Wood chips or an alternative mulch are often utilized in no-till agriculture. All of the UMass permaculture gardens are maintained without tillage or turning of the soil. Tillage is used to prepare beds for planting crops, but it has many down sides. It increases erosion and loss of organic matter. Tilling the soil also disturbs microbes, fungi, and worms until they no longer reside there. No-till is a practice in which farmers do not till their soil and instead keep the soil covered and plant directly into the un-plowed earth. There are some difficulties to doing this, but it is better for the plants, microbes, and environment.
In the permaculture gardens, we spread wood chips in areas where we do not want weeds to go, like in the paths. To plant our crops, we dig right into the soil without any bed preparation or plowing. Once the crops are planted, we cover the surrounding soil with straw to prevent weeds and hold moisture in. This is a perfect environment for plants to grow and microorganisms to thrive. There is never a shortage of worms in a no-till system, and we have plenty in the permaculture gardens. Worms actually will feed on the wood chips and come to the surface to do so. In their travels, they aerate the soil which increases it ability to support life.
We must start with the soil if we are to have healthy ecosystems. In the permaculture gardens, our soil is top priority and always cozy and covered.