Thursday, August 29, 2013

No-Till Failure

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.

1 comment:

  1. You know, it sounds good, easy, doesn't bring old weed seeds to the surface, yada yada, but I found out long ago, it doesn't work very well, just as you observed. My cousins in Illinois doing full-on big-type farming avoid it, as the no-till practice there is to spray Round-Up and other potent herbicides, and all too often, plant GMO crops like soy and corn. They experienced MORE soil loss in the rain runoffs, because the soil became like hardpan when no-tilled a few crop cycles. They do crop rotations but tilling becomes essential for them. They speak of "tilth" and such.