There are always exceptions. I know that tillage (Tillage is the agricultural preparation of soil by mechanical agitation of various types, such as digging, stirring, and overturning) does damage to the soil, but for the first time since I started the garden I decided to till. This is a long story. Last summer I planted Sunn Hemp in my fields for the third year in a row and in two particular areas it was showing signs of disease or nutrient deficiency or some other kind of stress. I was trying to figure out what to do about it when I ran across a webinar titled Crop Rotations: Conservation Benefits. I knew that rotating my covers crops was as important as rotating any crops, but I was ignoring the fact because I felt so comfortable with Sunn Hemp. Since it is a legume there were parts of my field that had been planted with legumes back to back for most of the three years. That’s where I was seeing problems. The webinar specifically went into the benefits of rotating cover crops and even mentioned no-till systems. The trick for me has always been that the research is not relevant in our sub tropical growing seasons. Most of the rotations from the webinar or any other resource aren’t good options for us. After some thought I decided to go with Sorghum Sudan Grass for a few reasons. Margie at Bee Heaven grows it alternating with Sunn Hemp and she gets good results; it’s a heat loving grass that produces high volumes of organic matter and it’s rated great at weed suppression. Oh and it’s nematocidal. That covers most of my priorities. The only doubt in my mind was related to it’s use in a no-till system. I am scared of grasses. They have enormous anchoring roots and they grow back after mowing. I couldn’t find any information about Sudan Grass used in no-till and there was no one I could call for advice. I spoke to one person, can’t remember who it was, and they said that I should try a small section first. They said that if the grass was cut at the right time it was less likely to grow back. Well, I jumped the gun and ordered enough seed for the whole field. I thought to myself, I need to try something new and worst case scenario I will have to till the field.
Last week I cut back the Sudan Grass and came back to the field a few days later, anxious to see if it was growing back. It was. Bummer. But I had a feeling it would because it had gotten really big and the roots were woody. So this week I rented the largest tiller available at Home Depot. I ended up with a Honda FRC800 Rear Tine Tiller which did the job in about 6 hours. It was a pain to maneuver in my field because of the odd shapes and tight corners and the tall grass got tangled in the tines so we kept having to stop to untangle the mess. Besides those issue I’d say it worked out pretty well. It looked and felt like there was a substantial amount of organic matter turned into the soil.
In a few days, after most of the weed seeds on the surface germinate (especially after the downpour today) we are going to go back in with hand hoes to get rid of them before direct seeding our carrots, beans, radishes and many different varieties of greens.