Film fans might be reminded of James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster Avatar. On “Pandora,” where the movie takes place, all the organisms are connected. They can communicate and collectively manage resources, thanks to “some kind of electrochemical communication between the roots of trees”. This sounds like some sort of science fiction, but this is actually very close to the real world we live in and a big reason we avoid tilling soil.
After millions of years of evolution, fungi, bacteria, microbes and plants formed symbiotic relationships. In exchange for sugars and carbon dioxide from plants, fungi provide what plants require such as minerals and elements, which releases energy. Just like your own neural network in your brain, the soil and everything in it has a mycorrhizal network extending throughout the landscape. Fungal threads called hyphae create a highway and merge with plant roots. Then, plants can send and receive nitrogen, sugars, carbon, phosphorus, water, and hormones that it can not produce on it’s on. Amazingly, one plant can connect to hundreds of others, all with the help of it’s little neighborhood of fungi and friends.
This network is easily displaced when compacted or dug. No till farming is an alternative technique that incorporates these unsung heroes of fungi and bacteria, as well as insects and more complex biology into the agriculture world. No-till farming is trying to incorporate as much “nature” into the plant as possible. To replicate what would be “normal” if the plant was to just sprout on its own in the world.
The result, high yielding plants with little to no disease. Research in ag journals have demonstrated that most healthy plants that meet all nutritional demands have a unique defense system against common diseases and pests resulting in better yield than those plants treated with pesticides and herbicides. In essence, nature knows best.
As we launch our garden this year, we will be using no-till techniques. We hope to not only grow food, but to learn and build on our understanding of what our plants and customers need. Hopefully getting better each season making both worlds happier and healthier.