I did an experiment down at the community garden: planting tomatoes via no-till method. I chat with a number of people on other forums, and no-till is a topic that I've seen discussed a number of times. So after reading about it and being repeatedly encouraged by onliners, I thought I'd give it a go. Per instructions from others who say that they are successful planting into old pastures and that things grow great, I transplanted tomato seedlings right into the ground without tilling or digging the ground first. I was told to use a fork to fluff up the soil one fork width where the plants would go. That I did. Then as instructed, I laid down cardboard to cover the grass and topped the cardboard with compost and mulch. Right at that point I got really skeptical, but I was willing to give it a try. The soil was fairly good looking. The pasture grasses grew lushly. So I thought perhaps that the tomatoes would really grow.
As a comparison, one of the community garden volunteers planted the same variety tomatoes into the main garden, where we dig and till the soil.
Within two weeks the no-till plants were in big trouble. Small, stunted, with several dead. I replanted any dead ones, then applied commercial fertilizer to all the no-till plants. They were starving. Meanwhile, the main garden tomato plants were thriving, growing well without any fertilizer needing to be added.
A number of weeks went by and the no-till plants were still suffering. More died. All were stunted. Some were producing a few tiny tomatoes, like a strangled death cry.....quick produce some seed before you croak. The main garden plants were big, lush, and covered in flowers.
The no-till plants are still hanging in there but just barely. I've lightly fertilized them several times. A waste of expensive fertilizer. I've had to water them constantly. The main garden plants have been producing a bounty of tomatoes with no fertilizer or extra watering!
Conclusion -- no-till tomatoes don't work for us. It wasn't even slightly successful. It was a total bomb. I'm now quite skeptical about all those claims on the internet about no-till vegetable gardens.
I posted this story of a permaculture forum. One person suggested trying again but in the main garden area. Well, that doesn't sound like no-till to me, to plant into already well improved soil of a regularly tilled garden. But I haven't given up yet. I'll try more experiments. Maybe something on the order of Ruth Stout method but without any digging. But I suspect no-till veggie gardening needs to be started with soil already prepared for gardening. Maybe it could be called kickstarted-no-till.