Wednesday, April 7, 2010


As this is only my second year with the garden, I feel odd calling it no-till, since it was tilled last year to loosen up the turf and make it easier to mound the dirt into permanent raised beds. Eventually I hope the garden will expand to at least a couple of acres, but it's a slow process and I've got a lot to learn along the way.

Sometimes I feel it's almost blasphemous to say that you can farm without plowing, fertilizing, or spraying, but no-till farms that do use fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides are fairly well-accepted today. My chemical-free version, however, is rather rare, but it has been done successfully in the past. I will discuss two of my greatest farming inspirations later on this year, but I'll start out with an example closer to home. Here's an excerpt from the 1590 edition of A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia by Thomas Harriott:

"The ground they never fatten with mucke, dounge or any other thing; neither plow nor digge it as we in England, but onely prepare it in sort as followeth. A fewe daies before they sowe or set, the men with wooden instruments, made almost in forme of mattockes or hoes with long handles; the women with short peckers or parers, because they use them sitting, of a foote long and about five inches in breadth: doe onely breake the upper part of the ground to rayse up the weedes, grasse, & old stubbes of corne stalkes with their rootes. The which after a day or twoes drying in the Sunne, being scrapte up into many small heapes, to save them labour for carrying them away; they burne into ashes. (And whereas some may thinke that they use the ashes for to better the grounde; I say that then they woulde eyther disperse the ashes abroade; which wee observed they doe not, except the heapes bee too great: or els would take speciall care to set their corne where the ashes lie, which also wee finde they are carelesse of.) And this is all the husbanding of their ground that they use."

This is not meant to idealize the Native Americans, but to show that there was a history of an all-natural, no-till agriculture in this country, and indeed, in this particular region. Native settlements were not intended to be permanent, and if the fertility of their gardens declined, new land could be cleared. This is not so applicable today as a farm is usually expected to remain in use for generations, and new land is becoming increasingly harder to use for agriculture due to development and a decline in the number of farmers.

Theodor de Bry's engraving of the town of Secotan was based on John White's watercolors. The crops growing include tobacco (uppowoc), corn, pumpkins, and sunflowers.

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