No–till farming is a method of growing crops from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage. This eliminates the need for tractors and large agricultural equipment that invariably leads to the destruction of the microbial life in soil and compacting.
- Studies have found that no-till farming can be more profitable than conventional farming which is more often than not dependent on high input costs.
- Less tillage of the soil reduces labour, fuel, irrigation and machinery costs.
- No-till can increase yield because of higher water infiltration and storage capacity, and less erosion.
- Another benefit of no-till is that because of the higher water content, instead of leaving a field it can make economic sense to plant another crop instead.
- No-till farming can increase organic matter in the soil
raised beds in a no-till garden
No-till farming requires some different skills to achieve success. As with any production system, if no-till isn’t done correctly, yields can drop. A combination of technique, equipment, crop rotation, fertilization, and irrigation have to be used for local conditions.
Cover Crops are in no-till farming to help control weeds and increase nutrients in the soil by using nitrogen fixing plants or by using plants with long roots to pull mobile nutrients back up to the surface from lower layers of the soil.
Some farmers who prefer to pursue an organic management practice often rely on the use of normal, non-dyed corrugated cardboard for use on seed-beds and vegetable areas. Used correctly, cardboard placed on a specific area can
- keep important fungal hyphae and microorganisms in the soil intact
- prevent recurring weeds from popping up
- increase residual nitrogen and plant nutrients by top-composting plant residues and
- Create valuable topsoil that is well suited for next year’s seeds or transplants.
The plant residues (left over plant matter originating from cover crops, grass clippings, original plant life etc.) will rot while underneath the cardboard so long as it remains sufficiently moist. This rotting attracts worms and other beneficial microorganisms to the site of decomposition, and over a series of a few seasons will create a layer of rich topsoil. Plants can then be direct seeded into the soil or holes can be cut into the cardboard to allow for transplantation. Using this method in conjunction with other sustainable practices such as composting/vermicomposting, cover crops and rotations are often considered beneficial to both land and those who take from it.
No-till farming dramatically reduces the amount of erosion in a field. A problem that occurs in some fields is water saturation in soils. Switching to no-till farming will correct the drainage the because of the qualities of soil under continuous no-till include a higher water infiltration rate.
Here are some ‘must have’ herbs if you prefer cooking with fresh herbs.
Food Forests are wonderfully productive ecosystems, small or large in scale. Food forests are designed to meet needs of the particular family or community – as well as to produce habitat, be of benefit to wildlife, increase ecological resilience and create abundance.
Food forests mimic the architecture and beneficial relationships between plants and animals found in a natural forest or other natural ecosystem. Food forests are not “natural”, but are designed and managed ecosystems (typically, complex perennial polyculture plantings) that are very rich in biodiversity and productivity.
A few interesting facts around food diversity from a report released by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):
- There are around 30,000 edible plants growing on the planet today, however humans on average only eat about a dozen.
- As humans we require between fifty and hundred different chemical compounds and elements to be healthy. Only a very small percentage can be found in animal products with the vast majority to be found within the roots, shoots and leaves of the thousands of consumable plants that grow around the world. A diet that disregards diversity does so at the detriment of our health.
- Only around fifty crops deliver 90% of the world’s calories whereas less than a century ago several thousand plants would have done so. Today the emphasis by commercial agricultural is on the big four – wheat, corn, soybean and sunflower which is cheap and easily reformulated, packaged and often sold for profit with scant regard for our health and well-being.
At The Well we strive to reintroduce varieties of food plants that have been lost (or in the process of being lost) as a result of commercial growers often focussing on a few veg and fruits that are easy to grow. Excessive use of chemicals in food production is also taking its toll.
Autumn is a very busy time for the gardener. Get your hands dirty and enjoy the sunshine before the cold comes!To ensure colour through winter, plant and sow now and make sure that you have the right herbs/veggies in before it is too cold. Certain winter flowering bulbs and some spring flowering bulbs can be planted. Harvest your herbs early in the morning for drying. Lemon verbena and lemon balm and tarragon, especially as they will lose their precious leaves in winter. Try to get rid of weeds before they set seed. Compost making is never ending and those wormeries need to be taken out and “divided” every now and then. Talking about dividing, this is the best time to divide lots of plants like strawberries, irises, and many perennial herbs and bulbous plants. Feed those guys which are going to flower or bear fruit soon, like the citrus trees. In Autumn a lot of cuttings can be taken, especially of the more mature wood. It is easier than you think! A lot of your flowers have finished flowering, this is the time to gather those dried flower heads full of seeds. Keep some of the interesting shapes for pot pourri making.
This is a good time to add a new bed to your garden. You have time to weed, compost and mulch the soil in preparation for the new plants (some which are best to plant in winter, like trees and deciduous species). As the days get shorter and colder, a lot of animals are preparing for winter too. Be careful not to remove too many leaves or old branches etc from your garden. They provide food and shelter for a lot of animals who would like to overwinter in your garden. As the leaves fall, gently rake them into the beds where they will provide much needed mulching for your plants and homes for little creatures. Mulching saves water too!
If you have moved to a new garden, take note of how the sun moves over the next few months, which plants and trees are deciduous and make notes in a little gardening book, so that you will know what to plant amongst those shrubs and under those trees and against trellises and walls next year this time. Also take the time to read through old gardening books of the same month to get a good idea of what to do or not to do this time of the year. Have a look at neighbour’s gardens to get ideas of what to plant in yours. Get to know the soil in your garden. You will get a good idea about what soil it is by looking at what is growing there already.
When you consider planting more plants and trees, try to plant indigenous. Indigenous trees,plants and grasses attract our butterflies and birds and secondly, try to plant what grows in your climate. These species are well adapted to the area and will save you money by not dying on you and reward you with special guests like birds, little reptiles and insects.
this list is by no means complete but could form the basis for a indigineous food en fruit garden:
FARMER JOHN – Indigenous food garden
Fruit bearing trees – (Afrikaans common names)
Natalsuurpruim, waterbessie, wildemango, rooi-ivoor, wildemispel, tosselbessie, wildevla-appel en doppruim.
- Ximenia Caffra – Natal Sour Prune/Natalsuurpruim. Lovely fruit with a sour stone. High vitamin C and Calium content.
- Annona senegalensis – tasty with a distinct pineapple scent.
- Syzygium cordatum – (Water bessie) Deep purple berries
- Pappea capensis – (doppruim of kambessie) has delicious fruit however only the female tree bears fruit.
- Berchemia zeyheri – (rooi-ivoor) has very sweet fruit. Zulu name umNcaka.
- Vangueria infausta – (Wildemispel) ‘knobly’ with wonderful sweet and sour fruits with a high vitamin C content.
- Menta aquatica – local mint.
- Asystasia gangetica – (rank vingerhoedjie) host to a variety of butterflies
Flowers and fruits – flowers may not necessary be edible but is conducive to a vegetable garden in terms of aroma, ‘friendly’ insect hosting qualities and possibly to enhance certain dishes.
- Carissa macrocarpa and Carissa edulis – well known to KZN inhabitants for it’s large tasty fruit full of vitamin C.
- Pelargonium capitatum – pleasant aromatic leaves
- Ocimum gratissimum – (wild basil) with lemon like leaves to enhance flavours in food.
- Plectranthus amboinicus – (lekkerstink-salie)
- Mentha longifolia – wild mint. Herb tea and attracts advantageous insects.
- Trees of Natal, Zululand and Transkei – Elsa Pooley
- Wildflowers of KwaZulu Natal – Elsa Pooley
- Companion Planting – Margaret Roberts