Farmers are giving up the plow and doing what’s best for the life of their soil. The wise ones are at least, as they’ve learned the benefits of no-till farming.
What’s Wrong With Tilling
First, you have to understand soil. Good soil is made up of complex organisms and structure, just like a human city. Tilling the soil is the equivalent of destroying a city with a nuclear bomb. All of the living organisms are destroyed or displaced, and the infrastructure is no longer usable. Just as people don’t thrive in bombed out cities, plants don’t thrive in a soil structure that’s been destroyed.
Tilling soil releases nutrients and destroys soil structure, and while this has an immediate benefit for the first planting as soil building organisms die, it’s lost on future plantings. The organisms that make nutrients available for plants are destroyed, the infrastructure that disperses water and allows these organisms to move through the soil is gone. Future plantings now require the manual input of nutrients…fertilizers, minerals, and more watering.
That’s what’s wrong with tilling. Evidence of this is in the story of the “dustbowl” of the 1930’s when a large portion of our prairie farmlands were converted to wasteland after 60 years of deep plowing.
The Benefits of No-Till Farming
The benefits of not disturbing the soil are very evident when you look at undisturbed areas of nature. Plants are healthy, the soil is alive, and only natural, day to day input is necessary to keep it this way.
The benefit for growers, is less time and money spent on continuously having to put nutrients back into the soil, and less water is necessary for soil with good, undisturbed structure.
Edward Faulkner’s book “Plowman’s Folly”, written in the 1940’s, gives a great explanation of no-till farming. “Mr. Faulkner proved rather conclusively that soil impoverishment, erosion, decreasing crop yields, and many of the adverse effects following droughts or periods of excessive rainfall could be traced directly to the practice of plowing natural fertilizers deep into the soil.”
Starting a Garden for the First Time
If you are building a garden for the first time and dealing with obstacles such as grass, clay, rocks, sand, etc., then a one time tilling may be appropriate to get started. Once is enough though, and only necessary if you do not have time to build the soil naturally.
Building Soil Naturally
The permaculture way of building soil naturally is called sheet mulching, or sheet composting. This is a process of laying nutrients, mulch, and a permeable barrier on top of an area where the soil needs building and allowing nature to do its work. You essentially create an environment where plants, such as grass and weeds can’t grow, and nutrient-rich soil is built gradually under a cover, by the organisms already in the soil. Some good information can be found at this link: 9 Easy Steps To Sheet Mulching
One of the best resources for learning how to create a healthy, no-till garden is the book “Lasagna Gardening” by Patricia Lanza.
Building good soil and maintaining it by returning all plant waste and organic matter back to it through good composting, will produce healthy, nutrient-rich plants year after year. There is no need for tilling.