No-Till Agriculture

no-till veggiesConventional agriculture promotes tilling as a means of aerating and softening soil, while providing access to sub-soil nutrients by mixing them to the surface. Unfortunately, by tilling soil the natural ecosystem created by microorganisms during the breakdown of organic matter (the living soil) is lost. Once this delicate soil ecosystem is disturbed imbalances develop in nutrient cycling, water and oxygen availability, and pest species populations. This results in the need for chemical inputs such as fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides to produce food, even in conventional organic agriculture. The financial cost and environmental impact of growing such food is greater than we are willing to accept, but there is another way!

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Hanley Farm is currently transitioning towards permanent no-till agricultural practices. By focusing on feeding the microorganisms that build soil (i.e. mulching with organic matter), we can build from or rehabilitate the soil ecosystem. With an active and diverse soil ecosystem proper soil structure will develop, leading to adequate moisture and oxygen retention within soil, balanced nutrient cycling, and a natural defense against outbreaks of pest species. By allowing soil life to flourish and do most of the heavy lifting we eliminate the need for chemical inputs. This results in healthy productive soil, cleaner water, and more nutritious and delicious food!

CLICK HERE: Printable No-Till Flyer

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3 Responses to No-Till Agriculture

  1. NM says:

    I’m fascinated by this, and would love to read more about it as you proceed, as so much more work needs to be done exploring organic no-till options. So glad you are doing this, and especially that you’re doing it in my gardening region. Will you be publishing the results? I have many questions! One of them is this; gardening author Steve Solomon opposes mulching in the Pacific Northwest, as it provides habitat for slugs. Have you had any slug issues? If so, how are you combatting them?

    • hanleyfarm says:

      Hello there! Thanks for the comment. Steve Solomon is right, mulching does create an amazing environment for slugs, as well as worms, and pill bugs, beetles, flies, earwigs, centipedes, springtails, mites, squash bugs, spiders, and all the other wonderful diversity of life that creates a soil ecosystem. And slugs can certainly be devastating to certain crops at certain times of the year. We have found that timing and plant selection is the best way to work around the slugs. Ultimately it boils down to our philosophy that it should never be a battle, and the benefits you receive from supporting the life in the soil far out weighs the losses you will come across…However here are some of the other things you can do to give plants an edge to survive the slugs and other insect friends.

      -Transplanting. Giving plants a head start can be just enough for them to push through an insect feeding.
      -Native vegetation. We leave patches of grasses, herbs, and other native plants that attract the slugs and other insects.
      -Ducks. We don’t do this currently, but ducks LOVE slugs. You can run ducks on your garden beds a week before you plant to have them knock down the population, while also fertilizing.
      -A shallow dish of beer. We don’t use this method either…but some people swear by them, and is much more practical for the home gardener.
      -Plant variety choices and timing. For example slugs don’t tend to bother onions, garlic, peas, fava beans, leeks, and carrots. These are the plants we direct seed in the early spring. Mean while we grow our slug sensitive plants (cabbage, kale, chard, broccoli…etc) in the green house ~ letting them get a head start before we plant them out.

      Another theory we have is that waiting until the spring rains have saturated the mulch helps as well. Slugs are attracted to water and food, so if you have dry ground and a little area with a fresh plant and some drip irrigation – it is literally an oasis to a slug. But if you have soil with lots of organic matter in it, once the ground in nice a moist (which can come from rains or overhead watering) we can plant out our greens with less slug impact, due to the fact that they are distracted with all the other moist things to eat.

      The real bottom line here is if you want to eat pure food with no chemical supplements or poison sprays…no matter what you do, you will have insects eating your plants. Every year it will be different. Some years the squash will all be eaten, or the corn, or the zinnias…it is about accepting that some years certain things won’t work. We believe that you don’t always get what cha want, and if you MUST have it then the only way is to force it with sprays and poisons.

      But, don’t give up either! Insect life comes in waves. Sometimes you will plant out your cabbages and they will all get eaten in a burst of insect life…but always have ample amounts of starts, because sometimes if you just try again in a couple weeks they are untouched and thrive. Pay attention to the cycles of life, adapt and keep trying. 🙂

      – The Hanley farm crew.

  2. NM says:

    Wow, thank you for your thorough answer! I enjoyed it very much, and have forwarded it to several gardening friends. I’d like to get our garden switched over to no-till; sadly, missed the window last fall for putting down heavy mulching, and so am struggling to figure whether I can do so this spring, with a garden expansion. Appreciate the reminder, too, that sustainable gardening means accepting some losses; mindset matters!

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