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Disadvantages of tilling and bare soil

Chart of soil microorganism concentrations at various depths.I've been dabbling in no-till techniques for the last few years, due to a vague understanding that tilling is bad for the soil.  Robert Kourik's book gave me the low down on the best no-till techniques and why they succeed (or fail.)

So, what's wrong with tilling?  Although we can't see it, our soil is teeming with microscopic and macroscopic life, most of which lives in the top three inches of soil.  Tilling churns up soil, mixing the microorganism playground with the lower soil and resulting in a lot less life.  Although you might expect that the microorganisms folded deeper into the earth just expand their populations, lack of air and sun quickly kills them off.

Bare soil is another bane of conventional tilling.  Erosion is the obvious problem --- rain washes away the precious topsoil when it is unprotected by plants or mulch.  But sun is just as much of a problem.  When bare soil is exposed to summer sun, the heat vaporizes nitrogen and kills the precious soil microorganisms, resulting in a garden that requires much more fertilizer in order to grow your veggies.

Of course, we can't just throw our lettuce seeds amid the grass in our lawns and expect it to grow.  So how do we garden without annual tilling and bare soil?

This post is part of our lunchtime series reviewing Robert Kourik's Designing and Maintaining your Edible Landscape Naturally.  Read all of the entries:

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Thanks a million for using my book for you discussions. Believe it or not, it's still in print see my web site Thanks, Robert
Comment by R Thu Aug 19 21:29:33 2010
I definitely believe it! That's a really inspiring book chock full of good information --- I highly recommend it.
Comment by anna Fri Aug 20 08:12:31 2010

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime