No Till farming

Notill 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

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.


Organic no-till

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

  1. keep important fungal hyphae and microorganisms in the soil intact
  2. prevent recurring weeds from popping up
  3. increase residual nitrogen and plant nutrients by top-composting plant residues and
  4. 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.

Water issues

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.

Farmer John chicken tractor examples

These are some of the ‘chicken tractor’ examples that we used at various projects.

Chicken tractors next to a swale in an Urban Jozi food garden. This was and exciting project in the heart of industrial Jhb.

Keyhole garden – once the chicken tractor moved on to its next location we planted these mandala style garden beds.

Urban food farm in Industrial Johannesburg. Keyhole (Mandala) gardens created by using chicken tractors. The floor of each chicken tractor is layered with raw organic material such as manure or vegetable off cuts. Chickens do what they do – eat, scratch and poo and in no time prepared the round shaped garden beds ready for planting. The chicken tractor is then moved on to the next area where the process is repeated.








Staff at Newton House School constructing the school Chicken Tractor to be used in their nursery and food garden.

Chicken Tractor – an aid to healthy soil and plants

Chicken tractor Thomas web page versionIn permaculture terms the chicken tractor is a prime example of a symbiotic relationship between humans, animals (in this case chickens), earth and plants. This is a popular method adopted worldwide by permaculture farmers to enhance the quality of their planting soil whilst working with nature and not against it.
The chicken tractor can best be described as a ‘movable’ chicken coop normally made from light weight material with no floor (easily movable). This allows your chickens to scratch and feed in keeping with their natural lifestyle instincts in a specific area. The coop contains a thick layer of organic material, kitchen green vegetable scraps, etc. which is turned into rich organic compost with the added benefit of lots of chicken poo. Unlike the conventional ‘bare ground’ chicken coop which requires regular cleaning and stench control, the chicken tractor method is low maintenance and the chicken droppings put to good use.
When the compost is ready the whole coop is moved to a new location and the process started all over again. Vegetables and other edible plants are then introduced to the original area coop area that has been transformed into the perfect bed for a food garden.
The number of chickens used will depend on the size of the coop and overcrowding should be avoided. An additional advantage of this method is the constant availability of fresh ‘free range’ eggs.