This week we had a great turnout at the garden and a wonderful potluck. Garden members participated in weeding, provided more layers of structure and support for the growing tomatoes and beans, harvested, and placed wood chips over the burgeoning potatoes. Some of our members put lime around the zucchini plants to help with the blossom rot last week, so we started getting some yummy zucchini!
Lately, I’ve been thinking about environmentally friendly ways to garden. Emma Bloomquist is one of the interns with the Community Garden this year. As a biology major, she gives a lot of thought for how to better care for the garden and the plants in it. My first day working with her, Emma brought up that she was looking into no-till farming (also known as direct drilling or zero tillage). Thinking this would be good for the environment, and a good way to save water, Emma has considered how it would work for our garden. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what no-till farming is and how it can benefit a garden. Likely obvious from the name, this type of gardening is one in which the soil is not tilled or overly disturbed. Tilling ground can kill pre-existing organic matter which would have helped water and air find paths in the soil. When roots are given the chance to grow, they pierce through the soil and as they decay there is space for water and air to come through. Because of this, irrigation is also not needed in a no-till system. This means the land is allowed to grow naturally the way it was meant to. Tilling can also be bad for soil because soil has both sand and clay. The sand is porous, allowing water to pass through, while the clay soaks the water up and stores it. These particles are held together, but when tilled they are broken apart and can no longer function correctly. Not only is it better on the land, it is better for the farmer or gardener. There is less labor during the planting season and during upkeep, and irrigation systems are not needed. There are considerations to take when pursuing no-till farming, and it is difficult the first year trying it. However, in the long run it seems to encourage a healthier relationship with the land.
In our garden, we do employ something similar. We do irrigate, but we do not till, other than one area that was tilled last year. Rather, we build up the soil using compost, wood chips, and cardboard. If you’re interested in no-till farming, Hanley Farm in Medford, Oregon is a large farm that uses no-till farming. For a basic overview of no-till farming, visit the Wikipedia page.