We are embarking on an experiment this year into reducing tillage here on the farm.  As many of you may have heard, our agricultural soils are one of the largest potential places to sequester some of our excess atmospheric carbon.  One of the techniques that people have used to fix more carbon in an agricultural soil is reducing tillage.  Tillage, or disturbance of the soil, is what “re-sets” the ecosystem back to a bare soil, freshly disturbed state, perfect for growing the annual crops that humans have come to depend on.  Tillage also causes the organic matter in the soil to oxidize, releasing carbon dioxide.  This oxidation reaction is essentially like a slow-motion burn, and tillage, by introducing air into the system, acts like the damper on your woodstove being wide open.  There is a movement afoot in agriculture to reduce or almost eliminate tillage.  We have a bunch of small, market garden scale farmers who are doing some very small scale no-till systems that rely on a lot of hand labor.  And then on the larger scale, there are big farms that use massive and expensive equipment, along with herbicides, to control weeds in no-till settings.  We fall somewhere in between, and haven’t found much for tried-and-true systems for our scale.  But we are committed to improving our soil health and climate impact, so we are trying some no-till plots this year, with some help from our friends.  The Grinspoon Foundation’s local food fund helped us buy a flail mower, which mows cover crops and chops them into a fine mulch on the surface.  Then we have some other funding from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to run some trials on no-till systems.  We will be comparing planting tomatoes directly into a mowed cover crop with letting the mulch sit under a tarp for a few weeks.  The tarp will hopefully help to control weeds by getting them to germinate and then die for lack of sunlight.  We’re still not exactly sure how we are going to plant tomatoes into this untilled field, but we will figure something out.  This is all out, visible from Pine Street, so you can follow along as it goes!

Nicely Chopped mulch

David and Matthew get ready to spread out the tarp

Mulched field on the left, mulched and tarped field on the right.

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