No-till soil preparation is a way to grow crops year after year without disturbing the soil through tillage, which means you are improving the health of the soil over time rather than constantly degrading it.
This is quite a common method in the market gardening community and something that we are starting to use at home now that we have nice straight beds.
We used the no-till method to help us prepare the ground for a small plot of garlic in an area where we were growing green manure.
This method uses silage sheeting as a form of weed and crop control, which means that instead of digging into your green manure (or crops), you temporarily cover the bed with non-toxic, stabilized plastic. UV light to do the job for you. I know – it sounds crazy and it took me a while to figure it out, but after seeing it in action and seeing how well it performed, I was sold.
First, we cut the green manure crops down to the ground. Since they were already quite short, we left all the green waste on the bed.
If your crops are really tall, you will want to remove some of them because too much fresh green material can create an anaerobic environment that is not good for the life and health of the soil.
We then planted directly into the bed without digging, except to make a small hole for each garlic. We also sprinkled a small amount of drywall because our floor needs it. This is where you might want to spread a layer of compost, it just depends on your soils and crops.
Once fully planted, water the crop (if necessary) and cover with your silage tarp. We actually used non-toxic black building plastic because that’s what we had on hand.
While we are not sure if this is acceptable for certified organic farms, we do know of some market gardeners who use it in this way that grow without chemicals and grow well. We are comfortable using it because our research tells us that this particular type is non-toxic and UV stabilized.
What does plastic actually do? It removes weed seeds and kills any new growth presently present (green manures), but keeps the roots intact for soil life to develop in and around.
It also attracts soil life, such as earthworms, to the upper layers of the soil where it is still dark and damp; while heating the soil, which increases the rate of germination.
The length of time that the plastic should stay on the flower beds varies depending on the season, the weather, and the crop rotation system you have in place. We left ours on the garlic for about a month, checking it every now and then to see if it had sprouted. Once you can see a fairly even sprouting, it’s time for the plastic to come off.
The main thing we love about this method is the lack of competing plants that garlic has to contend with (garlic hates competitors) and the fact that we didn’t have to do the usual manual weeding. to get there. We just have to water if necessary and do a light hand weeding here and there, and that’s it until harvest later in the year.
- Hannah Moloney and Anton Vikstrom are the founders of the landscaping and education company, Good Life Permaculture.