As many of you may know, “no till” farming is the new phrase being thrown around. If you grow root crops or dahlias that involve digging and uprooting lots of earth and many old weed seeds, no till is not an option, but lower till is.
At The Painted Tulip I am working on being low till. We have a sand base that I am working up from.
I start by cover-cropping beds in the fall that will be need harrowing in the spring. I have to drill the seed in with my harrow because our chickens love the seed. This ensures some of it stays in the soil and germinates.
In the spring when we plant the dahlias, I use a furrow-making tool that creates three 6-9” ruts in a row so we can put compost in a rut, place tubers in, rake over a bit of soil, throw in some fertilizer, then cover all the way. Then we cover the dahlia field with straw. Our chickens love to scratch at the straw and eat the seeds, cultivating and fertilizing as they move along. We still have some weeds and have to do some weeding. In the fall we hand dig as many dahlia tubers as I can store, harrow in the crop debris and cover crop with winter rye. It only lightly germinates, but in spring it starts growing again and we can harrow it in to use its allopathic components.
This year I bought a cultivating tractor and was planning on cultivating instead of using the straw. This did not work as planned. The dahlias popped up roots in different spots and it was hard to get a straight line. After one pass with the sweeps I knew that it wasn’t going to work. The weeds came because I didn’t get to placing down the straw in the spring. We hustled our butts off and weeded hard to get it under control and then I put down straw end of July. I was really stressing because the weeds can destroy a great crop, as they steal needed nutrients and sunlight from the dahlias. Add to that insect pressure as the weeds provide them with nesting areas.
I am finding the right mulch for different crops is critical.
For example straw doesn’t work for lisianthus but coco hulls work great.
For heat-loving crops like celosia and eucalyptus, I plant into black plastic. Although I do have to straw the walkways, they allow weeds to grow. Every time we weed an area it not only takes labor, it takes up the soil I am trying to build up from our sand base. This is wasteful and expensive as I invest heavily in locally made compost.
The straw and cover cropping allow me to build structure in my sand soil. I am able to no-till the annual areas that aren’t being torn up and cover with silage tarps when the crop is done to kill weeds and weed seed.
When I do have fallow areas durning the summer or when I am creating a new field, I use buckwheat as a cover crop. It’s great for building soil mass and suppressing weeds, and it grows faster than weeds and shades them out. It also provides a food source for bees and other pollinators.
For our perennial areas I am finding that cardboard layering with bark chip on top is the best technique. In reading more about the technique, the worms love the hide glue and chew through the layers of cardboard. This creates a beautiful soil where landscape fabric is not able to be used. Our David Austin roses love it and am going to use it on other parts of the perennial fields.
For this farm there is no singular technique that best serves the entire farm. In reading “The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution: High-Production Methods for Small-Scale Farmers” by This book won’t get rid of all the weeds, but it will give you techniques to slow them down and build soil.
Please share your favorite no till or low till technics in the comments . Warmly,