Saturday, January 23, 2016

No-Till Thoughts Again

I frequently get email advice to switch to no-till gardening with raised beds. It's all well intentioned advice, but not completely applicable to my homestead. But I'm not above taking other people's experiences and adapting them to my own situation.

There are two things that I question about  most no-till advice. First, the person handing out the advice hasn't done no-till themselves but refers me to websites and blogs that claim they are producing scads of food via no-till. When I check out these sites I see photos of beautiful neat gardens with zero weeds, often only light mulch, if any is present at all (certainly not enough for successful weed control), and things that point to soil disturbances of some sort or other. Some garden beds look to be hoed or cultivated. Second...Some beds show the use of cover crops and instructions to cut these crops down to soil level then turn into the soil. Hey, isn't that also called "digging" or "tilling"? What happened to their no-till claim? 

I'm sure that modified no-till methods work for some people in certain situations. But in my climate and with my own tropical soils, I haven't had success so far with my four experiments using no-till. Perhaps my soil isn't stable enough yet. Perhaps my climate isn't suitable to support this method. My soils are in the process of being created. They are not deep soils. Thus I'm constantly adding amendments to them, building up not only the structure but also the volume. Soil is in short supply in my area, so volume is a big issue.

No-till websites claim that all amendments are added strictly to the soil surface. Again, that may work very well for some regions and soil types. To date, it hasn't worked for me. Perhaps me soil is simply too new, too immature. Or simply too little of it yet. 

Raised beds, another issue. I use a variety of raised beds already. On wet years, they work wonderfully. On drought or windy years, they dry out and heat up too much. I use a form of raised bed made from four wood pallets and filled with organic debris. It's like a cubic yard of cold compost that gradually decomposes over six months. It works for me, but during drought, I need to water them more frequently than my ground level, traditional garden beds. Even lining to pallet boxes with plastic has not stopped them from drying out quickly. 

My main gripe about all the raised bed advice is the expense. One 4'x8' bed easily costs $100 in lumber materials, and that's not counting the cost of filling it with soil. Soil is quite difficult to come by and thus expensive in my area. I am sitting in a new volcano afterall. New volcano = rock hard lava. 

I plan to continue experimenting with no-till techniques and adapting my current minimum till methods. I also plan to keep trying various raised bed methods. As I get older, I like the raised bed idea more and more. But I want a design that can work in both wet years and drought years, plus not cost a ton of money to construct. 

1 comment:

  1. Fineartgourds sent this comment, and I loved it.....
    "Interesting you find your raised beds thirstier than ground plantings.... if I water the ground up here (my note- she lives at a much higher elevation on very rocky lava soil) it drains away from the plants in minutes whereas the containers hold the water for hours; one of the rationales for watering only in the evening is lowered transpiration from sun and wind. The heating problem I solve by planting ornamentals around the outside of the boxes, which I have to water, also, but hey! Or by neglecting the tall grass that comes up with the encouragement of what drainage I do get..... Neglect is one of my strong suites!"
    This comment goes to show ya that everyone's situation is different. What works for one may not work for another. But I got a good suggestion hidden in this comment.....shade the sides of the containers. Flowers, weeds, or grass could very well be a trick to keep the soil cooler by keeping the sun off the sides.