Organic farmers have been criticized for using too much tillage. We use tillage to terminate one crop and prepare the soil for planting the next crop and then we use more tillage in row crops to control weeds during the growing season.
To develop no-till planting strategies for organic farmers it requires a lot of management skills and experience to figure out what cover crops or combinations thereof to create a good planting situation and season long weed control.
To do it with horse power requires another whole level of adaptation and creativity to evolve the machinery necessary to do the job of planting into heavy residues – getting the seed through the residue and into the soil and not exposing too much bare soil which is an invitation for weeds to grow.
There are 2 basic strategies that I have used: planting into winter killed cover crops like daikon radish or sorghum-sudan grass: or planting into mowed or roller/crimped growing covers like oats/barley/peas or winter rye or buckwheat.
Interestingly the 2 pieces of equipment that I use for terminating growing covers are both built by I&J an Amish equipment company in Pennsylvania. The I &J mower[7ft.] I use has a double reciprocating design which enables it to cut through any standing crop without plugging and does a nice job of laying it down evenly. The other tool, the roller/crimper was also designed by I&J and I was fortunate to find one they had built with wheels to be trailed behind a forecart. The drum can be filled with water to make it more effective and the wheels can be lifted right off the ground to transfer even more weight to the roller. It is 8 feet wide and can be pulled by 2 horses or 3 if it is a bigger field.
The more challenging piece of equipment is the no-till planter/drill. Listening to the advice of a long time no-till conventional farmer [ who is also my nephew] I avoided a system which is common on no-till drills which is a row of coulters ahead of the openers. These coulters effectively loosen the soil to allow the use of a lighter opener system. The problem is they absorb a lot of horsepower. There is an Amish company that builds such a drill of various sizes, ESCH in Pennsylvania. The design I went with involves a heavy double disc opener on parallel-o-gram arms with one disc leading the other by ¾”. Then there is a press wheel at the rear to control the depth of seeding and also functions to close the seed trench. These units were off a salvaged tractor no-till drill built by Crust-Buster in the USA. There 8 units spaced 8” apart. I usually pull this drill with 3 horses. It is raised and lowered with a battery driven hydraulic system. I intentionally built the drill quite heavy but I still added more weight because very heavy residue of firm soil can cause an end wheel to lift off the ground. That is why the drive wheel for the seeding mechanism is on a third wheel. The down pressure on the openers is easily changed by moving a spring on the opener unit but of course is limited by the total weight of the machine.
We have successfully no-tilled spring cereals into winter killed daikon radish, oats/barley/peas and sorghum-sudan grass, soybeans into roller/crimped winter rye and winter cereals into roller/crimped buckwheat and mown millet.