Courtesy of Stefan, Good Time Farming, Squamish, BC
I definitely believe that there could be huge benefits to not tilling or minimizing your tilling and from what I have read and heard from other growers who minimize their tilling habits. The benefits are discovered in the longer term – 5 or 10 years maybe. I unfortunately have not been growing long enough on my current plots, but what I have noticed on the plots that I haven’t been tilling or tilling very little is the decreasing amount of inputs that these gardens require and the decreasing amount of watering, while the productivity is always increasing – and as long as I am continuously growing a crop in these beds (minimal periods of bare soil) and using the broadfork occasionally, soil compaction is
never a problem – the soil structure actually improves significantly.
We own a BCS and definitely use it when needed, but every year we seem to find ways to use it less. I bought a Tilther from Johny select this season. I was hesitant at first but for beds that are well established this tool is amazing, only tilling the surface. I am also using certified organic corn based mulch which has significantly decreased my tilling habits. For example, after a cycle of carrots I will add the necessary amount of inputs and mulch the bed (no tilling). I will then do a cycle of pac choi, harvest and replant a cycle of lettuce heads with the same mulch. when the lettuce is harvested I remove the mulch and the bed is completely weed free and ready for a round of greens with minimal prepping required.
While tilling is certainly necessary at times, I find that because we have utilized this practice for so long we often do it when it might not be necessary. I am actually finding it to be less work the more I find ways not to till or minimize the tilling of my beds but more importantly, as I mentioned earlier, the amount of inputs seems to be decreasing every year as the ecosystem in the biota of the soil is less disturbed and hence is working more efficiently.