It’s no-till November. The USDA National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is encouraging farmers to keep the stubble on harvested crop fields to improve soil health. The no-till November campaign was launched in 2017.
No-till has several benefits.
No-till reduces soil compaction.Tillage destroys soil structure making soil more susceptible to compaction. Multiple passes over a field with heavy tillage equipment does not help with the issue. When rain hits bare ground, puddling and compaction occurs.
No-till reduces erosion and run-off improving surface water quality.The vegetative cover or stubble reduces erosion from wind and water. Reduced water erosion reduces run-off promoting water infiltration instead. Reduced run-off decreases sedimentation of topsoil in lakes and rivers. Run-off of contaminants like fertilizers and pesticides is reduced.
No-till is a water conservation practice.Water infiltration and percolation is improved, helping to recharge groundwater. The crop stubble minimizes water loss due to evaporation keeping soil moist longer.
No-till increases the organic matter in the soil.The mixing of soil or tillage introduces too much oxygen at once, which quickly breaks down organic matter, draining carbon from the soil. A 1 percent increase in organic matter can hold an additional 75,000 to 100,000 gallons of water per acre. That is a lot of water.
No-till increases biological activity in the soil.Think about it, would you want to live in an area that was constantly being disturbed, uprooting your entire family?
No-till promotes biodiversity.A healthy soil rhizosphere contains a diverse population of beneficial organisms like mycorrhizae, which has a symbiotic relationship with plant roots. Benefits of this relationship include improved water absorption and nutrient uptake. No-till operations have a healthy, active population of earthworms. Earthworm activity simulates tillage in a good way.
No-till reduces production costs by reducing the number of passes made across a field.This reduces labor costs, fuel costs and wear-and-tear on equipment. Purdue University calculates that a farmer will save 225 hours per year for a 500-acre farm. Another study estimated a reduction in labor as 50 percent.
The concept of no-till can be applied to the garden. Once the garden has been established, the surface is never disturbed. Walking paths and planting beds are designated and do not change over time. Never walk or drive equipment in the planting beds.
Amendments like compost are added to the top of the planting beds. These amendments are leached into the soil by watering and by the biological activity in the soil. Over time, this layering simulates nature, creating a fluffy planting bed.
In addition to all the benefits listed, no-till gardening reduces weeding. The layer of compost acts as a mulch, smothering weeds. Tillage stirs the soil, bringing weed seeds to the surface. Once exposed to light, the weed seed germinates. So don’t till or stir the soil up.
Healthier soil and less weeding? Stop treating our soil like dirt, give no-till gardening a try.