Tilling vs non-tilling

urbanminimalist(11)December 14, 2011

Ok....so I have seemed to slowly scrape from novice to advance novice over the last 2 years. But, am always put in my place. I just thought that was what you do: Harvest, till, plant. I have been reading a bit about non-tilling and it makes sense. Can someone, in a real non-scientific way tell me the benefits of each and if non tilling is done, what steps are put in place to ensure soil is good year round.....organic matter/ composition etc....thanks

Johnny Australia

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Read Lee Reich, Weedless Gardening & any/all by Ruth Stout.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2011 at 6:24AM
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My experience over the past dozen years is that there are huge benefits to disturbing the soil as little as possible, having a wide range of plants growing and keeping a constant layer of OM on the ground. The big problem with using very little mechanical tillage is that it is very difficult not to have unwanted plants take over.

Small areas like a few raised beds are no sweat to control entirely by hand, but gardens/fields bigger than a few hundreds or thousands of square feet get overwhelming fast. Unless it is an area that one can easily put time in every day it becomes unmanageable. I have an acre several miles from my house that I have been using, no till, for a long time. It works well for certain plants, namely the prolific self-seeders that can compete with weeds. For crops with more demanding requirements some kind of periodic mechanical control of perennial weeds is necessary.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2011 at 7:12AM
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The Rodale Institute recently published a study that led them to conclude that no-till, while better for the soil, was not necessarily better for farmers, because of difficulties with weeds, planting, and harvesting. For small-scale growers it may be a viable approach, where hand work is possible, but for mechanized practices - even organic ones - it is probably best as an intermittent practice; in other words, reduced tillage. Ruth Stouts' deep mulch method yields excellent results in time; healthy, friable soil, few weeds, excellent produce, but requires an annual and significant amount of mulch every year to replace that which decomposes (which is, in large part, where that great soil comes from). No-till reduces fuel costs and erosion, preserves soil biota, and conserves water. It makes direct seeding more complicated, is less effective for reducing insect and animal pests, and some find it less aesthetically pleasing. The best practice, in my opinion, is the one that gets the results that you need for the particular situation you are in, and so there may never be a final resolution to this debate.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2011 at 2:14PM
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I have been practicing "no-till" for years without even knowing. With my garden beds I always just add a little compost and a very little safe organic fertilizer (just to add a little somthing). Digging a hole just big enough to place the seedling in.

When conventional farms till you can see the clumps of mud are "dead". I let the microbes till for me, they wont work unless I feed them though!!!!!


    Bookmark   December 14, 2011 at 2:49PM
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Thanks folks. I can see how direct seeding could be an issue with the constant mulching. But, I rarely direct seed in these patches. Thanks. And it is certainly viable to care for by hand, It is just a small suburban backyard. Though I am dreading the day the landlord comes around and sees she has no lawn anymore. ha ha ah

    Bookmark   December 14, 2011 at 2:57PM
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Johnny: don't till if you can manage not to. Roots make soil, and more roots make for more soil life: microbes and animals both (animals like mites and nematodes). It pays not to disturb them. So plant lots of cover crops, mow them to leave the roots intact, and let the underground populations explode. Regards, Peter.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2011 at 3:00PM
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bayoufilter(9a HouTX)

Think of the worms killed with each stroke of the spade.
Oh the vermanity!!


    Bookmark   December 19, 2011 at 2:03PM
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I live in an alpine desert climate (7200 ft/2195 meters above sea level) with heavy (neutral pH) clay soil. My observation is that dry clay soil needs some tillage, but I have certainly reduced it. I grow a lot of garlic (my step-dad is Italian/Sicilian-American, and cooks for us a lot, so we provide the garlic and vegetables in season), and as the garlic crop rotates around the garden, digging it up tills my soil. That and a heavy mulch has made my gardening SO MUCH easier! I have also moved away from raised beds. An ancient American Indian form of gardening/farming in the American Southwest is waffle gardens, beds that are slightly below grade with slight walls around them to hold any rain that falls on them. I am not quite following that, but am digging trenches parallel to the line of the hill in my backyard, throwing the native clay soil just downhill from the trench to make a ridge, and then amending heavily with compost IN the trench but keeping the level below the top of the downhill ridge. My trench should catch our scant precipitation, and the amended soil won't wash away in the occasional gully-washers. I grew potatoes in trenches last summer, and they did much better than the ones in raised beds.


Here is a link that might be useful: Waffle Gardening

    Bookmark   December 21, 2011 at 10:55AM
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The lowered beds work well in rainier climates in excessively drained soils as well.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2011 at 12:12PM
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If your not doing a lasagna garden and have plenty of patients waiting for your soil to improve, then you may or may not have an acceptable garden the first year with out some tillage. What I do when establishing a new garden is combine everything with tillage. This gets everything down to the roots where needed. Potassium and potash move at the tremendous rate of about 1" a year. Another thing is that potassium often times is in ample supply but needs oxygen to be released to the plant. These suggestions are assuming your soil needs improvement. The fact is it may be just fine.
One other thing about tillage. I do not use a tiller but a fork. The problem with a power tiller is that, IMO, it breaks the soil up to much hurting the structure.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2011 at 5:08PM
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ZoysiaSod(6a/6b St.Lou TranZone)

What about the loss of nitrogen to the atmosphere when grass clippings are layered on top of the garden soil instead of tilled into the soil. Is this loss of nitrogen to the atmosphere a significant problem for no-till garden-bed composting when you layer leaves and grass clippings on top of the garden soil instead of tilling them in?

Here's what the GardenForNutrition.org web site has to say at this page:

"Bin composting has it's place. But usually, the simplest, cheapest, and most efficient method for breaking down organic matter is to bury it directly into the soil (sheet composting with incorporation). This method most often has the least loss of nitrogen through evaporation of ammonia. It may slow mycorrhizal fungus a little but the trade off is usually worth it."[End quote]

I layered my nitrogen-rich grass clippings on top of the leaves, and the leaves are directly on top of the garden soil. Would it have been better to layer the leaves on top of the grass clippings instead to possibly reduce evaporation of ammonia to the atmosphere?

But that web site is saying to go even further, and actually till the leaves and grass clippings into the soil, which doesn't seem to harmonize with the Soil Food Web.

Anyway, I think I won't till the leaves and grass clippings into the soil, but I am wondering which is better to have as the upper-most top layer: leaves or grass clippings.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2011 at 7:47PM
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I have tilled both leaves & grass clippings into the soil with UCG.
But I rather mulch my day lilies with green grass clippings.
It take them a year to 15 months to decompose.
They keep weeds down, hold water & add to the soil.
Grass clippings should add more NPK in the soil.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2011 at 8:30PM
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ZoysiaSod(6a/6b St.Lou TranZone)

Thank you Jolj. I wish I had put down the grass clippings first before the leaves. They are whole leaves, by the way, not mulch-mowed and not string-trimmed inside a big trash can. Just whole, intact leaves. Maybe I'll gently use a rake to mix the grass clippings in with the leaves, *without* actually tilling anything into the soil.

Yesterday I read the Mulch chapter in "Teaming With Microbes." There's some awfully good information in there. It doesn't specifically address adding grass clippings or leaves first as a mulch, but it does say this:

"Mulches excel when they are used in conjunction with compost. Put the compost down first, and then cover with mulch. As they do the soil, the compost organisms will inoculate the mulch, and begin to decay it as well."

I guess that makes sense since there's a whole lot more bacteria and fungi in compost that most lawn topsoils.

There's a ton of other info in that chapter.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2011 at 10:20AM
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ZoysiaSod(6a/6b St.Lou TranZone)

It just occurred to me that there is a ready supply of nitrogen below the leaf layer of the mulch. It's the green henbit that was growing in the garden soil as a weed. As the henbit dies beneath the 2 to 3-inch layer of mulch, bacteria will be able to use the henbit's nitrogen to help in their decomposition of the carbon-rich leaf layer.

So I guess this is the current strata of my garden:

TOP strata (or stratum): mulch-mowed grass clippings
Next lower stratum: whole leaves
Next lower stratum: dying henbit
BOTTOM stratum: garden soil

    Bookmark   December 23, 2011 at 10:53AM
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ZoysiaSod(6a/6b St.Lou TranZone)

Whoops, did I say bacteria will decompose those whole leaves? Since they're whole leaves and not mulched, I guess fungi will do most of the "heavy lifting" of initial decomposition. All that hard-to-digest lignin, I suppose.

It's my pleasure to now quote Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis' wonderful book "Teaming with Microbes":

"Fungi are the primary decay agents in the soil food web. The enzymes they release allow fungi to penetrate not only the lignin and cellulose in plants (dead or alive) but also the hard, chitin shells of insects, the bones of animals, and--as many gardeneres have learned--even the protein of strong toenails and fingernails. Bacteria can hold their own, but they require simpler-to-digest foods, often the by-products of fungal decay, and often only after such food has been broken or opened up by fungi and others. Compared to fungi, bacteria are in the Minor Leagues of decaying ability."[End quote]

Fungal cell walls are built from chitin (like the exoskeletons of some animals), instead of cellulose.

Back to "Teaming with Microbes":
"While some fungi pefer the "softer," easier-to-digest sugars characteristic of the foods that feed bacteria, most go for tougher-to-digest foods (mainly because bacteria are better and faster at grabbing and taking up the simple sugars). Fungi, however, win in the competition for more complex foods: they produce phenol oxidase, a strong enzyme that dissolves even lignin, the woody compound that binds and protects cellulose. Another characterisitc of fungi is their ability to penetrate hard surfacces. Fungi have perfected apical growth--that is, growth at their hyphal tip."[End quote]

Check this out. A fungus can "move" (through hyphal growth, I guess) a whole lot farther and faster than a bacterium can move.

[Quote] "Fungi can grow up to 40 micrometers a *minute*. Discount for the moment the speed, which is incredibly fast for such tiny organisms, and compare the distance covered to the movement of a typical soil bacterium, which may travel only 6 micrometers in its entire life."

The above is from the Fungi chapter. Now we turn to the Mulch chapter:

"Where and how you place mulches also plays an important role. Rule #7 (mulch laid on the surface tends to support fungi, while mulch worked into the soil tends to support bacteria) means it is possible to use one kind of mulch, say treee leaves, and get two different soil dominances. Bury most mulch, and bacteria will have an easier time. If it is on the surface, fungi will dominate the decay activity for a while because it is easier for them to travel from the soil to the mulch."

"That is not all. The condition of the mulch is also important. If you wet and grind mulch thoroughly, it speeds up bacterial colonization (Rule #8). Bacteria need moist environments, or they go dormant. And if the material is ground up, it has a lot more surface area; increased surface area means it is easier to get into, and bacterial populations increase. To keep fungi from getting to their food source, some of these bacteria produce antibiotics that suppress fungal growth, making it easier for the bacteria to attain dominance once they get established. If you want more bacteria, use green mulches that have been ground up and soaked. If you only have brown mulch material and need to establish bacterial dominance, chop it into really fine bits and mix some in the top few inches of soil."

"On the other side of the coin, coarse, dryer mulches support fungal activity (Rule #9). Mulches with less than 35% moisture are considered "dry mulches." Sure, fungi need some moisture to thrive and grow, but bacteria are more dependent on moisture. If you want fungal activiy, use brown leaves or wood chips; don't pulverize them or wet them much; and place them on the surface."

Oh man, these guys Lewis and Lowenfels are rock stars :-)
Of course, as they point out themselves, there has been a lot of research conducted by many people including Elaine Ingham, that have contributed to our understandings.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2011 at 10:02AM
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I new about the fungi in the soil but not a lot of the other info. about it.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2011 at 5:50PM
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Interesting. I think that over the long-term, creating a fungus-rich garden environment gives the best health and stability, and most efficient use of minerals.

    Bookmark   December 25, 2011 at 3:46PM
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marshallz10(z9-10 CA)

I have been working on creating fungal-dominated compost but begin with a thermic/bacterial decomposition stage to process farm waste and food prep from food services. Here on the coast of central California, soil temps tend to be suppressed by cool and foggy summers, so the fungal compost seem better for my annual vegetables as well as the perennial fruit trees and shrubs.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2011 at 4:19PM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

Marshall, It's good to have you post here again. What kind of farm wastes and food do you have to compost?

On my gardens I chop up the waste in place rather than making piles of it. So I don't have much pile up. I do tend to stir-till in enrichments like leaf compost, rotted horse manure, local sphagnum, sand, and such.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 12:58PM
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Accelerated decomposition of soil organic matter is well and good. But to my mind the issue is till vs no-till. Now no-till provides the opportunity to have roots in the ground all year round. Since plants exude 60% to 80% of their photosynthate through their roots this would attract beneficial soil fauna like nothing else, more so with a diversitry of covers. Regards, Peter.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 8:18PM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

Peter, I would think then that pulling up plant residue to compost would be counter productive...?

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 9:16PM
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Perhaps this article about the rhizosphere by Dr. Alex Shigo can be of some help.

Here is a link that might be useful: rhizosphere

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 6:38AM
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Here is another link that has done more for me than any other in understanding what is really going on and how to make it better.

Here is a link that might be useful: The Soil Ecosystem

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 7:20AM
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Wayne: certainly pulling plants out of the garden would be counter-productive. Far better to mow them, compost the tops, leave the roots to decay undisturbed, and plant into the residue. The soil fauna and roots develop a plant-friendly environment which is hard to improve on. Especially if the plants were a mixture of many brassicas and legumes. One can cut rows or holes through the subterranean residue in which to plant, if the feeling of the need to till is totally compelling. Regards, Peter.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 6:04PM
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Peter, you are positing that the pulling out of large weeds, roots and all, causes enough disturbance to the soil life system to be a concern? I do that a lot, and leave the pulled weeds as mulch.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 8:33PM
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"Concern" I don't know that that would be the right word. But pulling the plant certainly stops the natural biological process that has already been set up. When you pull the plant you place it on top of the ground where a new process has to start taking place. Eventually some of the nutrients will be pulled back down into the soil, but others will be lost. If you leave the roots in the ground the system will stay in place making the action faster and most of the nutrition will stay where it belongs.(in the root zone) This makes it more readily available to the next set of plants that will come along. The existing soil culture is also fed making it better. The life cycle is not disturbed.
Example: A root left in the ground contains mineral. one being phosphorous (P). When the root dies microbes consume it. During the consumption they turn the P into a crystalline form which is water soluble. The addition of water makes it available to the plant. If the root is placed on top of the soil the same thing will eventually happen. But the P is left on top of the ground unless a worm comes along and pulls it down. P travels very slowly through the soil, making it less immediately available.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2011 at 4:33AM
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Interesting. Maybe I will try mowing large weeds instead of pulling. If course it requires frequent mowings to make them croak, and doesn't work at all with grass weeds.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2011 at 7:44AM
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Weeds; I'd kill them first. If I couldn't kill them I'd pull them and let the little soil organisms go a diet for a while. It seems to me that mowing stimulates the growth and even seed production of many weeds/grasses.
The other side of the coin is that some people consider clover and other legumes a weed when leaving them growing would be of benefit.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2011 at 9:14AM
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marshallz10(z9-10 CA)

Hi Wayne, nice to be back. I really don't want to get into till-no till arguments. My understanding to vegetable world is that like most annuals, vegetables are creatures of disturbed habitats and are very efficient at mining soil nutrients remaining after disturbance. Soil management under perennial culture is different.

We run a very intensive market gardening operation with very fast turnover of planting/harvest cycles and supported by lavish use of incorporated finished compost and limited supplemental organic fertilization. We shred yard waste and add culls from the farming operation and clearing of fields and from time to time kitchen prep waste.

This winter I've put a quarter of the acreage into green manure cover crops and will put another quarter in soil-improving lay-legume mix to be turned under by mid March for April planting.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2011 at 1:21PM
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I can see points made on both sides of the till vs. no till.
One point that has not been mentioned is climatic conditions. In a northern climate with a deep frost line nature plays an important role in the fertility. Whereas in the southern hot areas the soil is not naturally broken up with the freeze thaw action. The other thing is amount of moisture. Areas with an average rainfall of 60 inches vs. an area with only 30 would definitely have a variable in what is happening underground.
Cover crops, as far as no till and clover mixed with cool season grass is concerned, is also climate reactive. If the moisture is kept up I can see where some of the N may be pulled down into the soil (mostly worms). But if it is allowed to dry then most of the N will volatilize into the air.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2011 at 5:56AM
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I could add a lot of clean grass clippings with mowed leaves every Spring and fall.
My Question is, How deep will organic matter work into the clay soil if it is just placed on top?

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 6:25PM
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How deeply organic matter will be worked into any soil depends on how active the Soil Fodd Web is, but most all will be in the top roughly 6 inches where these aerobic critters are most active and the majority of plants roots live.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 6:58AM
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"How deeply organic matter will be worked into any soil depends on how active the Soil Fodd Web is, but most all will be in the top roughly 6 inches where these aerobic critters are most active and the majority of plants roots live. "

This is as much a question as a statement. If one double digs then air is then in the lower sections of the soil. The depth will be determined by the depth dug. With this air microbial action is encouraged. With the addition of air and microbial action deeper root growth is encouraged.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2012 at 5:47AM
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If one double digs and works some air into the soil what air is below about 6 inches will eventually will move up. Soils below about 6 inches tend to be anaerobic which is why soils below about 6 inches usually do not smell very good.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2012 at 6:30AM
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Double digging into into raised beds has been my strategy since I had read John Jeavons book about clay soils/subsoils. He believed in 4' watermelon roots.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2012 at 10:18AM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

One does wonder how long the effects of double digging will last. Water going down will replace that air.

Most of watermelon roots are in the upper foot of soil. They mirror the vines and are mostly horizonal.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2012 at 12:21PM
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Here is my experience with clay soils. In my company business we dig holes up to 6' deep on a daily basis. Almost all of these holes are adjacent to concrete foundations. That being the case we dig into many flower beds. When the dirt goes back it is all mixed together with the amended top soil. Because of warranty issues upon occasion it is necessary to go back,sometimes many years later, and re-dig these holes. The soil has never been totally compacted as it was originally. The bushes and other plants that were replanted have deeper roots than the the others that were never dug. Any organic matter that was mixed in deeply into the soil is gone. Another interesting thing I noted was that when plants were dug roots had to be cut. These roots eventually decomposed and left voids in the clay surrounding the holes dug. Another thing I have seen is worm holes deep in the holes. These observation lead me to believe that there is more aerobic action going on than one might think.
When in comes to plant roots I have found that generally speaking the root systems are a mirror image of the top growth but will also chase water and nutrients. Some plants have feeder roots in the upper layers but also have deep roots for structure and acquiring water from deeper in the ground.
The above is just based on observation and leads me to this conclusion. Planting areas that have been amended to shallow depths, say 6", keep all the nutrients and moisture in close proximity to the plants, thus they have a limited root system. Beds that have been double dug are naturally going to be more porous. Nutrients will leach deeper into the soil. The root systems will go deeper after the moisture and nutrients. This make for a much larger root system and more nutrient availability. In turn the plant above ground will mirror image this and be larger or produce more.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2012 at 6:21AM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

I can see where shrubs with their larger roots are involved that deeper rooting could ensue with looser subsoil. What about common vegetables though?

    Bookmark   January 11, 2012 at 12:35PM
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Wayne: vegeatbles have deep roots too. The classic text was done by Rutgers in the 1920s: it's illustrated -- Jeavons used some of the illustrations I think in his book -- and, I would suspect, it's in the public domain. The gee-whiz one is beets -- 10 feet deep, with humble lettuce at 4 feet. If you're skeptical, look it up. That's why roto-tilling is no good because repeated use creates a hard pan less than 6 inches below soil surface. Jeavons recommends repeated double digging. But I have achieved 20 inches of soft soil by (a) not stepping on it -- ever, and (b) mulch of shredded leaves. Regards, Peter.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2012 at 8:12PM
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Her is a link to a good site that shows the root systems of various vegetables. Tomatos, 3.5 feet deep tap root!
A very old article.

Here is a link that might be useful: ROOT DEVELOPMENT

    Bookmark   January 12, 2012 at 7:22AM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

I realize that roots can go deeply....some soil builders like field clovers do routinely so I believe without double digging and that is supposed to do some of that subsoil loosening without double digging.

Still, and all, I believe that most of those deep roots on vegetables are quite small and likely only a small contribution to growth in humid areas.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2012 at 12:03PM
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marshallz10(z9-10 CA)

Then the whole principle and practice of companion plantings are meaningless.

We are in the process of lifting daikon radishes planted in mid Sept. Half their 22-25-inch useful root is just the top of what would be easily 5-8-foot tap root. One of the workers stopped digging at 4 feet where the tap root was still pencil thick.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2012 at 12:21AM
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Wayne 5; If you take the time to look at the root systems in the link I posted you will see that some are similar and some are not. Soil contains very fine particle and microbes, fungi and nutrients. It is the fine roods that do most of the work and improvement. With soil you are dealing with microstructure. If you read the text, especially the introduction, you will understand more. This is rather old news as the article was written in 1929. Root systems are made up of fine and course material, so is the soil. If you stay with plants that only penetrate the first 6" of dirt then naturally you will have no action below. If you study the individual root systems you will find plants to rotate with that can improve deep soils which, in turn, will benefit the shallow soils. Some plants have roots that will penetrate hard pan, some do not. Annul rye for instance will eventually have roots that will go down to 54" with repeated plantings. It scavenges the deep soils bringing leached, and previously inaccessible nutrients back to the surface. This is why many farmers use it as a cover crop.
Humidity does not change the natural root structure of plants to my knowledge. Amount of water may, which is another good reason to build good deep soil structure for better drainage.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2012 at 8:25AM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

novascapes, When I say humid areas, that is areas of about 40 inches of rainfall a year or more. That is opposed to dry or arid regions where roots usually need to go deeply for more moisture.
I have pored over the 1927 Nebraska Root Development site more than once...in the past. While some roots on vegetables have some deep small roots, most of the feeding is in the upper 12 inches.

Marshall, I have a cover crop of tillage radishes [Daikons] that were planted for deep root diving, nitrogen, organic matter, soil drainage and warming.

I believe in planting soil builders that penetrate the subsoil. I guess I just don't like to be feeling guilty for not double digging.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2012 at 2:52PM
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Posted by novascapes none (My Page) on Fri, Jan 13, 12 at 8:25
"Annul rye for instance will eventually have roots that will go down to 54" with repeated plantings"

The idea of soil building with annual rye is intriguing. Is there a favorite URL that you have on the subject? We have clay in many areas, and sometimes it is alot of work. thank you,

    Bookmark   January 13, 2012 at 6:02PM
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Here are a couple of videos. There is a lot of gooid info. if you do a search.
I also have clay soil. I am not about to plow 100 acres of pasture every year. So I look for alternatives to build the soil structure. I take this back to the home garden and find it works nicely there too.
You may also want to check out tillage radish.
Another good source on the use of cover crops is SARE.
I'm not stuck in the mud on any one system. They all seem to have their pluses and minuses. I try and gain knowledge from every system and use what works best for me.
One of my best sources is just by observing how nature works. In our clay soil nature cracks open the soil, double digging, organics wash down into the cracks adding nutrients deep into the soil. In nature you rarely see mono cultures. In nature when plants die they provide mulch and food for the upper layers of soil, and passageways for water and nutrients and feed the life beneath the top. This teaches us to use crop rotation so all soil layers are in the system.

Here is a link that might be useful: cover crops

    Bookmark   January 14, 2012 at 7:19AM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

Nature returns most of the material to the soil, but we harvest and do not return much of that to the soil...most of it goes down the river....hence fertilizers and trucked in materials. Even nature leaches some minerals, bulldozes with ice, flood scours, and wind scours [when the soil is abused.

I find some good oldtime reading from the Cornell Library.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cold Weather Reading

    Bookmark   January 14, 2012 at 11:36AM
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I have a few pastures and hayfields as well. I really should think about overseeding both, just as we would do a lawn, in the spring.
I'll have to look up an agriculture variety for my area and see how good our "Gulf Annual Rye" performs on lawns.
Thanks for giving me something to think about and research this winter. :)

    Bookmark   January 14, 2012 at 11:37AM
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"I'll have to look up an agriculture variety for my area and see how good our "Gulf Annual Rye" performs on lawns."

If you don't mind mowing about twice a week it's great. My winter lawn is Burr Medic (clover), annual rye, and a lot of blasted chick weed.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2012 at 7:20AM
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"If you don't mind mowing about twice a week it's great. My winter lawn is Burr Medic (clover), annual rye, and a lot of blasted chick weed."

My winter lawn is white and hard as a rock. :) I was just thinking of using it to build poor soils for people who would like a lawn one day.

But for pastures I would definately want to feed it.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2012 at 10:36AM
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ralleia(z5 Omaha, NE)

We have a 20' x 24' hoophouse (two layers of plastic) on decent clay soil. I am having some issues figuring out how to loosen the deeper layers of soil for planting, and how to do the final soil preparation for planting with a multi-row seeder.

The first summer we did succession-plantings of buckwheat to loosen the soil and discourage the perennial weed grasses. Last summer the house grew tomatoes, herbs, peppers, chard, and brassicas. This year I would really like to implement mechanical seeding, but that requires extra care in soil preparation.

I am mostly trying to follow Eliot Coleman's books on hoophouse growing--I also have the book "Teaming with Microbes" but am having some challenge figuring out how to marry up the concepts and applied them inside a structure where it never rains.

Regarding loosening the deeper layers of soil, I tried using a broadfork, but cannot penetrate more than the top two inches of the soil due to mild compaction. A mattock breaks up the soil with some effort, or a Mantis tiller breaks it up well, but I'm not sure which approach is preferable.

I also have not figured out how I want to water the whole hoophouse. I'd prefer not to spray water all over the wood structure, but would like to get good coverage. As a result, right now plants are spot-watered, which means that areas that are unplanted (and even areas near the plants) get very dry. So all the natural tillers (earthworms and microorganisms) have moved on. I'm thinking perhaps that maintaining a moister environment would help with the "tilling" of the deeper layers?

For seedbed prep, Coleman stated that they loosen the deeper layers with a broadfork (isn't working for me), then "till" in amendments with a "Tilther," a tilling device that they had assembled using the motor of an electric drill that only tills the top 2" or so. Finished compost (presumably finely-screened) is applied over that, and the area is raked to a fine tilth, and then rolled prior to seeding.

Sorry about this rambling message, but what would you suggest for:
(1) loosening the deeper layers of the clayey soil to prepare for the planting? (tiller, spading, mattock, worms, green covers, or don't do it?)
(2) watering system to encourage earthworms and organisms to colonize and keep the water where it needs to be? Also, is city water ok, or well water preferred?

    Bookmark   January 26, 2012 at 6:14PM
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Microbes,fungus, worms and plants must have moisture. Start with a controlled soaker system and cover crops designed to break up soil, such as tillage radish. Do no use imported worms as they usually only work the top. The native worms will come with moisture and plenty of organic matter on top.
If the soil becomes workable after moisture is added then go to the fork, plow or what ever. I have even gone as far as using an electric jack hammer with a spade bit. Once broken up add peat moss to help maintain the workability.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 6:36AM
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ralleia(z5 Omaha, NE)

Thank you, novascapes!

I talked to the city water department, and they say that the water is treated with chlorine (but not chloramines). Do I need to be concerned with the chlorine in the water, or will that dissipate fast enough?

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 9:17AM
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