Gardening Basics: Knowing Your Shovels

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If "No Till" Means No Tilling, Why Machinery? And Other Questions Answered

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Most farmers use tilling equipment to churn the soil up from several inches underground. That is the traditional means of getting crops started in the spring. Unfortunately, it takes hours to do the tilling, and by the end of the first day, nothing has been planted yet. If the weather changes or the fields become too wet, all of that tilling has to start over to prepare the soil for seeding. 

That is why a lot of farmers are turning to "no-till" farming. It is faster, more effective, and it gets crops in-ground sooner. There are machines involved, with "no-till" parts for the soil work, which begs the question, "If "no-till" means no tilling, why the machinery?" Here is the answer to that question and related questions about this approach to planting crops. 

The Machinery Acts as Guides for the Seeds

No-till machinery looks like it still tills, since the machine contains several blade-like gear heads out in front. However, these heads do not grind or move soil. They puncture the soil and act as guides for the seeds, which are automatically dispersed into the holes created by the moving heads. You just rely on the ground-up soil from the previous autumn, when and where you tilled and turned the remainder of the unharvested parts of your crops into the ground as mulch for next spring. 

You Can Walk Behind, or Use a Small Tractor

Depending on the size of garden or crop you are putting in the ground this year, there are walk-behind versions of the machinery, and there are tractor versions. However, the tractor versions do require a smaller tractor than most farmers are used to using. If you have a smaller tractor, great! If not, consider asking a neighboring farm to borrow their small tractor, and attach some no-till parts to the tractor to plant your crops now. 

You May Till in the Fall, If You Want

Let's say that you put in a crop of corn for your cows. You harvest all of the corn, but stalks are still standing in the field in autumn. The no-till equipment is no longer used; it has done the job of planting. You can choose to till in the fall, churning the stalks underground for the winter, or you can mow them down with a brush cutter attachment on your tractor and leave them in the fields. It is up to you.