No Till?


Meadowlark

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I've never understood the hype about no till especially in the veggie garden. If I understand it correctly, the big plus associated with it allegedly was it results in higher carbon retention. This has never made sense to me.

Now, a new comprehensive study refutes that hype and shows in fact that it does not result in higher carbon retention.

"We can store more carbon in farmland soils if we just leave it untilled. Or…so we thought. An extensive new review has turned this influential idea on its head, suggesting that no-till methods don’t actually store any more carbon in the long term by leaving soil untouched, compared to fields that are regularly churned up."


If you garden for veggies, don't expect no till to reduce carbon.
 
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NO till does not work for me. People 50 years younger have more energy to waste & work them self in a no till garden. I don't have time or money to make or buy truck loads of potting soil or organic material. I till my soil over & over until all grass & weeds are dead & seeds germinate & are dead too then I plant my garden. My 40'x60' garden in about 5 minutes work per day for a few weeks then almost no work for 2 months, then harvest time we work a bit harder, then plants are dead & gone.
 
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I've never understood the hype about no till especially in the veggie garden. If I understand it correctly, the big plus associated with it allegedly was it results in higher carbon retention. This has never made sense to me.

Now, a new comprehensive study refutes that hype and shows in fact that it does not result in higher carbon retention.

"We can store more carbon in farmland soils if we just leave it untilled. Or…so we thought. An extensive new review has turned this influential idea on its head, suggesting that no-till methods don’t actually store any more carbon in the long term by leaving soil untouched, compared to fields that are regularly churned up."


If you garden for veggies, don't expect no till to reduce carbon.
I'm in the UK, new to gardening and it's worked well for me.

I use the approach described by Charles Dowding. Basically, fling a bit of carboard on the lawn, shove 6 inches of compost on it and plant away. In my first year I had great results - pretty much everything came out fine. I'm now in my second year and doing great.
The only thing you do is put 2 inches of garden compost on your beds every December. No feed needed. Dowding also recommends succession planting - so getting 2, 3 or even 4 crops from the same bed. He's also testing whether it's necessary to rotate crops - he does lots of A - B testing and has had beans, potatoes, cabbages and more growing in the same spot every year for several years without problems.

He's never mentioned anything about carbon. He talks about tilling damaging the soil life. He's done side by side testing over several years, digging in compost on one bed and spreading it on top on the other. The no dig has superior results.

But I'm only in year two - so not long enough to give you my first hand experience.
 
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I have never understood exactly what no till means. On a field of corn or cotton or anything else one must at least disc it and prepare a seed bed. Or do they mean not doing a deep plow? I always thought the object of no till was to prevent soil erosion. I do know that deep plowing isn't the best thing for soil microbes and that sunlight and exposure isn't good for them but microbes reproduce at a very fast rate so the ones lost to tilling or plowing are quickly replaced. And doesn't synthetic fertilizer gas off if not covered up with soil and become limited in use to plants and if so one must do at minimum some tilling or plowing or discing or whatever if using synthetic fertilizers, which is what the big growers use. Perhaps no till means to stop incorporating plant debris such as corn stalks back into the soil. But this would lower the carbon retention it seems to me. I must be missing something about this no till technique.
 
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This provides a good explanation:

That said, I'm only on my second year of gardening. No dig definitely works and it's very easy, but a) I have nothing else to compare against and b) it could all go pear shaped in year 3!!

I'm not sure it would scale up to farming - how would you put 2 inches of composts on your fields each year?

No dig relies on a LOT of compost. Most no dig gardeners admit that they have to buy in extra compost as you can't make enough off your own land.
 

Meadowlark

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Didn't you just post about a problem with potato scab? How do you turn green cover crops into soil without disturbing it? I simply cannot avoid scab without cover crops turned into the soil.

Last year's potato row has already been replenished. Cover crop improved nitrogen 285% after potato harvest,

july 20.JPG



Shredded and then disced into the soil and nitrogen went up in soil test by 285% in just 8 weeks...all for just the cost of the seeds

july 20 shredded.JPG


Your article stated, "a no dig gardening approach increases the amount of carbon stored in the soil in your garden – keeping it out of the atmosphere where it causes global warming."

Many studies are now showing conclusively this is absolutely false...see my original post. If you think you are slowing global warming by not tilling your backyard garden, then...well ...I'll let others fill in the blank, LOL.

"We can store more carbon in farmland soils if we just leave it untilled. Or…so we thought. An extensive new review has turned this influential idea on its head, suggesting that no-till methods don’t actually store any more carbon in the long term by leaving soil untouched, compared to fields that are regularly churned up."

No-till may not be the agricultural panacea some thought it was.
 
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NigelJ

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At the hobby level I don't think many people think about carbon storage; no dig being seen as a way to improve, maintain soil structure and biodiversity and reduce use of chemical fertilisers and maybe pesticides and fungicides. There is a link between organic growing and no dig. As for farmers again many started before carbon storage was a consideration, it was seen as a way to reduce soil erosion, improve, restore soil structure, help control run off after rain and help with water retention and storage, reduce the need for subsoiling and overall reduce inputs. Min till rather than no till is probably a more accurate description in many cases.
Of course you need to take your local climate and environment into account and what works well in the UK , probably only applies to a few places in the US and vice versa.
 
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I didn't read the article through - I just posted it as an overview of what no-till means for Chuck. I had never heard the argument about carbon - all the sources I've used say it's better for the soil life, produces better crops and is easier. Ease is why I went that route. But I'm not a purist and I'm open to trying things.

There's an Australian Soil Scientist that's also a farmer on youtube. I can't remember her name. She uses no-till in farming. I'll try and find the video where she talks about this.

I had swift, charlotte and King Edward potatoes in the raised beds I created last year and they were fine. The Kestral potatoes that had the scab were in containers with the bottoms cut out placed on the soil. The containers were filled with bagged compost from the garden centre. Nothing (but grass) had been grown on the ground under the containers in at least 20 years. So I'm puzzled as to how they got scab.

Generally with no dig you don't dig things in - you put them on top and let nature do the work of mixing everything in. In the UK slugs are a big problem due to the climate. That's why Dowding always uses compost but in a slug free area you could just chop and drop. But with potatoes you're digging around in the soil to get them out so you can't really do no dig properly. I don't see any reason not to dig in crops into potato beds. Although digging in in the UK could cause a problem with slugs eating your potatoes?
Your question about this has made me realize why so many no-dig gardeners grow potatoes in containers. You can't grow potatoes without digging your beds, and if you do a rotation your beds will be dug every four years. No dig gardeners won't be willing to do that.

Dowding (my main source) has grown potatoes in the same bed for several years. He simply puts 2 inches of compost on his beds every December then grows a succession of crops. So for example, he'd pull out early potatoes and plant leeks. Then back to early potatoes next year. Lots of people in the UK use this approach and they claim it's very successful. You could certainly follow up early potatoes with beans then dig the beans in. But rotation would be difficult in a no dig garden.


Dowding - Charlotte potatoes in same bed for 6 years:


Dowding - Side by side dig and no-dig beds compared (everything but digging in identical. No dig won hands down):

 
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At the hobby level I don't think many people think about carbon storage; no dig being seen as a way to improve, maintain soil structure and biodiversity and reduce use of chemical fertilisers and maybe pesticides and fungicides. There is a link between organic growing and no dig. As for farmers again many started before carbon storage was a consideration, it was seen as a way to reduce soil erosion, improve, restore soil structure, help control run off after rain and help with water retention and storage, reduce the need for subsoiling and overall reduce inputs. Min till rather than no till is probably a more accurate description in many cases.
Of course you need to take your local climate and environment into account and what works well in the UK , probably only applies to a few places in the US and vice versa.
I just mentioned above, that we can't really chop and drop (and possibly not even dig in) in parts of the UK without creating a slug problem. People always tell you to keep your beds very clean of decaying matter and tidy up, keep grass short etc to avoid creating a slug habitat.

I know I keep banging on about Charles Dowding, but if you look at any of his videos he's absolutely meticulous - his beds are spotless. He doesn't even have wooden sides to his beds as they could be a slug habitat. He doesn't have any slug problem and he's able to commercially grow lettuce without any slug nibbles! No ducks, no ponds for frogs, no slug pellets or nematodes.

He just puts 2 inches of compost on his beds every December. No other feed or amendments.
 
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This is a subject I've looked into quite a bit and I'm a supporter. However, it's widely misunderstood. No Till has become a catchall term for Regenerative Agriculture/Ranching and it goes way beyond just simply not tilling the ground. No Till is just one principle among many that make up Regenerative Farming. Practicing No Till on its own will NOT show the same beneficial results of practicing Regenerative Farming, which requires incorporating all the principles.

Also, Regenerative Farming is often confuse with Organic Farming, but nothing could be further from the truth. In a nut shell, Organic Farming is simply replacing synthetic fertilizers/x-icides with "natural" fertilizers/x-icides. Regenerative Farming, seeks to regenerate the soil and create a highly bio-diverse environment so that nature provides all the nutrients required and the diverse biology provides the defense from predators.

Regenerative Farming was designed for farmers who farm on large pieces of land. A gardener doesn't really need to practice it, they can, but if all they do is the No Till part, then, they are not going to see the benefits as advertised. Farmers can NOT do things we gardeners take for granted, such as applying compost.

Here are some good videos on Regenerative Farming/Ranching, the one with Gabe Brown is kind of long, but I found a short one on Regenerative Ranching, as practiced by Alejandro Carrillo down in Mexico, not farming, but it gives one of the major principles of Regenerative Farming -- Incorporating Livestock to help rebuild the soil (basically to mimic what the bison use to do here in North America).

You can easily find more in-depth videos of Alejandro Carrillo on youtube -- he shows some good comparison photos of his ranch next to a conventional rancher.





 

Meadowlark

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Interesting videos. Thanks for posting them.

The elements of regenerative gardening that I practice in my garden include extensive cover cropping, diversity, and livestock integration. The zero till aspect is what makes absolutely no sense to me in my backyard garden.

I agree with this, " Regenerative Farming, seeks to regenerate the soil and create a highly bio-diverse environment so that nature provides all the nutrients required and the diverse biology provides the defense from predators." I don't need or use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides...but zero till is NOT a practice of mine and will never be. It just makes no sense to me in backyard gardens.

I argue that the focus in backyard gardens is not the same as commercial farmers. We should be focusing on soil that produces nutrient dense crops, in my view. Nutrient dense crops have proven to have health benefits, a longer shelf life, greater yield and density, highly intense flavors, and a greater resistance to disease and pests. These are why I choose to backyard garden....and certainly not to save the World from warming.
 
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Yeah, I understand that many gardeners need to till. To practice true No Till (Regenerative Farming), you really need to incorporate all the other principles, but you can get away with not incorporating livestock, but all the others are basically a necessity, but livestock will take it to another level.

If you go to the 34:45-minute point of the video, it shows comparisons of Gabe Brown's soil between three other farmers, two of which are also No Till, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the photos he presents. So basically, No Till is useless on its own.

 

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