What is this? Well, its gardening…without…the tilling.
By mimicking nature’s own soil-building process, no-till gardening is a great way to reduce your workload, build your soil and conserve water. The bottom line of no-till gardening is keeping the weeds down. You do this by using a very thick layer of mulch.
Your mulch can be anything from straw and grass clippings to thick layers of newspapers or cardboard. The ancestral Puebloan people of New Mexico used thick layers of gravel as mulch in their gardens. In my garden, I use the trimmings from the flax I grow in my xeric landscaping that faces the road. Twice a year I clip the flax back and pile those cuttings around and between the plants in my garden.
Photo courtesy of Samuel Mann at Flickr.com.
To get started, I recommend using a permaculture method called sheet-mulching. Begin in the Fall if possible. First, mark out your garden location, wet the soil thoroughly (DO NOT dig up the weeds or turf) then cover the area with a layer of cardboard. You can use flattened cardboard boxes for this. Remove any tape or plastic first. Make sure that the layers overlap enough so that you cover the soil completely. Wet the cardboard thoroughly.
Next, lay down a thick layer of grass clippings, straw or other types of mulch and cover with a layer of compost and good top soil. Again, wet the whole area thoroughly. You’ll want your mulch layers to be one to two foot deep. Keep the area moist until the snow flies then let the whole thing sit for the winter. In the spring, you will find a nice, thick planting bed for your vegetables. If the cardboard hasn’t completely deteriorated, you can cut a little hole through it to plant your seedlings.
There are many advantages to this method. First of all, you are maintaining the soil structure and adding nutrients from the top down. You are also allowing worms and microorganisms to build and aerate the soil while building beneficial soil fungi.
This method also allows the soil to hold carbon which, in turn, keeps the carbon-dependent nutrients in the soil. All of this helps the soil retain moisture, thereby reducing the amount of water you use in the garden.
Once you’ve established your no-till garden, you will not dig it up again. Instead, when you plant your seedlings or seeds in the spring, you will disturb just enough of the garden bed to get the plant in the soil.