“Soil is the same way, and every time you plow up the soil, you are exposing a greater surface area to the elements,” he says.
“The leaves of the plant shade the soil and keep the moisture from evaporating,” Henderson says. “Then the roots of the plant provide avenues for any rainfall we do get to travel deep in the soil.”
Henderson only considers drought-tolerant varieties for his summer crops. While his crops this summer did use some of the moisture in the soil, Henderson says in the end they helped the soil retain more moisture than it could have without the crop.
Henderson carries a soil pressure probe with him to test how hard the ground is and check soil moisture. Loose, mellow soils allow plant roots to keep reaching down to find moisture. Hard, compacted soil, such as that found 8-12 inches below plowed ground, prevents roots from accessing soil moisture and nutrients at great depths, forcing them to rely strictly on rainfall and applied fertilizers.
On his no-till fields, he is able to insert the entire two-foot probe in the ground. Soil moisture is evident immediately below the surface, with greater moisture at greater depths. As a comparison, he walks over to the wheat field of his neighbor’s, a friend of his, and does the same thing. The soil is so dry and compacted the probe can’t penetrate the surface, even with Henderson applying all his weight on it.
“This neighbor has seen the difference in our fields,” Henderson says, smiling. “He’s switching to no-till next year.”
Cashing in on the Benefits
Henderson was able to harvest the seed from his sesame crop for a profit, with just a few modifications on a wheat combine, leaving the residue in the field. Lack of moisture prevented the guar beans from making a crop, but that didn’t discourage him at all.