Tillage and Cultivation

Tillage and cultivation are tools that can accomplish a variety of objectives in farming systems: weed control, crop residue management, soil aeration, conservation of manures and other fertilizers, hardpan reduction, sanitation to destroy pest and disease habitat, etc.

While conventional farmers rely on chemicals to accomplish many of these objectives, organic growers focus more on improving tillage and maximizing its benefits. Guidelines for primary tillage, for example, are intent on conserving crop residues and added manures in the upper, biologically active zones of the soil, rather than burying them deeply where decomposition is anaerobic (oxygen-starved). Leaving soils completely bare and vulnerable to erosion is discouraged; fall moldboard plowing is certainly frowned upon.

Cultivation in organic systems often rises to the level of art. Row-crop farmers frequently use blind cultivation —shallow tillage, which largely ignores the crop rows—beginning shortly after seeding until the plants are but a few inches high. Rotary hoes, wire-tooth harrows, and similar equipment can be used for blind cultivation, delaying the first flush of weeds and giving the crop a head start.

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