What can you tell me about growing no-till vegetables?
Answer: No-till systems are a practical way to raise vegetables and improve soil quality at the same time. No-till production involves growing and managing cover crops to provide living and killed mulches, which along with the reduction/elimination of tillage, provides numerous benefits to soil biology, soil structure, and soil health. Some benefits of no-till organic mulch include moisture conservation, weed suppression, erosion control, increased soil organic matter, food and habitat for soil organisms, and, in the case of a legume, biologically fixed nitrogen.In conventional no-till vegetable production, herbicides are commonly used to kill cover crops in order to create mulch and for follow-up, post-emergent weed control. Herbicides do a good job of controlling vegetation and they are a major reason no-till agriculture has been so successful. However, sustainable and organic agriculture has a goal of reducing chemical inputs and instead relies on cultural practices, biological processes, and naturally-derived products. The health of the soil, location, the scale of production (i.e., tools available to manage systems), and the crop(s) being planted all play a vital role in organic no-till vegetable production. The non-chemical management and suppression of cover crops that can be integrated with no-till vegetable production most often include mowing or rolling and crimping. With each management system and their affiliated tools, timing is a critical factor. Vegetable growers like to plant as soon as possible in the spring with an aim to harvest early. In addition, farmers that live in hot, dry regions plant early to take advantage of spring rains and cooler temperatures. However, no-till production relies on cover crop maturation to occur prior to mechanical disturbance by mowing or roller crimping. Therefore, matching a cover crop to the growing cycle of the vegetable crop is very important.For more information about no-till, consult these ATTRA publications:No-Till Case Study, Brown’s Ranch: Improving Soil Health Improves the Bottom LineNo-Till Case Study, Bauer Farm: Cover Crop Cocktails on Former CRP LandNo-Till Case Study, Richter Farm: Cover Crop Cocktails in a Forage-Based SystemNo-Till Case Study, Miller Farm: Restoring Grazing Land with Cover Crops