No-Till Gardening

No till gardening is not only good for the soil, its much easier for the gardener!

hands with dirt on them digging in a raised garden bed

I have gardened in the past, but when we moved to the farm I knew I wanted to expand my efforts. So I dove in and started doing a ton of research, and stumbled across the idea of no-till gardening. I was instantly intrigued.

What is no-till gardening?

No-till gardening is a method that mimics the way that plants grow in nature - under a bed of fallen leaves, branches, and foliage. Instead of tilling the dirt and planting in bare ground, no-till gardening involves covering the soil with mulch, and promises to eliminate the need for weeding and excessive watering.

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water pouring out of a watering can over greens in a garden

Back to Eden Method

The Back to Eden is the first no-till approach I discovered. It uses layers of cardboard or newspaper with compost and wood chips on top. As the wood chips decay they help to regenerate the soil. They also help to keep down the growth of weeds. I initially wanted to try this method, but I was having trouble sourcing wood chips. Many people use Chip Drop for free wood chips, but in my rural area I spent months on the list with no delivery. I recently found that an Amish mill near us will give me all the wood chips I want if I haul them myself.

Ruth Stout Gardening

I recently had an Audible credit to use, so I chose a random gardening book. I have an hour commute to work, so I had plenty of time to listen. It was Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, Busy, and Indolent. Ruth Stout lived in the 1900's and was the "mulch queen." She believed in keeping about 8" of rotting hay as a mulch on her garden. I found her book to be absolutely delightful, and by the time I got through it, I was convinced to try her method. Especially since I was having issues sourcing wood chips - we have plenty of old hay on the farm.

Listening to Ruth's book was an absolute delight. Maybe it is because I recently lost my 96-year-old grandpa who was my go-to gardening resource, but the old-timey wisdom and quaint storytelling really drew me in. She covers almost any question you may have about the method, answers her detractors, and offers tips about storing and consuming the produce from your garden.

Why do no-till gardening?

No-till gardening has many advantages like:

1 -Remineralizing the soil - as the mulch decays, it adds important nutrients back into the soil. Modern farming and gardening practices have left most soil deficient, which not only impacts yields, but also leaves the product grown lacking nutrients.

2 - Weed control - adding a thick layer of mulch inhibits the growth of weeds.

3 - Drainage and moisture - mulch helps to both keep water from overwhelming plants, as well as keeping the water from evaporating as quickly, providing a better moisture balance.

Types of Mulch

You can use almost any organic material for mulch, but the most popular in choices are wood chips and hay. You can also use grass clippings, leaves, and even rocks. Some people add a layer of compost before they mulch, but Ruth Stout did not find that extra step to be necessary. You can use raw wood chips to cover the soil in your garden, but if you allow them to compost for a few months they will break down into a dirt-like substance you can plant directly into.

Tools for no-till gardening

No-till gardening reduces the need for a lot of unnecessary tools, chemicals, and fertilizers, but there are a few items that still come in handy. If you are starting in a new garden space with heavily compacted soil a broadfork can help break it. up. I find a garden wagon to be helpful in hauling hay. I use a rake to move hay, loosen soil, and create row. And gardening gloves are a must in case I need to manually remove a creepy crawly.

If gardening seems overwhelming, or maybe you don't have very good soil, no-till gardening might be the perfect solution!

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