Tuesday, October 30, 2012

No Till Gardening And Heavy Mulch

Above is the picture of the original garden spot that I have been gardening nonstop since 1997. That's 15 years and a very large amount of food that has been produced on this small vegetable plot. I have to say this garden has never let me down though. Occasionally I will have a crop failure due to human error or weather conditions but this garden has endured and is a workhorse.  Over the years the surrounding trees have increased in size and last year we decided to make this garden smaller so as not to compete with the massive underground root systems of these existing trees and also not to have to compete for sunlight. We created a new garden spot in another area to take the place of the areas that were reduced in this garden. At that time we also decided to try the no till gardening method out of curiosity more than anything.  

So the garden was plowed last fall and as we planted in the early spring we started laying a heavy layer of mulch down around our emerging seeds.  No tilling was done at all as the plants and seeds were planted directly in the soil. 

And indeed they flourished

Potatoes were planted and mulched with wheat straw procured from local farmer and the potatoes grew and also flourished. And when it was time to dig the potatoes the yield was slightly smaller than those grown traditionally in other gardens but the potatoes were larger. And I have to say that these were the easiest dug potatoes that we have ever grown.

Yields were great, and even as drought conditions began to set in my garden continued to flourish with minimal watering.   The soil beneath rich, moist, black and teeming with earthworms. Now I have to admit here that this soil was not depleted. Nor was it not in good condition. Over the years it had been treated well. And even greater was the fact that weeds were very few and then very simply pulled from the fluffy straw grass mixture.

We also found that if you allowed the chicken to work through the grass or straw for a week or two before you applied it they pretty well eliminated most of the bugs and weed seeds and wheat kernels left behind. This cut down on the chicken feed bill: ) It also made for one more step with the pitch fork work : (

And the drawbacks of this type of gardening. The cost of wheat straw averages in this area around $3 a bale. This adds to the overall yearly cost of gardening about $100 for us. We also tried to use organically grown wheat straw when possible which can be somewhat difficult to locate sometimes. 

We also started to mow areas of the orchard less and allowing the grass to grow taller in order to cut and harvest it for the gardens. We built compost bins as holding areas for this grass until it was needed. If it started to break down all the better. 

We saved the grass from our lawns for the same purpose and became intimately connected it seemed to the pitch fork. Although we have an attachment that picks the grass up it still has to be dumped in large piles or windrows and then pitchforked by hand into carts and transported either to the garden or compost bins. 

Initially we were concerned that with all that organic cover (straw) that we would be overrun with slugs which is something we have never really had. We never saw any slugs but did see lots of toads everywhere in the garden.  Toads eat slugs. We worried also about voles which we have had in the past. We saw very little vole damage. So what did we see more of.

These guys were everywhere! Our general opinion was that the frogs attracted the snakes and the snakes eat both the frogs and the voles. Never did we see a poisonous snake only large amounts of garter snakes. 

So with an increase in soil fertility, better moisture retention, even in a drought and a decrease in weeds we were very happy with our no till experiment. Will we continue next year? You betcha!

 What will we do differently. In an attempt to grow more grass we may take some of one of the hay fields out by the garden and start mowing it before anything can go to seed in an attempt to keep weed seeds down, and using that grass to mulch the garden. We have a mower for the back of the tractor to cut the grass but would have to come up with a way to gather that grass or else I will be attached to that #^!@ pitchfork all summer picking it up by hand.  

Anyone else out there switched to no till and heavy mulch for their garden? Love to hear your experiences..

Blessings from the Holler

The Canned Quilter


  1. Fantastic photos ! Your gardens are beautiful ! We are building a raised veggie garden for next spring and trying our hand at that as there is only the two of us and don't need a lot . On our farm as a kid my mum & dad had a huge veggie garden that we lived off of through out the year and I helped . I enjoy gardening and hope I can do as well with it as my mum did ! Have a good day !

  2. Would love to see a diagram of your gardens: their directional orientation (N-S, E-W), and what you planted where and when. I think that would help a lot of us newcomers out. Thanks.

  3. This past summer I have a very bad time with the weeds ,so much so that they took over the garden.I could not keep up with them so we are going to the same method an we also let the grass grow longer and are stock pilling it for next spring. We also got to work on getting some tools with the collection of the hay there will be a auction of local farmers in April we will be looking there an with luck we will find what we need thank you for the great info

  4. I only fork turned the soil in most of the rows of my garden this year before planting. (It had not been fall tilled or plowed.) I put a layer of newspaper down before the straw in the areas I mulched to serve as a weed barrier. It depends on how much moisture we get this winter as to whether the newspaper will break down this winter.

    1. I have a stack of newspaper I am saving to also put down paper the next time.

  5. You said you have hayfields- why not plant some rye, oats, or wheat in some of it?
    You can cut it or have it cut for you, feed it to livestock or yourselves, and then mulch with the straw.

    Or, another option would be to buy rice hulls for mulch. Missouri grows a lot of rice.

    1. I have used rice husks when I lived in Louisiana and like them but unfortunately they do not grow rice here. We are in far north Missouri, rolling hills and hickory and oak hardwood forests, very little rice is grown here. In the middle of corporate farm country so everything is the big 3. Corn, wheat and soy. We have considered growing some grain on a small scale but really don't keep enough large animals to warrant it. We may have to rethink that position now though.. It was an excellent suggestion : )

  6. I live in the nc mountains with a small yard & rocky soil so I have 10" high boxed raised beds of different lengths & I keep straw on them year round (zone 7). If not the soil dries out quickly, the micro organisms stop working & that's what helps nourish the soil & it also keeps the worms happy...lol I like "raised bed" gardening the best! :~)

    1. I have many raised beds. Rock beds going up the incline from my front door, raised beds with strawberries and rhubarb. I have way too large of vegetable gardens to think of raising all of them. As I get older we may have to go to raised beds and a smaller garden though. I hope to garden as far into my twilight years as possible!

    2. With our twilight years creeping up & the fact I have osteoporosis, I find raised bed gardening lower on maintenance & much easier to handle. I also have downsized but seem to grow nearly as much in raised beds & always more than the 2 of us really need. Less can sometimes be more...lol

  7. We use straw to mulch our garden and I think its a life saver, I even go as far as to lay down a layer of newspaper then put the straw down. It helps with not having to water much and I helps with weeds!!! I'll never go back to not having a mulch layer of some type, its just to darn easy to garden this way, of course there is work involved putting it down to begin with but the benefits are enormous!!!

    BTW I'm on the east coast and we fared well, the only casualty was someone ran over my mailbox, but other than everything being soggy we had a piece of fencing come down around our garden area, otherwise we did ok!!

  8. Can you elaborate on the plowing? I plan to install a significant herb garden and would like to do no-till but I'm certain I'll need to do *something*, like a plow. I have a tractor so lots of options, but not sure what kind of plow I should be using...

  9. I have never dug my vegetable garden, which has been producing well for 20 years, except to lift Parsnips and Carrots (I don't grow potatoes).
    At the beginning, I simply removed the turf and sowed seeds. Annual weeds are removed by hand (no hoeing) and the leaves of perennial weeds are torn off, by hand, and used as mulch. A good, deep-rooted weed provides mulch for several years before it finally dies!
    Spare patches, between crops, are mulched with anything and everything organic: kitchen waste, weed and vegetable waste, grass clippings . . . When I need to sow seeds or plant seedlings I just move the mulch to somewhere else. Over time the micro-beasts eat it all and leave their droppings in the soil, so the beds get higher and deeper.
    I'm convinced (always have been sure) that digging, hoeing, ploughing are the best and quickest ways to ruin good soil.

  10. Your garden is beautiful! The mulching method has made it much easier to garden. Ruth Stout is my new hero as I grow older. http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/ruth-stouts-system-zmaz04fmzsel


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