No-till Gardening

No-till Gardening

This year we decided to try no-till gardening.  Soil has such a complex ecosystem with living bacteria, fungi, and various invertebrates, especially earth worms, we wanted to leave this system primarily intact when planting our garden this year.  Churning the ground does aerate and fluff up the soil, but it also brings latent weed seeds to the surface, causes organic matter in the soil to oxidize, and disrupts the natural ecosystem killing many helpful earthworms and other beneficial creatures in the soil.

salsify seed head

Salsify seed head

The biggest challenge we had was weed suppression.  As I was unable to help much physically due to the carpal tunnel issues/surgeries, the garden was put on hold for a while.  When we decided back in early May we were still going to plant this year, it was up to Carrie to complete the task.  The weeds were already out of control by May 1st.  The previous year we had let salsify, also known as oyster plant, go to seed.  Their seed heads are an amazing bronzed puffball much like a dandelion.  Needless to say, their grassy leaves were sprouting up everywhere!

We needed a plan with low cost both physically and monetarily to suppress the weeds, and I had such a plan.  Carrie reviews many items on as well as selling ThirtyOne and Usborne Books.  Because of this, we have much packaging material that comes to our house on a regular basis.  My first thought was to use the cardboard boxes between the rows, but I would save those for a similar project to be used later.   Instead, we utilized the abundance of Kraft paper that is crumpled to fill the insides of the shipping boxes we receive and woodchips from a tree we had cut down 2 years ago.

When uncrumpled, the sheets of Kraft paper are typically 4 feet wide by 4-6 feet long.  We would lie these down over top of the weeds overlapping 6 inches or so as we went.  I was happily able to at least do this much.  Then, Carrie and Sylvia would put wheelbarrows full of the wood chips on top of the paper.  Only about an inch or two of the mulched wood chips were put down, but in combination with the paper, by early June, all of the weeds beneath the paper were dead.

Planting was as easy as pulling aside a couple scoops of mulch and digging a hole down through the Kraft paper.  By late July, we had a few weeds have cropped up along the seams of the Kraft paper in a few spots, but this is by far the least weedy garden we’ve had!  No hoeing, no tilling!

The wood chips we used, although they have been in a pile for 2 years, have not composted as well as I would have liked.  We noticed our tomato plants were getting off to a slow start.  I believe the decomposing chips, or maybe the dead weeds beneath were stealing some of the nitrogen from the plants.  We amended the soil around the plants with compost pile, and watered with a compost tea.  We soon after noticed the plants growing better.

Now it is August and our tomatoes are going to ripen soon! Still no weed issues to speak of!  This seems to be a rousing success!

Have you tried no-till gardening?  Please share your challenges and successes below in the comments!

“Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are.” – Alfred Austin

3 thoughts on “No-till Gardening

  1. Michelle Hwee

    Wow that sounds pretty incredible that it really helped get rid of your weeds! Kudos! Personally for me, I don’t really have much area for gardening, farming or anything of that manner that weeds aren’t my issue, it’s usually bugs. I never really heard of no-till gardening either but I will definitely read more! Thanks!!

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