To Till or Not to Till

One of the question that has been hauting us for long was – whether to till or not to till ! There is rampant confusion about this question in farming, science and even the organic farming communities.

Creation of hardened soil layer due to tilling

Creation of hardened soil layer due to tilling (from

On one side

  • Tilling is unnatural
  • It disturbs soil structure
  • It requires use of tractors and heavy machinery which create a tillage pan (a hardened soil layer) posing various issues
  • There are no clear scientific evidences or reasons for use of tilling
  • It harms microbes and biological life in the soil
  • It is believed to be harmful to environment

On the other hand

  • Tilling is used widely as a method for soil preparation
  • It is one (often only one) of the effective method of weed control in modern farming
  • It loosens the top soil which help in initial growth of plant
  • It prepares bed for sowing

The more we dig both the sides, the more evidences we gather for each argument. So, what do we do ?

Tilling is unnatural – there is no doubt about it. It harms soil and it’s culture. But one thing that makes it neccessary evil is “weed control”. There are other methods such as “cover crops” , mulching to control weeds. While these methods are more nature friendly, they often become difficult if not impractical as we move beyond few acerage.

So currently, here is our approach –

  • Use till – but make it as harmless as we can. (Use of lighter machinery, reduce number of tillings, do it at the right time)
  • Carry out healing practices to undo the harm of tilling (leaving the land untilled for few years, grow crops that break the tillage pan (like tuar dal), grow trees to loosen the soil, add green manure and improve soil culture)
  • Slowly adapt to no till by experimenting and learning from the farm

This question still remains with us but our current approach has allowed us to take easy as well nature friendly path.  We keep looking forward to more insights (practical ones especially) on this. Please share with us if you’ve got some ideas.


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