A bit about no-till
As beginning farmers (that's technically someone who's been farming for 10 years or less, according to the USDA), Els and I are working on finding systems that work for us, and work for this land we have been allowed to care for.
In the past few years, we have worked to reduce the amount of soil disturbance that we do in general. Why? Because it destroys the delicate structure of the soil, upsetting the beneficial fungi and microbes that help get the plants the nutrients that they need to thrive. There is a saying, "tilling is killing", and this is one reason that all the huge corn and soy bean farms around here stopped tilling the soil years ago. Also, each time you till the soil, carbon is released into the air, and once the soil is loosened it can be washed away in the rain.
The thing is, it's much trickier with vegetables. To plant teeny tiny vegetable seeds, or even to transplant small plants, your soil must be "friable"- that means loose and fluffy. Tilling is an easy way to get that texture of soil. Organic farms also use tilling as a method of weed control. They can't just be spraying round up on their organic veggie fields, like the corn and soy farmers do. Until pretty recently, it was a given that vegetable farmers HAD to till. But this is an exciting and innovative time for small scale vegetable growers! Farmers like us have been experimenting, and there are a bunch of cool methods and tools that are allowing us to use the power of nature to till the soil. I like to think of it as "worm-till". In the photo of our farm below, you can see the veggie field has swaths of black and white covering it. Those are giant tarps that we use to smother weeds and spent crops so that we don't have to till. We also use landscape fabric between widely spaced crops like winter squash to accomplish the same thing, but still be able to grow a crop at the same time.
Winter squash is a prime example. You plant a row of seeds every four feet. that's a lot of bare soil between rows, so we covered the bare soil with fabric right after seeding. The squash plants grew so big, that you can't even see the fabric from this photo (it's the right-most bottom swath of field- next to the field road). While the soil was covered, worms were under there working like it was night time 24 hours a day. We never had to water our winter squash, because the soil was shaded from the sun, and protected from the wind, so the rain we got last year was plenty... and it was a really dry year! We harvested the squash in the fall, but left the fabric in place over the winter. In the spring we raked off the dried squash vines, and peeled back the fabric to reveal soil that we could transplant right into with our bare hands.
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