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