Monday, May 9, 2011

Decisions, Decisions: The No-Till Garden & Green Acres Weekend Update

Until this year, we've always done a traditional garden: till the soil (kill the earthworms), form steep rows with hoe (form weed havens), and plant stuff (Watch it grow.  Usually).  Recently, Byron and I have thrown around the idea of Square Foot Gardening versus raised beds versus rows.  Do we spend the time and money on lumber for raised beds?  Do we invest in vermiculite and peat moss for said beds/Square Foot Garden?  Do we just make traditional rows and worry about making beds next year?  Should we stay or should we go?  The indecision was bugging me.  Okay, I'll stop now.  You get the idea.

The other night Byron stumbled upon the no-till garden, and the next morning he promptly picked up the shovel and started making it happen.  The no-till garden seemed like a good compromise in the short term, and a perfect solution in the long run.  Though we had tilled the soil in our garden plot, we won't be doing it again.  Ever, we hope.  Here's how it works:

First, mark your rows with stakes and string.  In a no-till garden, the key is to never step on the rows; the soil must not become compacted where you plan on planting.  So we also marked out aisles around the perimeter and between the rows.  The rows are roughly 24" wide and the aisles about 20".  In the middle of the garden, we have a 3' aisle which will allow us to have more room for the wheelbarrow and create a wide enough aisle for access to our future hoop house, which we plan to build off the end of the garden. 

Byron first made a path around the perimeter while I measured and marked the aisles and rows.   The hoop house entrance will be smack between the two H-braces at the far end of the garden.

After the aisles and rows are marked, Byron used a straight-edged shovel to dig out the aisles.  Extra soil was placed on the rows, and I came through with a bucket and picked up any loose weeds.  The rows, at 24", will be wide enough to plant many veggies two or three deep, and not too wide to manage weeds while kneeling in the aisles.

Remember all that hay we foraged last fall?  Byron carried a couple empty trash cans to the loft of the barn and filled them with hay for...

...the aisles in between the rows.  This will help with water retention and, unfortunately, in the short run, weed propagation.  Byron also put wood chips over the hay.  I read somewhere that you need about 3" of compacted matter to suppress weeds efficiently; right now, we have about 1/2" or so.
For the rows, we've been collecting horse manure from our neighbors down the road.  It's in the "cooking" stage right now, and Byron regularly mixes the nitrogen-rich stuff with shredded leaves from last fall.  It should be ready to use on the rows next spring, and good compost is the key to a successful no-till garden.  If we didn't have this source of manure, this garden wouldn't be cost effective.  The composted manure will add nutrients back into the soil and raise the beds, which will be compacted from rain, snow, and wind by next year.

Almost done! Ignore the foreground; that was my frenzied attempt to get the spring veggies planted in about two hours.  The longer, neater rows beyond are our no-till garden.  Byron worked very hard on this and informed me it was my Mothers Day gift.  Works for me!

And lest you think all we do is work outside, here's Charlie at soccer practice.  He's quite good.  So see?  Sometimes we're normal Americans.

And a trip to the Botanical Gardens...

A visit from my Grandma...

...and my Aunty Sandy.
Happy Mothers Day!

Click below to barn hop with me again at Homestead Revival!


  1. Interesting gardening! We had the whole conversation about what to do as well. We ended up just going traditional. We're super rocky (we thought it was a good idea to put it on the site of an old barn, but discovered in the process that gravel had been mixed in with the soil at some point) but stuff is coming up, so we're hopeful. The zucchini, beans, and watermelon in particular seem to be enjoying the rockier soil. Hope it stays that way!

  2. This is what were doing. Wide row, biointensive gardening. We have heavy clay soil and this should be a good option for us.

  3. Found you via the barn hop! LOVE the pics and how-to of no till. We are on year 2 on our land that was heavy, compacted clay. Next year, our goal is no-till. our strawberry beds are raised with mulch in the rows. That method is wonderful.

  4. we are doing the same thing this year! over the last few years the weeds have just taken over, so much so that they smother the new seeds before they are big enough for me to weed around. i hope this works for both of us! a lot of work upfront, but i think less work next year and less weeds! thanks for sharing.

  5. What an awesome Mother's Day gift! Huge garden! I cant wait to see the progress of it when you start to plant!

  6. Thanks for the comments - love all your blogs!