|Our strawbale garden last year, just one style of no-till gardening. It was extremely productive!|
Despite the fact that humanity has been growing food throughout most of its history by using tillage agricultural techniques, tilling the soil is not necessarily the most productive way to produce food. When one looks at a natural ecosystem such as a forest, or even a prairie, there is plenty of natural abundance. In such a natural ecosystem, no tilling occurs. Plants can and do grow well without having the soil tilled. To understand why, let’s look at the structure of the soil itself.
Soil is more than bare “dirt.” In its natural state, it is a complex web of life, and contains many different organisms, including insects, fungi, bacteria, and many other organisms, many of which are too small to be seen by the human eye. These organisms do many things, including recycle nutrients, maintain the fertility of the soil, and make soil nutrients available to plants. Since most of these tiny organisms live within the top 5 cm of the soil, when we till or plough, many of these microorganisms are killed. Many of them are also sensitive to light and can’t survive when the tilled soil is exposed.
Untilled natural soil has structure, a physical network through which water, air, and plant roots can pass through. When we till the soil, this natural soil structure is destroyed, and we must create an artificial soil structure every single year, called tilth. When the natural structure and fertility of the soil is destroyed, we then are committed to an endless yearly cycle of adding nutrients and fertility back, and we have to endure more work to maintain the soil. Bare earth opens up many opportunities for weeds to grow, and it does not retain moisture very well. When we till the soil, we are also increasing the opportunity for soil erosion to occur. The majority of these issues can be eliminated, or at least significantly reduced, if we switch our gardening methods from one of tillage to one of mulching and the use of organic matter and compost.
Ideally, the soil should be covered all of the time, and have no bare soil exposure. By leaving a permanent organic mulch layer over your garden bed, you will be increasing the fertility of your soil, dramatically reducing erosion, preventing weeds from growing, and retaining soil moisture.
Mulching does not necessarily require a lot of extra resources. First, you will need to add a weed barrier, such as a layer of cardboard or a thick layer of newspaper. Make sure that your weed barrier does not contain any gaps for weeds to grow through. Next, you would add a layer of organic mulch measuring a depth of about one foot thick. The more diverse the types of materials that you use in your organic mulch layer, and the closer that you can get to achieving a ratio of 30:1 of carbon-rich material to nitrogen-rich material, the more that the ecology of your soil will flourish.
Examples of carbon-rich organic materials include: straw (should not contain any seeds), wood chips, sawdust, bark, paper, and dried leaves. Examples of nitrogen-rich organic materials include: grass clippings, composted manure, coffee grounds, compost, and worm castings. Make sure that each layer of mulch has an ample amount of moisture as it is added. This is very important to the composting process and will help everything to break down and make the awesome compost that is so great for the growth of your plants.
|One of the advantages of using a no-till gardening approach? Lots of these guys hanging out in your garden to help aerate the soil!|
Below is a great video of Charles Dowding explaining how he created an amazingly abundant garden from scratch within a single growing season by using a no-dig, no-till approach. Enjoy!
Here is a link to more information and another video about Charles' awesome garden!
Have you ever tried a no-till approach in your garden? How did it go?
Thought I’d share this: This might be an interesting year for some of the kale plants that I started in seed trays about a week and a half ago. They have Lot # OMG 18/20. Should I be worried? Cheesy gardening humor, I know…