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Is it Time for You to Try No-till Vegetables?

Posted: November 2, 2010

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated 16 counties in Pennsylvania as natural disaster areas because of losses caused by drought that began May 25, 2010. Luzerne County is one of the 16 primary counties. So how is a Luzerne County sweet corn grower able to say he harvested some of the nicest sweet corn he has ever grown? He is referring to sweet corn that was planted in the drought and harvested in early September. No-tilling is what made it possible.
Photo courtesy of John Eslinger.

Photo courtesy of John Eslinger.

This grower worked the fields for earlier sweet corn plantings. The spring plantings worked well. He started noticing poor and uneven stands in the worked fields that were planted in early June. Seeing that soil moisture conditions had become a limiting factor, he left the fields that were to be his later sweet corn plantings untilled. He applied a non-selective herbicide to those fields to help conserve moisture and eliminate established weeds. Irrigation was not available. The end result was a near perfect stand which produced a uniform crop of large, filled-out ears at a time when some competitors were trying to sell corn that was hurt by the drought.

No-till can also increase organic matter, improve soil health, increase beneficial insects and reduce some insect pests.

I am not saying that if you switch to no-till everything will be rosy. But, I do believe that no-till is under-utilized in vegetable production.

No-till has some drawbacks. For example slugs were a problem in 2009. In order to combat slugs some growers use row cleaners that push the residue away from the seed furrow. Other growers control slugs by applying bait through the insecticide box.

If you are considering no-till, think ahead. You may need to establish a fall cover crop. You will definitely need a planter that is designed for no-tilling and is well maintained. You will also want to reconsider your weed management. Some of the annual weeds you have been fighting will be less of a concern and some weeds that currently are not a problem may appear.

The benefits of no-till are not just reduced costs and soil erosion. No-tilling can result in higher quality produce and improved yield. As a grower of high value crops, you know the value of having consistently high quality and good yield. No-tilling, when done right, can give great results.