We moved into our farmhouse on 10 acres of land in November of 2019, and I spent the winter months fantasizing about what type of garden we would have. I'm like a newborn when it comes to gardens and have zero, I repeat, ZERO experience. At our previous home I specialized in ruining any plant I put in the ground-that's not even an exaggeration! In my defense, our property consisted of not so great soil and got very little sunlight due to the gigantic(and gloriously beautiful) old maples lining our home. I was skeptical that I could grow a garden at our new house but with Jayme's encouragement, I quickly turned from skeptic to full blown optimist! I spent my long winter nights researching different methods of gardening-there are surprisingly quite a few, and I slowly started to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information on the great wide web. Thankfully, not long into my research I stumbled upon the no till gardening method. The information I read just clicked with how I wanted our garden to work. In this post I'll share everything I have learned so far from our first vegetable garden using the no till method.
A good place to start would be explaining what no till gardening is all about. The concept is to disturb the earth as little as possible(not tilling) and keep a ground cover on top to mimic a natural forest floor. The ground cover used is decomposed mulch that also includes organic matter such as leaves and grass clippings. The wood chips you buy from the local hardware store for flower beds won't quite cut it. The best place to get them is to get in touch with an Arborist in your area that cuts and chips up full branches and trees. The organic matter is important within the mulch because it acts as extra compost for your garden. The second important thing to note is that you need wood chips that have been sitting for at least one season. Fresh ones are too acidic and could leech that acid into the soil, killing your veggies. If you are thinking about trying this next year, getting some fresh mulch in the fall would be perfect to use next spring! The cycle of the garden goes like this: add compost and wood chips in the spring, manure in the fall and repeat times infinity. The chips decompose over time creating more topsoil and a fertile plot perfect for your summer garden.
In our case, the spot we picked for our garden was a gigantic patch of wild grass and flowers. We did till it this spring to get an established base and to even out the ground. If you already have an established garden, add manure or compost this fall and spread 3-4 inches of wood chips in the spring before planting.
After I had our compost spread on the garden area, I painstakingly dumped load after load of wood chips on our 30x50 foot plot of land. This was quite a bit of work up front but I reaped the rewards of it when I spent next to no time weeding all summer.
When it was time to plant, I used the edge of my hoe to create rows in the wood chips, spreading them aside to uncover the topsoil underneath. You still want to plant the seeds in your compost/topsoil layer. After the seedlings start sprouting, you can spread mulch back around them.
I noticed several benefits this summer from adding mulch but my favourite one would have to be the amount of time I spent not bothering with weeds my garden. I was skeptical about how well the wood chips would keep the weeds away, and considering we were using a wild patch of overgrown grass I thought I had hours of weeding in my future. It easily cuts the weeds by 90%, no word of a lie. I spent maybe a half hour a week in the beginning picking random weeds. It was amazing and I'd recommend the no till method for that alone!
Another perk was how little water the veggies needed throughout the summer. Mulch is great for retaining water and keeping the soil underneath nice and moist. We had a pretty hot summer with a light rain about once per week. For the most part, that was enough for my veggies. I did get the hose out every now and then if it was extra hot, but not more than a handful of times.
Scientifically, it's also great for the nutrients in your soil. When tilling occurs, it flips soil from underground and once sunlight hits it, all of the good bacteria dies. Plants not only thrive off of this bacteria but we do as well.
Our garden was not without some normal hiccups. We had a rodent(specifically groundhog) issue. He was a sneaky bugger, only to be seen twice all summer. I took care of him by sprinkling pepper in the nearby holes. Apparently groundhogs don't like anything with a spicy smell and he was never to be seen again.
Overall I'm so thrilled by all the amazing produce that came out of our garden this year. Perhaps it was beginners luck, or perhaps it was the no till method. Either way, I'd choose it again in a heartbeat! Not only did we get an abundance of veggies, but everyone who stopped by was amazed at how nice the garden looked and how big my plants were. If you are unsatisfied with how your garden has been producing or hate the idea of spending hours weeding and watering, give it a try! If you want to learn more about the no till method, I recommend checking out www.backtoedenfilm.com. It started my spiral down the no till garden hole and boy was it a good one. Happy growing!