As part of my attempts at becoming more self-sufficient, I’m researching alternative agricultural methods I may want to integrate into current or future gardening or farming efforts. Last week I looked at biodynamic agriculture. This week I’m looking at no-till agricultural methods.
On the most basic level, these methods are exactly what they sound like. The initial process of overturning earth 8-12 inches deep before planting is skipped or abbreviated and plants are installed directly in the remnants of prior vegetation. From a soil health perspective tilling is extremely damaging. While there are short term benefits to tilling that may make it easier for plants to become established (i.e. soil aeration), it is well documented that over the long term tilling results in soil compaction and loss of soil structure.
There are a number of pros and cons for this non-traditional method. Let me know if you know of anything that I should add to the list!
- Only narrow trenches are prepared for plant introduction in no-till methods (rather than the whole field)
- Crop residues left on the field prevent soil erosion in no-till methods
- Similarly, no-till fields retain water and nutrients better than conventional fields. This can improve yields and plant health and can also reduce eutrophication (more on this problem later)
- Financial savings on time and fuel (fewer trips across the field to prepare for planting)
- Yields generally similar or greater than till methods
- Healthier microbial communities
- Increased need for weed control (herbicides or organic methods)
- No-till requires specialized equipment (no-till drill)
- Can increase likelihood of fungal disease in soil
- Yield increases may take time to be apparent
Overall it seems to me that the pros outweigh the cons, especially for someone who cares about sustainable living, however I am going to be looking further into the actual methodology of no-till agriculture in a future post. Stay tuned!