To till or not to till?

by Barbara Marier
(British Columbia, Canada)

I'm a little confused about the no-till, or minimum till rule I've been reading about. I read books that say tilling is completely unnecessary, (such as Masanobu Fukuoka's "One Straw Revolution"), yet Bill Mollison (Permaculture) talks about growing green manure crops to turn under to enrich soil.


We have a 22-acre plot with about 3 acres of very sandy and depleted soil that was tilled a couple of years ago. We planted a legume crop 2 springs ago, and turned it under in the fall, then planted winter barley and turned it under the following spring. We now have a lush cover crop of clover growing there and are not sure what to do next. Should we turn it under again, or just leave it be? We do not yet live on the property, but are preparing it for a self-sustaining homestead once my husband retires in 2 years.

Can anyone enlighten me as to when, or if it is appropriate to get the tractor out and till the ground?

I should mention that our property is in northern British Columbia, with long, cold winters to minus 30 C, and frost penetration of the ground to 6 feet!

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Jun 12, 2012
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Tilling Means more Air in the Soil
by: Anonymous

When you till you loosen the soil and add air. This is beneficial. Maybe some organisms on the top of the soil croak and you kill a few worms but overall, I think tilling can be a great step to improving your soil. The key is adding the right amendments.

Jun 12, 2012
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A-TILLA the HUN
by: Anonymous

All these NO TILL people don't recognize the fact that commercial farming has relied on tilling for a long time. Do you really think that these farmers would go though the trouble of tilling if it did not work?
I have done both methods and tilling has many benefits like weed removal and mixing in compost.
I believe that once you have built your soil to an optimum level..............you can then stop tilling and let the biological action work for you.
So many people try to rush this process and end up disappointed.
There are many ways to arrive at the same destination..........just my humble opinion.

Rick

Sep 21, 2010
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Re:To till or not to till?
by: Anonymous

Hello, I would say no till. If you are trying to increase the nutrients in the soil you should not till anymore. When land is tilled, some nutrients in the soil are overly exposed to the air and are oxidised. Tilling kills the bacterial life in the soil when you invert it because the bacteria and microflora living at the top of the soil can't survive down the bottom and vice-versa. It is like a compost heap, it needs bacteria to break down the organic material. Green manures need bacteria and worms to break them down into the soil. True digging in will also improve the soil, however it is not as beneficial to the soil. For more information on this topic and where I personally learnt this, read the books, Beyond the Brink by Peter Andrews, and Plants Without Poison, by Paul something haha. Good luck!

Sep 19, 2010
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Tillage
by: Carole

The basic principle of no or minimal tillage is that, every time you turn your soil over you expose all your beneficial organisms to UV and air. They die and off-gas their carbon and nitrogen into the atmosphere. Over time you lose soil organic matter, structure and water holding capacity, and you lose soil.

Where you go from here will depend on what your final plans for this piece of land are.

If it's to be grazed, then start to establish perennial pastures by disc or drill seeding that doesn't lift the existing sod. If it gets too long, just cut it and leave it to lie, and the organisms will break it down and incorporate it into the soil. You build soil this way. Even if you eventually want to grow veg or plan an orchard, this is a pretty good way to improve the soil before you start.

The goal is to always have to have something actively growing in the soil (although I appreciate that's a tall order under snow!) and to encourage local native species that cope with your local climate. Nature never leaves soil bare deliberately.

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