How does no-till farming work exactly?

MartyR

Farm Hand
Messages
20
I've seen you guys mention it on here a time or two and I can't figure out how it works. I've heard of lasagna gardening and I'm assuming you're talking about the same thing. So, how do you get the seeds or transplants into the soil? Do you use a shovel and dig a hole for each one? That sounds like a ton of work. Can the tiny roots really break through the soil once the seed germinates?
 

Emergency Cake

Farm Hand
Messages
47
I think it would be impossible to do on a farm with a lot of acreage. I appreciate the no-till movement and I understand how it helps the environment, but I don't think it would be cost-effective on a large farm.
 

jack

Farm Hand
Messages
92
No-till farming, direct tilling, or zero tillage all refer to the same thing. This agricultural technique involves growing crops without disturbing the soil through tillage. In most cases, it applies to sandy and dry soils on sloping terrain.
 

jjp8182

Farm Hand
Messages
84
From what I've seen/read/heard no-till agriculture (at large scale) generally uses broadband herbicides to kill off everything that may have sprouted since the last harvest, after which point the planter (which needs to be designed for no-till operation) plants directly into the soil through any residue from the prior year/crop.

At least that's the short version as I understand it -- so it may or may not be fully suitable for all situations and locations (e.g. if a heavy residue crop needs to be mixed in so the soil can warm properly in the spring)

At some scales the broadband herbicides may get replaced with layers of mulch (either organic material like straw, or inorganic material like plastic-sheet "mulch"). Not sure I've ever read/heard of those methods being applied at the scale of hundreds/thousands of acres though....?‍♂️

So guess it may partially depend on what the speaker/writer meant by no-till? Though in all cases it's not disturbing the soil beyond the action of planting the seeds/plants.
 

jack

Farm Hand
Messages
92
From what I've seen/read/heard no-till agriculture (at large scale) generally uses broadband herbicides to kill off everything that may have sprouted since the last harvest, after which point the planter (which needs to be designed for no-till operation) plants directly into the soil through any residue from the prior year/crop.

At least that's the short version as I understand it -- so it may or may not be fully suitable for all situations and locations (e.g. if a heavy residue crop needs to be mixed in so the soil can warm properly in the spring)

At some scales the broadband herbicides may get replaced with layers of mulch (either organic material like straw, or inorganic material like plastic-sheet "mulch"). Not sure I've ever read/heard of those methods being applied at the scale of hundreds/thousands of acres though....?‍♂️

So guess it may partially depend on what the speaker/writer meant by no-till? Though in all cases it's not disturbing the soil beyond the action of planting the seeds/plants.
It makes sense when you explain it in this way, and I think that the idea here is to minimize soil disturbance so that more water gets infiltrated. There are other benefits like soil retention in organic matter and nutrient cycling, among others.
 

jjp8182

Farm Hand
Messages
84
It makes sense when you explain it in this way, and I think that the idea here is to minimize soil disturbance so that more water gets infiltrated. There are other benefits like soil retention in organic matter and nutrient cycling, among others.

Yep, water infiltration, soil structure, sub-surface biological habitat/health (bacteria, worms etc don't always handle the soil being churned by tillage well) are all the goals of no-till as I understand it. The logic being that the health of the soil will drive the health of the crops raised upon it.

All very good goals in my opinion, but the downfall as I see it is that some of the most vocal advocates don't seem to realize that nature itself isn't necessarily as fully no-till as they seem to try and push farmers to be ... almost seems like they ignore the existence of gophers, squirrels, pigs and other wild animals that root, burrow and otherwise disturb the soil (to various degrees). Granted animals generally don't disturb as large of areas as large farms do, but their activities still disturb the soil quite a bit (e.g. pigs) and if a large area needs to be worked relying solely on wildlife would seem precarious (at best). .....not to mention some of those species can be quite destructive to crops themselves.

May just be me, but neither mindless/habitual tillage nor the most stringent interpretations of no-till make sense to me for a practical application (especially for large single-crop fields) - but I also believe that different situations drive different solutions (i.e. one-size doesn't fit all) too so... ?‍♂️
 

Petal to the Metal

Golden Chicken
Messages
138
I'm an organic grower and I use the no-till method for the most part. That doesn't necessarily make my job harder though. I'm a floriculturist and I run a plant nursery and I breed plants to create new varieties. A lot of my work takes place in the greenhouse or lab where there's obviously no need for tilling. I do grow several of the flowers, bushes, and other plants that I sell with the no-till method though. I think I have an advantage in that a lot of flowers are perennials that come back year after year once they're established. Plus, some annual flowers are self-sowing. In those instances, once your no-till area is established, you're pretty much all set. I used a bunch of silage tarps to kill my cover crop. They aren't cheap, but they're reusable at least. I dug furrows for my flower seeds and let them get a good start before adding compost. I have a home garden that is no-till as well. I'm not much of a row gardener though. I place my veggies among my flowers. It's not a lot of work once it's started. The no-till method helps lower carbon dioxide emissions. It's supposed to help with climate change.

I would probably feel differently if I grew annual vegetables as a commercial crop that I had to replant every year. As a matter of fact, I'm growing tomatoes commercially for the first time and I'm tilling the land beforehand.
 

pseag

Farm Hand
Messages
72
This was pretty interesting. I do till and can't imagine planting all that we do without tilling. I think it would be too hard and honestly I think we don't have the right soil.
 

Birdie

Golden Chicken
Messages
112
It's the easiest way to grow a home garden. I use cardboard boxes to beat the weeds. I grow my plants from seeds, but I start them inside the house. Then I dig a hole, add my plant, and add some compost on top of that. I don't use herbicides or pesticides or fertilizer beyond allowing my chickens to roam. The birds do a good job of picking off the pests. Companion planting also helps deter deer, rabbits, and other pests. I call it lazy gardening. It's not pretty, but it works.
 
 
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