Friday, April 20, 2012

Going to No Till

Those of you who follow this blog regularly know that we are converting our small original garden plot to a no till garden this year. After gardening this spot for 14 years we felt that a no till method would help to maintain the soil and we are hoping to have less weeds and maintenance in this garden. That is important to us as we get older and have a harder time wrestling with heavy gardening equipment. To start with we both plowed and disked the soil and amended it with gypsum, cotton seed meal, compost and rabbit manure. Then it sat all winter. 

This spring we did not plow or till but rather just ran the disk over it lightly. If this works this will be for the last time. Then we planted. 

We put up a permanent fence for the peas to climb on and as the crops of peas, onions and potatoes started coming up we started laying clean straw that the chickens had worked for several weeks on the soil around our plants.  Notice where there is straw there are very few if any weeds. 

As we have planted our broccoli, cabbage and chinese cabbage seedlings we have continued to lay a thick straw mulch around everything. To the left of the cabbage you can see the row of seedlings of mustard, lettuce, spinach and beets that were planted with my napkin seed mats. The straw was not put over the small germinating seedlings from the mats but simply down the center of the walkways to discourage weed growth. As plants get larger the straw can always be pulled around the plants. 

This is the rest of the garden just planted with 2 rows of green beans, 2 rows of corn, another row of mustard greens and two additional rows of English peas. With 4 days of rain the weeds are sprouting fast. Once the seedlings emerge and the soil dries I will weed it. 

Probably with my hand cultivator and trusty hoe and then lay a thick layer of straw between the rows.  I like that I can put things closer together with the mulch. In our traditional garden there had to be enough space between every row for the tiller to pass. Now the walkways need only be wide enough to allow a human to pass and maybe the small push cultivator.  So I can now plant more in this garden.  The straw will be left on year round and the garden put to bed this fall with a new thick layer of straw mulch. I think next year I will lay this garden out in beds as opposed to traditional rows but other than that I am happy with my progress so far. I love that my garden again is teeming with earthworms and the fertility seems to be improving already. It is turning an already fertile garden into an even more productive and fertile one. No wrestling tillers and smelling gas fumes.

If this experiment with no till works out we may eventually and gradually turn all our gardens into no till.  But for right now I don't think we'll be getting rid of the tractor and tiller any time soon.    For us long time traditional gardeners this is a huge step and we will try to keep you updated on our progress. 

Anyone else out there experimenting with the no till method of gardening? 

Blessings from The Holler

The Canned Quilter


  1. The best garden I ever grew was no till. We plowed and disced and disced some more. I then plotted out the garden and planted. As soon as the plants were up big enough we mulched with some very old hay. Everything came along just fine. I would add more hay as needed around the plants and pathways. I will not go back to the old way again. About the only thing I used the hoe for was to lean on while admiring the bountiful garden. Have you read any of the Square Foot Gardens books by Mel Bartholomew. I am a true SFG convert.

    1. You know I haven't read them! Do you recommend them? I am always open to learning new things and experimenting with new ways so that may be my experiment for next year. Maybe I'll see if the library can get them for me..

  2. I have used straw before, but mostly grass clippings from the lawn. First I lay down three layers of newspaper, then the grass. Needs very little water and the plant did great. Have fun and remember we all learn something new each year with our gardens.

  3. I was thinking of trying bale gardening, but have not done so yet.
    I did experiment with bucket planting last year, with mixed results.
    have a wonderful weekend! :o)

  4. We do raised bed gardening, yes its a bit of work to set it up. But I can say weeds are so few and the hay I put down pretty much makes those a non issue. Its easier by far to pull what few weeds do grow as the dirt stays much looser. We used cinder blocks to make our raised rows. Doing raised beds we only are adding manure and compost to the bed we are growing in. So that is nice. I have soaker hoses laid in a S pattern on the top of the rows, which are covered in hay, then I plant... when I need to water I hook the water up to those soaker hoses. Here in Texas you water your garden as our rain dries up early in the summer! Anyway I like the raised beds just another option maybe? No tilling so that is nice.

  5. We do wide bed gardening with permanent mulched paths to walk on. This way our beds stay loose and not compacted. We follow the ideas from The Gardener's Bible by Edward Smith. We've been doing it this way for quite a few years and we like it. It's raised beds, as in a wide mound of dirt but we don't truly build them up with wood like a true raised bed. Hard to explain without a picture LOL

    1. See that is what I am thinking we will probably go to also. I like the idea of permanent beds versus traditional rows. You will have to do a post on it this summer so I can see yours.

  6. Looks like you have a great start! Someone else mentioned Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Garden books/website - it is a fantastic resource and you can learn quite a bit from his website.

    The problem I have in our gardens with mulches are slugs ;( Good luck, it will be fun to follow your progress ;)


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