June 5 – 18, 2017
Mount Washington — Uncharacteristic of stalwart hilltown gardeners, as recently as two weeks ago we were tentative about, if not leery of, field planting frost-tender annuals. With nighttime temperatures in the 40s and high 30s, the possibility of frost loomed. Although cool and cold days and nights persisted, frost-free forecasts were convincingly steady. By the sanctified planting time of Memorial Day weekend, all restraint burst through the doubt. The land designated for tender plants urged our acts of midwifery and the plants were willing risk-takers.
In early spring, at the beginning of the new growing season, I had begun to experiment with no-till methods. In mid-April, instead of attempting to turn under stands of winter wheat and rye grass as in previous years, I launched into the process of solarizing the grass. Solarizing kills the grass without having to pull it out; the soil structure is not disturbed and all the organic matter is left in the ground. The only drawback is that solarization is most efficiently done with plastic sheeting spread over the area, which, when heated by the sun, gets hot enough to kill unwanted vegetation and disease organisms. Even if we purchase heavy-gauge material designed for agricultural use, it eventually becomes long-lasting, non-recylable garbage. I wasn’t ready to commit to purchasing the plastic, so I used remaindered pool liner and synthetic compost-cover fabric.
The benefits of this method are astonishing. When I removed the fabric 10 days ago, a fine mat of dead grass was revealed. As a cover crop, the thick growth of annual grasses had kept out weeds during the six cold months they held their own and grew. Following solarization, beds are close to ready to plant; moreover, they don’t grow weeds while awaiting sowing.
The next step in the no-till process is to aerate the soil by working either a spading fork or broadfork (see illustrations at https://www.johnnyseeds.com/tools-supplies/long-handled-tools/broadforks/) back and forth in lines across the ground. As a novice, I am trying this method on beds for warm-weather transplants, not small-seeded varieties and crops sown early in the growing season. So far, tomato and squash seedlings have found homes in those beds.
As gardeners reaching for an understanding of practices now at the forefront of the organic farming movement, it is uncommon to find no-till practitioners, whereas we have only to look around ourselves to recognize polyculture and some version of permaculture in our own landscapes.
I’ve signed up for a no-till workshop to be held at Woven Roots Farm in Tyringham on July 9. Opportunities to learn about all of these topics will be offered at the Northeast Organic Farming Conference (NOFA) from August 11-13 at Hampshire College in Amherst.
July 9, Woven Roots Farm, Tyringham, MA – https://www.nofamass.org/events/no-till-market-gardening-intensive-tools-and-techniques-vital-crops-and-healthier-soils
Northeast Organic Farming Conference
August 11-13, Hampshire College, Amherst, MA – https://nofasummerconference.org/
Lee Reich, Hudson Valley garden consultant, author and workshop presenter – https://www.leereich.com/books, https://www.leereich.com/books/weedless-gardening, https://www.leereich.com/2016/09/unpermaculture.html
Solarization – https://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74145.html