What advice do you have for planting and growing alliums without tillage?
Answer: While it is possible to establish a no-till system for your land, it is advisable to first establish a cover crop and get the weeds under control, particularly if you are trying to establish no-till in an organic system. According to the book Building Soils for Better Crops, “Once you are committed to no-till, you’ve lost the opportunity to easily and rapidly change the soil’s fertility and physical properties. The recommendation is really the same as for someone establishing a perennial crop, such as an apple orchard. Build the soil and remedy compaction before converting to no-till.” While your goal may be to use no-till as a response to your weed situation, keep in mind that organic no-till works best if you have a good handle on your weeds.This probably isn’t new to you, but alliums are particularly vulnerable to weed pressure and I would discourage a no-till system, at least initially.The Nordells of Beech Grove Farm in Pennsylvania have a great system for managing weeds on their farm, particularly in alliums. I recommend reading their article titled “Weed the Soil, not the Crop.” They have what I would call a modified tillage system. They combine fallow-season long-cover cropping, along with using winter-killed cover crops as a mulch for the following season’s vegetables. If you have enough land, dedicate some of your production area to fallow with cover crops each year. If you have space to spare, I would suggest plowing or tilling followed by a vigorous summer cover crop, followed by a fall planted winter killed cover (if that is available in your region) to manage your current annual weed population. Establish a warm-season cover crop that will give you lots of organic matter and compete with weeds and prepare you for a perennial or annual cover crop that you can incorporate into a no-till system. Legumes such as cowpeas, soybeans, annual sweet clover, sesbania, guar, crotalaria, or velvet beans may be grown as summer green manure crops in your region to add nitrogen along with organic matter. Non-legumes such as sorghum-sudangrass, millet, forage sorghum, or buckwheat are grown to provide biomass, smother weeds, and improve soil tilth. Sorghum-sudan grass is very effective at smothering weeds and producing a lot of organic matter in a short period of time and might be a good selection for your particular situation. It is important that sorghum-sudangrass has regular water to establish a good stand and fill in enough to compete with weeds.In the fall, this cover crop should be mowed with a rotary mower (or “brush hog”) and incorporated with a tillage implement, or if you have access to some type of reduced tillage implement, you can direct seed into the sudangrass residue. At this point, it would be possible to plant a perennial cover crop mix. This could include a legume to help provide some nitrogen, such as white clover planted with a grass, such as a fescue mix. Another option would be to plant another cool-season annual that will over-winter such as a ryevetch combination. This will establish in the fall and go dormant through the winter. In the spring the crops will begin growing again. When they begin to establish a seed head, rotary mow or flail chop the cover crop and either plant directly into the dead standing plants or till in and plant your desired cash crop. If you have livestock, this would be the time for grazing at a high stock density. Small livestock such as sheep or goats are great for terminating cover crops and managing weeds.