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Strip-till in horticulture : cover crops and living mulches

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Four organic vegetable producers are investigating the benefits of a strip tillage system in organic and low-input/regenerative horticulture.  They will also be comparing different cover crops and living mulches.

There has been a lot of interest in strip tillage among vegetable growers recently.  But although there are clear potential benefits, many are cautious to invest time, effort and money in the practice without reassurance that it can work well, particularly in an organic system.

The triallists aim to explore different management techniques as part of a strip till system, and compare them to their previous practices in terms of inputs, yield and soil health.

The benefits

Strip tillage is increasingly being adopted in arable systems as a method of conservation / regenerative tillage. It involves tilling narrow strips into a cover crop, into which the cash crop is then planted or drilled, while leaving the areas between the cultivated strips as undisturbed cover crop / residue.

Field-scale veg growing, particularly in organic systems, traditionally uses fertility building leys, a long rotation, annual ploughing between crops and intensive cultivation of the soil. 

Growers are becoming increasingly interested in how min-till innovations from regenerative systems could also benefit horticulture rotations by reducing the reliance on annual ploughing and increasing the use of cover crops.  One of the main challenges is how to manage the cover crop to prevent it impacting on the cash crop without the use of herbicides.

Trial design

This is a three-year field lab taking place on three farms, and a fourth grower at a market garden scale.  Each farm will compare a vegetable crop grown using the conventional cultivation method at that farm (e.g. plough & power harrowing for field preparation) with the same vegetable crop grown using strip till cultivation.  The plots will be either within the same field where possible, or adjacent fields.

Each farm will grow two vegetable crops and two strip till cover crops each year.  In the autumn of year one some of the farms will sow their living mulch.


Latest updates

Observations on the living mulch

Beans and Living mulch at Andy Dibben's trial site

Courgettes between strips of living mulch

Field lab launch meeting and baseline soil sampling

May 2023

Sow year 1 cover crops

May 2023

Plant year 1 veg crops into strip till

Spring & summer 2023

Sow living mulch cover crops for year 2

Sep 2023

Sow year 2 cover crops

Spring 24

Plant year 2 veg crops into strip till

Spring & summer 2024

On-farm knowledge exchange meeting

November 2024

Sow other year 3 cover crops

Spring 2025

Plant year 3 veg crops into strip till

spring & summer 2025

Final report and final field lab meeting

Winter 2025

Group Coordinator

A portrait of Carolyn Coxe.
Carolyn Coxe

Soil Association


Carolyn brings vast knowledge and practical experience of growing produce for the retail and wholesale markets to the team. This combined with experience in estate management for a mixed organic farming business whilst managing the implementation of agri-environmental schemes. Carolyn has a BSc(Hons) Environmental Management and is BASIS/FACTS qualified. She has a keen interest in improving the farmed environment to produce sustainable produce suited to changing market demands.

With a passion for home grown produce and foraged ingredients Carolyn enjoys creating new recipes and sharing them with family and friends all whilst walking the dogs and enjoying putting one foot in front of the other anywhere in the country.


A portrait of Leah and Jake Harris.
Leah and Jake Harris

Newton Downs Farm


A portrait of Riverford Organic Growers.
Riverford Organic Growers

South Devon

A portrait of Martyn Bragg.
Martyn Bragg

Shillingford Organics


A portrait of Andy Dibben.
Andy Dibben

Abbey Home Farm



A portrait of Francis Rayns.
Francis Rayns

The Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience


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