Any no till market gardeners out there? Help!!

mbravebird(VA zone 7)December 6, 2005


I've been lurking on several forums over the past few months since my husband and I found a house and 2 acres to start our growing on (yay! ). If everything goes as planned, we will close this week. We are planning on growing mostly flowers, with some herbs, for market and CSA. We are hoping to start on a 1/2 acre of the land. We will also have our own garden on the land, not sure how big that will be.

I am really interested in using no till methods for the entire 1/2 acre and the garden, but am feeling intimidated by the size and the amount of materials needed. We will obviously be starting from scratch, no compost pile existing. I've never tried to get my hands on that much organic material at once before. My husband's idea is to just do the no-till one bed at a time, as we find the materials, and put black plastic over the rest of the beds to kill the weeds. Then come spring, use traditional tilling in of soil amendments/cover crops on the beds that we couldn't complete in the no-till way.

Or am I giving up too easily? Can I do the whole 1/2 acre in no-till? Is that reasonable to expect? Is anybody else doing it?

Also, right now the land is a very overgrown pasture, with some weeds as thick as small trees. I know that I shouldn't bush hog, because that would compact the soil, but I don't think the weed-whacker method will do it either. Do I need to learn to use a scythe? And am I correct that the pasture weeds cannot be used as mulch, because they have gone to seed?

Thanks for any and all input you can provide. I can also post this in the soil forum if you think it would be more appropriate. I just wanted to hear from folks who were doing this with larger amounts of acreage.


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Congratulations on your new place! My new property was in similar shape after 18 years of benign release from ag. bondage but i wanted to garden it for a 20 family CSA.To make life easier and your garden more fruitful I believe you will have to plow your first year regardless to set the stage for long term no-till vegetable growing. Saplings, multiflora, alfalfa roots, blackberries, burdock, etc. as well as whatever tough grasses that have taken up residence there all need to be recycled by the plow. Two horses and a single bottom took care of my place (also two acres) in about 15 hours. In the spring I rented a tractor with a rototiller and borrowed a friends bed shaper and had 25 350 foot beds that I divided into 6 plots of 12 or 13 beds each. You must have very well drained soil to contemplate no-till. Rodales New Farm E-newsletter has great info on the subject. My water table is high and I need to cultivate to bring air into the soil. Good Luck!

    Bookmark   December 7, 2005 at 12:09AM
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tennesse_tuxedo(5 nw ohio)

If you live near a township you could get leaves in the fall and they're usually chopped up small so they don't blow away. I took an area that was sod this past spring (early) that was so hard I gave up on tilling it. I ended up putting horse manure down and covering it up with grass clippings and it completely choked out the grass and weeds completely (w/o use of black plastic). I set out winter squash plants in it at the end of May and they grew and produced like crazy. You could mow the area with your lawnmower while you do areas that you can handle. Their are also some interesting ideas on cover crops on the newfarm website. good luck

    Bookmark   December 7, 2005 at 7:17AM
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jayreynolds(zone 6/7)

You ask a question that can take many paths depending on your circumstances. Fallow land will have a seed load from years of weed growth, and will have perennial rootstocks of various weeds & grass, even sapling trees. Plowing can help eliminate the perennials, especially if you are able to identify and physically remove the worst offenders. Plowing could also spread some noxious perennials, making them worse. The weed seed load is something you'll have to deal with over time. Disturbing the ground, while necessary to aerate the soil for cropping will undoubtedly release many seeds which thrive on disturbed ground but are not now seen.

I wouldn't wory at all about bush-hogging on fallow land. If it is very wet, just wait till it dries or get the tractor to run on a frosty morning on frozen ground.

I'd suggest you learn to identify the species you have growing there now, and research whether or not they are hard to eliminate. It would be great if you could find someone else in the area who is acquainted with your soil type and the weeds it normally supports, they can probably tell you what you have got to deal with. get a good soil test from various locations on the property, some land has many soil types even over a 2 acre plot.

I agree the key will be to get organic material in as large a quantity as possible. Start searching now for the easiest, cheapest, and largest source you can. Byproducts of industry, wood bark, sawdust, leaves, spoiled hay or ensilage, manure if any types, lawn contractors, whatever is present in your area that can be brought in by the truckload. Start composting in as big a fashion as possible, you could never get enough.

That said, I agree that you might have to start off small with no-till. I also agree with the establishment of a bed system. Understand that it will be years before you perfect a system that works right for your particular conditions. Get as many local mentors as you can, don't always try to reinvent the wheel, use whatever you can find that has been working for someone else, yet don't neglect to innovate.

Consider working your way into no-till by tillage:
-find out what cover crops are suited to your land and rotate them through on the unused land this spring. Nothing beats cover crops for helping smother perennial weeds after a pasture fallow. This might be a mixture of things, or one which follows another, each one representing a step up in fertility, weed smothering, or organic matter addition. You might be able to get three cover-crops/year, or consider a perennial cover crop like a clover.

-I've been doing annual tillage on my beds for three years to incorporate organic matter, and figure I've got two seasons left before I can go no-till, even then some surface tillage will sometimes be necessary for seedbed prep on certain crops, or after harvesting a deep rooted one such as sweet potatoes in which harvest itself accomplishes some tillage.

I rotated several cover crops through. First tillag revealed a truckload of persimmon tree roots up to 3" in diameter, and a 1/2 truckload of johnson grass roots which had to be removed. First fall was turnips/wheat. Spring was oats early, then field corn seeded very thick like fodder, then white dutch clover/annual rye the next fall. Following spring I used a tractor with tiller and made raised beds like swampfarmer above, 30" wide beds on 8ft centers with paths of clover between each bed. I mow the paths and can work without getting muddy or pick immediately after a rain.I mulch all my beds with well-rotted wood/bark chips that I found a huge pile of at an abandoned sawmill, for free. In fall I scour the town for bagged leaves. In spring I cut neighbors fields and haul in hay.

Haven't heard of a CSA with mostly flowers and herbs but good luck. Suggest you try lettuce, cukes, salad stuff. They are very quick to grow and can help bring in something while you get other stuff perfected.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2005 at 9:21AM
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ponderosaq(Z7 VA)

Hope your closing goes as expected and congratulations on your new home and business venture. I am struggling with the same ideas. After one summer of using everything I could think of to make mulch I still had some big weeds coming up but not enough for it to be a huge problem. I did till as I was making up the beds, no other way to break up the clay I started with. Hopefully next year will be better and the one after that better still. I agree you might want to extend the season beyond your flowers and offer some veggies too. Where are you located in VA by the way?


    Bookmark   December 7, 2005 at 4:20PM
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mbravebird(VA zone 7)

Hello all, this is great information. I need to go over it in detail to really "grock" it, and when I do I'll post back, because I have some follow up questions. Right now I'm sick as a dog and need to go to bed...

    Bookmark   December 7, 2005 at 10:28PM
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mbravebird(VA zone 7)

Hi all, after several days of the flu, I'm back. It's amazing how much better I could understand all your suggestions without the fog of sickness on my brain. Thanks for all your feedback! I really appreciate the detail with which you described how you laid out your beds, cover crops, etc.

It sounds like most of you think that I'll need to till in some way to initially aerate the soil and deal with the larger, tougher weeds. That seems similar to what Eliot Coleman talks about, too -- till at first, then go to no till or low till. That makes sense to me, too. But I am still very intrigued by those who say that absolutely no tillage is needed, even on clay soil (which we have). I remembered something these past few days -- many years ago, my mother had a few square feet of clay to grow on in front of her condo, and she spent all winter throwing coffee grounds on the soil while I scoffed at her for not at least incorporating the stuff. I was the one who planted the spot in the spring, and I was amazed that it was better soil by far than all the few years before had beed -- it was dark and rich and loose, which we'd never been able to accomplish in the years before, despite adding lots of compost. When I think of that story, I think maybe all those folks who say no till really does work on clay soil are right.

BUT, that said, I think I'm going to approach it all with an "experimental" mindset, especially since I'm so green to the whole growing life anyway. I'm not going to worry about doing the "wrong" thing; I'll just try a couple of things and see what works better. And I'll be doing the soil test soon, which will help clarify what's needed, too.

I'm trying to decide on cover crops, as there seem to be so many options. I hadn't heard of using turnips before. Why did you choose them, Jay?

And where do I get spoiled hay, as opposed to regular hay?

The CSA for the flowers will happen because our friends, who already run a veggie CSA, would like to offer their folks flowers but are tired of growing them. So we could offer their folks a subscription to our bouquets. I do know a flower farmer nearby who has his own flower CSA. We'll see how it all works. The hope is to find the ideal market as we go along -- we're going to check out grocers and florists, too. This first year we'll start small, and if we have extra flowers after market and csa, we'll take them around to the businesses. But if we don't have extra, then maybe we've found our market already.

Thanks for the feedback, and any more you have would be appreciated, too.


    Bookmark   December 11, 2005 at 11:08AM
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mark_brown(7 NC)

look around your loval area, i found a pallet producer who has a lot of sawdust for free, i pay a small fee for delivery, it smothers everything and slowly rots into the soil. also have a husge horse stable 3 miles away, i get well aged manure for free and my beds get 2 or 3" of it per year

go for it

    Bookmark   December 12, 2005 at 9:32AM
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SpoWa(z5 Wa)

Congrats on the land. I would pick a spot for a compost pile and start it now, it's never too early. Veggie castoffs from the kitchen, any weeds you pull, leaves, grass clippings, coffee grounds from Starbucks. Some farmers would be happy to have you hall away their spoiled hay, stuff that got wet and rotted. I think you should till the first year and slowly work your way to no-till raised beds.
It is so interesting to read about every one else wanting to start a market garden on their land. That is my goal too, but am starting off slow and hope my property taxes don't drive me off when I retire and pursue this full time.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2005 at 2:49PM
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jayreynolds(zone 6/7)

I used turnips mainly because the seed is extremely cheap and I like to eat them, plus they are fairly frost tolerant for a fall crop. It was a simple matter to prepare a seed bed rather rough and broadcast the turnip seed and wheat seed. With a rough, rather than a fine seedbed, the seed will roll into crevices and rain washing on the clods will provide enough coverage for planting depth. Some people drag brush over the field to cover seeds as well. If you plant turnip seed too densely, you'll only get greens, but planted thinner you will get trunips, and by spring the unused ones will rot away and the wheat will take over. If you are growing a market garden, you might be able to generate some significant income in that 40-60 day window that turnips/mustard can grow from Aug-frost. I'm sure there is a market for them in Virginia, both for greens and turnips.

Be aware that many cover crops, such as wheat, will grow such a root mass that an ordinary tiller will be hard-pressed to incorporate it if allowed to develop very mature in springtime. If you have trouble with a wet spring on clay soil, this might significantly delay planting, because you will have to first wait for soil moisture to dry up, then plow the wheat, then allow it to decay. Also, having large amounts of undecomposed organic matter may impede use of mechanical seeders, making planting time a lot more labor intensive due to having to plant by hand. I've had a seeder for years but have not been able to use it because of this problem. Some people plant oats as a fall cover crop as they will usually be winter-killed.

It sounds like you are conservative with tillage by nature.
that's good. Be aware that if you plow deep, you may be sending your best topsoil down deep, and bringing up subsoil of lesser fertility or poorer texture. Also, be aware that plowing when your soil is too wet can do damage that may take a year or more to remediate.

The composting forum here at GW is a great place to get ideas for biomass harvest. I'm still getting municipal leaves as of yesterday. It's nice to drive around the more upscale neighborhoods and simply pick up the already bagged shredded leaves the retired folks deposit at curbside. I got a truckload in 15 minutes. Unfortunately I live 25 miles from town, but if I lived there I would have no need for any other source of biomass.
PS:I highly recommend you find materials for composting which can be simultaneously used as mulch. Unless I had a front-end loader for compost pile turning(which I do), I wouldn't anticipate with joy turning enough piles by hand to support a large market garden.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2005 at 10:51AM
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mbravebird(VA zone 7)

Thanks for the input, all....

Jay, how do I keep from plowing too deep? I'm not awfully familiar with all the tools available to me; I was just planning on borrowing my friends' equipment (the ones who run a veggie CSA). I think they have a tractor.

And a pallet producer for sawdust, Mark? I hadn't thought of that. I had heard that sawdust takes so long to decompose that it wasn't as good of a material -- what has your experience been?

And PQ, I am near Charlottesville in Virginia.

I think I will start collecting the coffee grounds next week, and trying to locate a horse farm nearby. I realized that right near the house are a few fields with large round bales of hay that have been sitting in the field in the weather. Is that spoiled hay? Do I just approach the owner, assuming that they have no use for it? Or is there a reason they are keeping the bales that way? Also, if I use spoiled hay, do I then need to make sure that there is enough mulch over that layer to smother the weeds in the hay? Maybe that's where the sawdust would come in. And it's good to hear that maybe I can still get some municipal leaves.

I've included a link about cover cropping without tilling that I thought was interesting.


Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   December 16, 2005 at 11:11PM
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mark_brown(7 NC)

sawdust is not bad, i use it as a thick mulch, easy to spread. decomposes from the ground up, is already in the horse manure. i rather spread sawdust than weed the garden. yes will take som of the soil nitrogen but i foilar feed and drip feed liquid fertilizer or did to start after a few years ithe soil gets very good. if u can donot plow subsoil deeply or chisel plow google to see examples of these. soes not disturb soil structure.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2005 at 8:32AM
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jayreynolds(zone 6/7)

I think you need to speak closely with your CSA friends.
A good mentor is worth a tremendous amount to you, if they are willing. I've used sawdust but as Mark says, beware that it does sap quite a bit of soil nitrogen, and you need to supplement the soil nitrogen levels if you use it.
I'd start out with no more than 2" of sawdust if I were you.
That amount, if incorporated in the fall, will totally disappear by springtime. Plowing too deep might depend on your soil structure. Take a spade and dig holes several places in your field, especially in places you suspect might have different soil profiles underground. what you may find is that you have 6", 1 ft, or if you're lucky, more good topsoil. Below that zone you will find a different color or texture of soil, generally a clay. This is your subsoil. You don't necessarily want to plow using an implement that inverts the topsoil and brings infertile subsoil up.

That said, a turning plow is what I've used before to turn an old sod underneath when I started my garden, because that's what I had available to use. My tractor, however, wasn't powerful enough to plow too deep and so I didn't get into trouble.

Now, I've also got one plot next to the creek with a very sandy soil up to 6 ft deep. I can plow it 2 ft deep any time I want, even after a rain, or anytime in the spring.
It really only needs a 6" tillage to get it ready, though.

The bottom line, as Mark says, is you've got to be patient. Expect to take 2-3 seasons before you get your soil right. I'm sure you'll do fine the first year, but the time to build soil now is with cover crops, and then it'll be ready when you need to expand. If you treat it well, it should get better and better, forever! Some farms in China have been in production for 4000 years.

good luck!

    Bookmark   December 19, 2005 at 8:11PM
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mark_brown(7 NC)

my raised beds are 30" wide and 40" long or 100 sq. ft. and the paths are 24" wide. each fall i till my paths lightly, they are mostly sawdust and before tilling I addd horse manure, as rotted as i can get i rake this on top of the raised beds and refill the paths with sawdust. when done you cna just see the beds. gives time for sawdust to break down. in the spring and summer i use the path sawdust on the beds for mulch if needed

    Bookmark   December 20, 2005 at 1:52PM
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April, another way to get rid of most or all of your weeds is burning. It will kill most of your weed seed. For compost the cheapest place we use is the county landfill that recycles and makes compost. You can do 1/2 acre, but that is a big piece for starting out. I would suggest: burn or till 8,000 sq ft. (80 X 100 or 40 X 200) add materials as suggested above saw dust, compost etc.. Till again. Buy 2 40 X 100 black plastic 6 mil. Put plastic down and secure sides all the way around. Decide how close you want to plant (I plant every sq ft.). Cut holes, plant plants, lay down drip hose every other or at least every third row (drip house with round sprayer). Using plastic and drip will save you hundreds of hours weeding and pulling hoses.

Now in a few hundred sq ft do raised beds. Buy railroad ties or what ever to raise them. Add top soil and compost. Plant, add sawdust or weed free clippings to bed and drip tape/hose.

With 10,000 sq ft or 1/4 of acre you can raise huge amounts of flowers and herbs.
Some things you need to do:

1. Read and watch the cut flower forum.

2. Know your market i.e. how much can you grow, sell, and at what price.

3. Know how to sell i.e. be customer friendly, know how to make bouquets fast and great.

4. KISS (Keep it simple ).

5. Take great farm notes i.e. what works, when it works, what to do, what to change etc.

PS I would take the 1st year just to get your soil weed free and prepared. Weeding and watering take more time in most cases as cutting flowers.


    Bookmark   December 20, 2005 at 6:25PM
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mark_brown(7 NC)

Bryan is correct, weeding and watering is tme consuming deep mulched raised beds help and you have to have drip irrigation. just can not leave the water to chance. warm here the last few days so shoveling a lot
need ot get this mulch tning motorized one day

    Bookmark   December 28, 2005 at 11:23AM
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mbravebird(VA zone 7)

Well, Mark, I've found a source for sawdust nearby! I'm still working on a manure source. Thanks, Bryan, for your recommendation to the cut flower forum. It's really helpful. I've started lurking and will eventually post there. And thanks for the encouragement on starting small and still being able to produce -- since I've never done it, it's sometimes hard for me to grock. But I really need to remind myself that if I just get a 1/4 acre planted that will be a good start, and I will learn a lot.

I've got a 1 year old, so that forces me to take it slow anyway -- so to speak.

And my CSA friends came back from traveling, so I was able to have a meeting with them before the holidays, which was really helpful. They have large water collectors that they use for irrigation. What water sources do you all use for irrigation? And when you mulch with natural materials, do you put the drip tape over or under it? I know that I should put it under the black plastic, but it seems like putting it under the natural mulches would eventually bury it in the decomposed mulch.

Thanks so much for all the input.


    Bookmark   January 1, 2006 at 10:03AM
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mark_brown(7 NC)

I have my beds ready to plant now, this fall i added 2 inches of horse manure and forked it ina bit to the top 6 inches which was about half sawdust mulch from the growing season. i then mulched the bed with 4 inches of sawdust. in the spring i will rake back 3 inches of sadust, plant and install my drip irrigation. and rake my mulch back ave the next 10, 20 and 30 days. i will add more sawdust if needed.

i water from two wells and that is a problem, i could use a few big 1500 gallons storage tanks.


    Bookmark   January 1, 2006 at 11:41AM
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sunflower_mk(z 8 SE GA)

Hi, I see several very good suggestions but I will add one that is unusual. See if there is a goat or sheep farms near you. You can see if they will put some of their livestock on your property to clean the weeds and brush and then you can see what is needed to work your land into fertil soil. Check out livestock farms and ag commissioner for manures and organic compost to add.
Just a thought.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2006 at 11:28PM
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Just about a year ago, Joe posted on the Cutting Garden Forum the following formula for controlling weeds before using the no-till method of growing flowers. I'm hoping he doesn't mind if I take the liberty of posting it here for your information. Joe had many years of experience growing cutflowers; and, he was also instrumental in creating the American Society of Cut Flowers Growers. He has a wealth of information; and, I miss his posts.


BOP-BOP-Rye is an acronym for a cover crop mix of Buckwheat, Oats, and field Peas. Each of these ingredients is mixed in equal quantities by weight and sowed at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet.

The first sowing is in earliest spring after the area is bush hogged; and, then the newly-sown seed is irrigated to germinate and grow.

When the flowers appear on the buckwheat, the crop is mowed close to the ground.

A second crop is seeded immediately thereafter, either into the clippings of the first crop or the first crop is tilled under, graded level, and then the second seeding is made.*

The second crop is also mowed at its bloom time.

This is followed by a crop of winter Rye sown in mid to late fall.

This is the standard formula. You can also add sunflowers and mustard to the mix (1/4 of each by weight compared to the full weight of the others).

This mix not only "smothers" the ground, hence not allowing room for any weeds, it has an allelopathic effect -- actually chemically supressing weed growth, at the time of production as well as later.

*Till the material in if you plan to create an "intensive" bed afterwards )flower bed, vegetable bed).

We grow cutflowers for market. Some of our plants are grown 6 to 12 inches apart in beds that are no wider than 4 feet. We also use support netting which comes in a 4' width. I wouldn't recommend planting that entire half acre on a one foot grid. I can't imagine how you would harvest those flowers. The aisles between our beds are 38 inches.

The use of plastic mulch isn't a method we would recommend for heavy soil. You mentioned that you have clay soil. We have all types of soil in our fields. We find the tendency of plastic mulches to interfere with soil aeration. This is worrisome; and, I would avoid them entirely in heavy soils such as you have.

We rely on a bit of compost as a weed supressing mulch around some of our plants. The weeds that do come through are easily removed. The oldest and most obvious technique of weed management is hoeing and hand-weeding. Yes, it does take time and energy; but, we tell ourselves that it's therapeudic. We wouldn't be flower farmers if we absolutely hated this aspect of growing for market. OK. I'll admit that my husband enjoys hoeing far more than I!!!

Looking forward to your posts on the Cutting Garden.......

    Bookmark   January 3, 2006 at 9:38AM
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mark_brown(7 NC)

goats, sheep and PIGS, i never have done it but read where someone reclaimed and made soil on 4 acres with pigs, the draawback is the strong fencing needed.

thanks for the BOP-BOP-Rye, that sounds good, i may have heard of it but had very well forgotten it.


    Bookmark   January 4, 2006 at 3:18AM
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tried 4 pigs rotated thru garden 2 sep. times. first was fall thru early sp. compaction was horrific ( I hear alot of you saying "duh" right now) and took 85hp tractor with chisel to rip it back to tilth. however that was the most amazing stand of sweet corn i ever saw. second go round done during driest months. soil took a beating but a tiller back and forth a few times (more beating)got it in shape for a cover crop and following years melons prospered. maybe if you have sandy soil young pigs would be a nice addition. peace

    Bookmark   January 5, 2006 at 11:56PM
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mbravebird(VA zone 7)

BOP BOP Rye sounds great, and helps me focus my cover crop thinking. There are so many choices there.

Interesting idea about the livestock, as one of my neighbors is a sheep farmer. We are not totally fenced in yet, but will be in the next few months. And pigs .. whew, never thought about pigs before. I'm having a hard enough time convincing my husband that we should have chickens, lol.

Thanks for all the ideas. Keep them coming...


    Bookmark   January 7, 2006 at 1:47PM
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flowermanoat(Z9, Central.CA)

Hello April and others interested in no-tillage market gardening. We've been raising mostly flowers, but some vegetables and fruits too, for 10 years near Fresno, California. What we do might be thought of as a kind of a cross between Permaculture and Biointensive [with no double-digging or composting]. Please check out our website at

Good luck on your ventures. I hope you find some useful infrormation on our website.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   February 18, 2006 at 9:09AM
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tbolt76(Z7-8 NC)

BOP-BOP Rye will not work in your climate zone. Rye, field peas, and oats need to be fall sown in the southeast. Growers in the north (where I used to grow-zone 5 buffalo) can seed this in spring b/c it is long and cool. We could even undersow corn to clover like Eliot Coleman suggests in july and have a nice crop to mow/till under in the fall. Your zone 7 climate will fry the peas and oats, which could be spring sown in february, but buckwheat cant be planted until mid-late april, so the 3 together are incompatible. Try the buckwheat, and around june 1st mow/till it and then plant cowpeas (red ripper, black eyes, or iron/clay) combined with sudangrass or sorghum-sudangrass. Mow this when its 4-5 feet tall and the grass will regrow and then mow it again. This is dynamite to build organic matter and loves the heat.
Be careful of the climate zones where the advice comes from. I had alot to learn here in the south, and many things are different down here. Northerners just don't know what our growing season is like.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2006 at 10:06PM
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huisjen(z5 ME)

Yesterday I had the pleasure of going to the Maine Organic Farmer's and Gardener's Association "Spring Growth" Conference. The main attraction was Anne and Eric Nordell, talking about their low till methods. They have written columns on the subject for the last 15 years or so in Small Farmer's Journal, and reprints are available. Their farm is in the zone 5 hills of northern Pennsylvania.

Their method is entirely horse powered, so that reduces wheel compaction. Not all of us have that option though.

They consider the cover crops to be the main method of tillage. They have twelve fields, a half acre each, and in any one year, six of them are in cover crops. They call this the "Bio-Extensive" method. The purpose of this tillage is to improve deep soil structure. Contrast that with the shallow cultivation used for weed control.

There is a rotation that begins with a field geting a year of cover, interupted by a bare fallow with repeated light cultivations to germinate and dispose of weed seeds. There's usually a legume in there somewhere, maybe several, as well as bulk carbon growers. After the fallow, they spread a light (2 yd/ acre) application of compost, then plant a fall cover that will be winter killed, usually peas and oats. One favored method of planting is to broadcast, then hill the soil into 5" ridges, much like small raised beds. The method has to be adjusted to make sure the path also gets cover.

The next year, this field would be planted to early crops. Weed control was accomplished with the summer fallow. The cover was winter killed. Even though the field is wet, they're able to get in and plant, because they don't need to work the soil other than scratch the dry (or drier) top of the ridge. They either use a cultivator with a coulter and a sweep to clear a narrow planting zone on top of the ridge, or a coulter and a tooth to clear just enough to transplant into. This moves the mulch left from the winter cover into the paths and lets the soil warm around the planted row. After the crop matures, the field is planted to cover again.

That cover will overwinter and resprout in the spring of the third year. Again, there will be a variety of cover crops grown in sucession, separated by open fallow periods to wear out the weed seed bank. At the end of this year, the winter cover may be something that overwinters again.

Six weeks before planting a late crop the next year, the cover is killed, usually by just disking. It may get disked repeatedly durring the six weeks leading to planting the cash crop, and by planting time, even without moldboard plowing, the dead cover has been broken up and incorporated into the top inch or two of the soil. This helps rain soak in and reduces evaporation, which helps as they have no irrigation system.

And that's four years. Do it again.

But there are many variations. Sometimes covers are planted by skim plowing after broadcasting seed into stubble. Sometimes garlic is planted in a furrow cut onto the top of a fall ridge, already a foot tall with winter cover. The order of cover crops and fallow is moved around to deter different weeds (spring versus summer). Sometimes ridges are used and sometimes they aren't. Some paths (garlic) get an extra cover of straw mulch. Some paths get more tillage to control weeds. Some get a line of cover crop planted in them while the cash crop is still growing in the rows around it. And they keep expirimenting.

So the system isn't exactly no till, but it is low till, and shallow. They have a very few specialized tools, such as a rolling chopper made by mounting about ten coulter wheels on a disk axle, but do most of their work with ancient horse cultivators, disks, and walking plows. They say they spend about four hours per field per year hand weeding.


    Bookmark   February 26, 2006 at 9:16AM
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mbravebird(VA zone 7)

Tom and Dan, thanks for your input. Tom, it's funny to talk to you both on this thread and on the thread I posted on the tractors forum! As you can see, I have decided that the transition to full no-till will be a slower process for me. However, I will try as many no-till beds as I have material for this year, and take an experimental approach. I've been collecting about 30+ pounds of coffee grounds per day for the past couple of months, and have access to free horse manure and spoiled hay, so we'll see how it all goes. Most of my space will be cultivated traditionally this year.

BUT I will be doing cover crops on all my land, not just my cultivated land, this year. I am going to try the seedball method of cover cropping on the non-cultivated land. And Tom, I am glad to hear your recommendations for crops in our area -- I had come to some of the same conclusions and thus have a box of buckwheat, cowpeas, soybeans, and non-dormant alfalfa sitting in my living room. I heaved a sigh of relief to read your recommendations and see that maybe I wasn't too far off. Thanks.

Dan, I'm going to have to go over the details of your post a few times before I fully "grock" it, but it looks like really valuable information. Thanks so much for sharing it! Sounds like they were inspiring folk to listen to. It also seems like most folks growing on a larger scale do face different challenges with no-till than growers of home gardens. People are finding their own way, it seems, to make it work on a larger scale. Again, thanks for sharing.

And flowermanoat, thanks for the link to your site. Interesting stuff!! A little different than most no-till approaches I've seen. Something to think about.


    Bookmark   March 1, 2006 at 8:36PM
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