topsoil 30-40 feet deep in the valleys. This is a mountain range that extends from Alaska to California. The rains coming off the ocean are stopped by the mountains, where they drop a LOT of moisture and wash minerals and organic matter into the valleys.  Once you get away from the mountains to the east, the leeward side of where the winds/moisture stops, you have desert. On the windward/ocean side of the mountains there is not much sun to speed up the biological breakdown. It's cloudy a high percentage of the time. Quite the opposite once you're over the mountains and into the desert.
 
Dave Bross
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Here's the scenario here in north Florida.  

About four inches of "topsoil" which almost isn't topsoil due to lack of organic matter then endless yellow sand with zero organic matter and very little microbal life. Just enough to naturally support light pasture grass, certain weeds and trees with deep roots. Even running cattle on this (lowest maintenance "crop" for here) you have to fertilize the grass or it will just die and revert to non cattle-edible weeds. This yellow sand is actually quite valuable as a building material but not so much for growing things.

If you put organic material on top of the ground here and don't incorporate it, the sun will destroy it in an amazingly short period of time. 5 inches of wood chips will be gone in 3 months of hot weather, a little bit longer if you grow mushrooms like Stropharia in them. Side note on the Stropharia, much benefit to this when you finally plant something where they were.

My adaptation to this for veggie beds is to first kill everything where I want a bed by covering the area with billboard tarps and letting it sit. In the middle of the summer two months of this will kill everything under the tarps, longer in cooler weather.  

First crop in is potatoes in the winter.  Beds are broadforked, loosened soil hoed to the sides for hilling potatoes later and so I can make another pass with the fork in the bottom of the shallow trench incorporating 2 wheelbarrows of compost and some Sustane organic fertilizer per 2' x 20' bed.
Lettuce, carrots and radishes are interplanted with the potatoes in the beds.
The hills of soil are some support for plastic tunnels to prevent freezing and the soil is gradually pushed back around the potatoes as they grow.
Rows of strawberries go in the same way late winter/early spring.

Up next after first crop are tomatoes.
They have done marginally well directly in the ground but they do really well in containers with 60/40 pine bark/peat potting soil.
Tarps go back over the beds with the containers placed in the shallow, tarp lined trenches.
This holds enough water in the trenches ( a few inches deep) around the base of the containers to prolong watering intervals.
We get plenty of rain in the winter and summer but traditionally dry spring and fall so some irrigation is required.
The tarps being put back over the beds do a great job of slowing/halting decomposition of the organic matter while making irrigation trenches for the containers.
Redneck hydroponics?

there's more crops involved but that's the basic idea. We struggle hanging on to our organic matter and broadfork tilling and a bit of excavation on the trenches to get the compost down deeper makes a big difference.

I'm doing a food forest too, which benefited from the tarp treatment to kill off all the competition initially.  From there it's wood chips and mushroom spawn around each tree or bush.

One clever thing commercial veggie growers are having success with locally is planting a crop of giant Daikon radishes. The radishes go deep, much like deep tilling,  and leave behind a pocket of organic matter when they rot.  They smell terrible as they're rotting but all in all a clever low maintenance idea for easy tillage plus organic matter.

Seems to me one of the biggest factors, that varies radically depending on where you are, is how much sun you get. The crops love and need the sun but it puts a quick end to any exposed organic material.







 
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Dave Bross wrote:Here's the scenario here in north Florida.  ...

Seems to me one of the biggest factors, that varies radically depending on where you are, is how much sun you get. The crops love and need the sun but it puts a quick end to any exposed organic material.



My location is probably a lot sunnier than yours but also a lot drier, and a lot cooler, in fact cold in the winter. Organic matter and wood here do not disappear by lying out in the sun. They can sit there for several years, just turning paler and lighter. In this high desert environment, I can only get wood chips to decompose at all by making sure they stay damp. Is North Florida a damp climate with some rain around the year? That woul speed up decomposition.
 
Dave Bross
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Yes, N. FL is EXTREMELY humid and a good bit of rain.

Good point, moisture counts in a big way.
 
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March 3, 2012. I'm currently working with groups in the midwest who generate biochar and carbon. Their scientists and chemists have found that the primo additive for soil is the combination of biochar and carbon combined. This is the soil amendment that is most preferred by hemp/marijuana growers as the growth output consistently ranges from 50-80% increase.
 
gardener
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Tilling is a tool, just like burning.  There are times to till, but  tilling is something I almost never do because if I do,  I'll be working against myself for years after I till.

The soil food web is a community of interacting organisms. It takes a while for the relationships between organisms  to become established.  When I till I disrupt those connections.  That disrupts the community systems, it disrupts EVERY organism's support system.  In the long term,tilling destroys the structure of the soil, fracturing the soil aggregates, which encourages run off rather than penetration of  precipitation.  That enhances the drought flood  cycle, as well as depositing large amounts of inorganic salts in the ocean at the mouth of the river.

The aggregates are largely due to root exudates which "glue" the mineral particles together.  The root exudates are primarily carbon based organic compounds.   When they are exposed to the sun and air, they oxidize.  By many estimates, more of the increase in atmospheric CO2 is due to the release of soil carbon than from the burning of fossil fuels.

When the support systems of the plants are disrupted, then plants require fertilizers which are delivered as salts, and so more water is required because of the nature of salts, osmosis and such.

 
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I have been living in the Arizona desert. Water is precious and expensive. Air is dry here. It is so dry that if I just placed my hard earned organic compost on the ground, it would dry up and all of those nutrients would blow away. The water is best dispensed with a drip hose.  Just the rain won't cut it. The drip hose soaks down and spreads just under the surface. It doesn't soak "up" into the compost, or mulch. Mulch is a dry materiel here that doesn't break down much, but traps moisture and shades the soil. I have to work my compost and nutrients and amendments into the soil each year.

Reading this thread, it is apparent to me that the tilling needs, or effects will vary from situation to situation. Till or not to till, how much to till, when to till, must surely is something that takes a great deal of observation.
 
pollinator
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This spring, I have been using a garden fork and a roto-tiller to mix bulk compost into heavy, compacted clay soil for new garden beds. I have recorded part of the process at this video link:
https://www.bitchute.com/video/4Gcni1m86Uon/

Given my large intended final size for the garden (about 800 square feet), this method seems particularly labor intensive for starting a new garden. Only if I can avoid using anything heavier than a broak fork to aerate the soil next year is this method of initial garden bed preparation effective for setting up a new garden.

I'm especially concerned about the formation of hardpan in the subsoil layer below the clay, the killing of any organisms inhabiting the soil, and the acceleration of the oxidization of soil carbon when using a roto-tiller. Perhaps there are better methods of imporoving the drainage of compacted heavy clay soil than digging into it and adding organic matter. Perhaps I should research to see if digging or tilling is still necessary for the formation of Terra Preta in temperate climates.
 
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I completely stopped tilling or at least do so with a machine about five years ago and I love it. My primary annual garden is about 3,000 sq feet with about 600 of that being paths so around 2,400 sq. feet of grow beds. I don't exactly use the Ruth Stout method because my soil is not sandy as hers was but I do do a lot of mulching. I use creeping charley and other low growing volunteer weeds as off season ground cover and when pulled or hoed out, as mulch. For deep "tilling" I use deep rooted weeds such as dandelions, but most of that work is the responsibility of turnips and radishes planted in late summer or fall. For me it works like a charm and is a lot less work than it sounds like.

For example this morning I went out and had pulled the creeping charley from a 3' x 12' section of bed. I just piled it up on the bed and made four spaced holes in it about each about a foot across. Then I loosened the soil in the holes a little and scraped clean loose soil from the paths and filled in those holes and also scattered some on top of the rest of the weeds. Since I have been doing this for some time my soil is very loose and the weeds are very easy to pull. Total time from starting the project to planting the squash seeds was about 2o minutes including time to sip my coffee and visit with the house wrens moving into the grape arbor.  
 
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John Goode wrote:
Reading this thread, it is apparent to me that the tilling needs, or effects will vary from situation to situation. Till or not to till, how much to till, when to till, must surely is something that takes a great deal of observation.



100% correct!  
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Ryan M Miller wrote:

I'm especially concerned about the formation of hardpan in the subsoil layer below the clay,



You probably already know that rototilling, or mold board plow contribute to compaction and the formation of hard pan.  Someone mentioned deep rooted radishes plants to penetrate the hardpan.  I hope I am not being a real pain by mentioning that the best radishes for this would be the 2-3 feet long daikon type radishes.  I think if you do a web search on "tillage" radishes,or tillage whatever,you might find more options.  Cover crops also support loosening of the soil.

I thinnk there are HUGE beets too. Mammoth red mangel can grow as deep as 6 feet, maybe more.  It's full of sugar,so if you leave it in place it might feed soil organisms through the winter

One benefit of the tillage radishes is that later on when the soil is frozen, it's food for goats.

And lastly,in the NPK formula, thep is for phosphorous, which supports root formation.   I encourage roots with lots of dog bones,there are probably phosphorous accumulators, but I could not tell you what they are.
 
Mark Reed
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Ryan M Miller wrote:

Someone mentioned deep rooted radishes plants to penetrate the hardpan.  I hope I am not being a real pain by mentioning that the best radishes for this would be the 2-3 feet long daikon type radishes.  I think if you do a web search on "tillage" radishes,or tillage whatever,you might find more options.  



Absolutely those are the best. I also have a wild(ed) population or a landrace of radishes that are also very large. Maybe they crossed up with the daikon types. I don't really know.

The only drawback for me with using them is they need time to get to an effective size, they can't be planted too late so sometime they can interfere with other crops that haven't matured yet. It works out though, if just one of those buggers reaches 3 inches around and four or five feet long in has an effect on a few square feet around it. The radishes winter kill here so if you have a nice stand the leaves wilt down and cover the soil, preventing erosion. Turnips are winter hardy here, I've seen them close to a foot across but not a deep.

The over all question to till or not is dependent on so many variables. What I'm found works very well for me might not work at all for someone else, especially a big farm or in a climate as some others have described.
 
Ryan M Miller
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Thekla McDaniels wrote:

Ryan M Miller wrote:

I'm especially concerned about the formation of hardpan in the subsoil layer below the clay,



You probably already know that rototilling, or mold board plow contribute to compaction and the formation of hard pan.  Someone mentioned deep rooted radishes plants to penetrate the hardpan.  I hope I am not being a real pain by mentioning that the best radishes for this would be the 2-3 feet long daikon type radishes.  I think if you do a web search on "tillage" radishes,or tillage whatever,you might find more options.  Cover crops also support loosening of the soil.

I thinnk there are HUGE beets too. Mammoth red mangel can grow as deep as 6 feet, maybe more.  It's full of sugar,so if you leave it in place it might feed soil organisms through the winter

One benefit of the tillage radishes is that later on when the soil is frozen, it's food for goats.

And lastly,in the NPK formula, thep is for phosphorous, which supports root formation.   I encourage roots with lots of dog bones,there are probably phosphorous accumulators, but I could not tell you what they are.



I experimented with some vetch (Vicia sativa) and siberian kale (Brassica napus) as a cover crop this winter since these plants are supposed to form deep roots, but they seem to be vulnerable to rabbit damage unless I set up a good fence. I will find out if the cover crop helped any bit some time next month when I finally remove the plants from the soil.
06F86E8A-100F-4B32-9A17-AC88B0853F42.jpeg
Cover crop as it appeared at on December 11, 2020
Cover crop as it appeared at on December 11, 2020
 
Su Ba
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Mark, right on. What works in one situation does not work in another.  

I have several different soil zones on my 20 acre farm. Some areas do well for no-till perennials. My food forest area is a prime example of this. But the area that I use for annual vegetable production gets tilled between every crop. When not tilled, the soil reverts to “dense pack” within the year. (That’s a common problem in the tropics where there is a combination of full sun and trade winds.)  After a year, the only crops that can survive in that dense soil and brutal conditions are pasture grasses and forbs. Not even the local tree seedlings can grow. Now before people get excited and throw a lot of “you should”s at me.......I am a heavy user of compost and mulch for the annuals. After 15+ years this method has actually created several inches of soil (from the original 1” depth to 6” to 10” deep). This soil is teeming with microbes and soil life (determined via microscope.) Soil building practices include the applications of lava sand, coral sand, lava gravel, biochar, heat treated bone, ocean water, plus plenty of all sorts of organic materials (mushrooms and various soil microbes included). Cover crops are routinely incorporated into the soil. This soil is very much organic in nature, and quite acidic when I skip compost applications. Acidic soil is the norm in my area due to the fact that I am downwind from an actively erupting volcano.

So visitors to my farm have been disappointed to see that my veggie areas are tilled between every crop, but ya know, I don’t apologize. I do what works for me. I’d love to free up my time by not tilling, but on the other hand, I love the food I produce nowadays. So for now until climate conditions change, I’ll till the veggie area and mulch the food forest, and just top feed the pastures.
 
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