No Till Gardening
for Vegetables

No till gardening is a great way to save time hoeing weeds in the vegetable garden. I was so frustrated at the time I spent the first few months controlling weeds in my vegetable garden.

It seemed I had to tend it every other day to keep ahead of the millions of tiny weeds that seemed to appear overnight.

I had heard the term no till gardening and weed free gardening so I thought I would look into it. Any thing to save weeding in the vegetable garden was worth a try.

I bought Ruth Stout’s book Gardening Without Work and read it cover to cover. Ruth has a great sense of humor and the book was a delight to read.

Her method used 8 inches of mulch to cover the ground. Mulch keeps in the moisture and keeps weeds to a minimum. Her favorite mulch was hay, but any organic material can be used.

The depth of the mulch makes it effective in keeping weeds under control. I wasn’t sure I liked the look of straw all over my garden and the cost of the bales was daunting.

My son told me about the site “Back to Eden” where Paul Gautschi introduces a mulch method that uses wood chips from branches and compost. Wood chip mulch is not new; it’s used in flower beds and around trees. It works will around flowers so why not around vegetables?

Covering your soil with mulch and no longer tilling the soil creates a permaculture under the mulch similar to the forests floors. Under the mulch the soil is naturally tilled by earthworms and insects that keep the soil aerated and provide nutrients and minerals for the vegetable plants.

The Basics Of No Till Gardening

No till gardening consists of the following steps.

    1. Mark out your growing area or use your exciting garden area.

    2. Removing tough weeds, bindweed, thistle etc. If you are using a existing lawn area, you need to mow the lawn short.

    3. If the area has lawn or weeds add a layer of newspaper or cardboard. Add a layer of compost on top of newspaper or cardboard 2 to 3 inches deep. Add a layer of compost if soil is needy or you are covering a lawn area.

    4. Add a layer of medium wood chips 4 to 6 inches deep.

Your garden area can be prepared in the fall to compost over the winter or you can plant your plants or seeds in the soil below the wood chips the same year.

Do not till the mulch into your soil.

The mulch sets on top 4 to 6 inches deep providing protection from the heat wind and prevents most of the weed seeds from germinating.

Each time it rains or you water the vegetable garden; a compost tea is delivered to the vegetables roots as it filters through the mulch.

Preparing For No Till Gardening

I have been gardening for a couple of years in my current location so I didn’t need to add a layer of newspaper. Even out the soil before covering.

Lay compost on top of the soil. I put about 3 to 4 inches all over the garden. Don’t till in the compost, just let it set on top of the soil.

Lay down a layer of medium mulch on top of the compost. You will want 4 to 6 inches.

We are able to get the mulch from our local landfill. They sell compost and several grades of chipped branches.

Some cities provide compost at no cost to their residents. Call your local city offices and see what is available.

Tree services are also a great source of mulched tree branches. Most companies will deliver to your house if convenient for no cost.

Garden after mulch added.

We live in a dry area so I watered the garden well to moisten the soil under the mulch. If you live in rain country, this may not be necessary.

Planting in the no till garden is easy. Pull the mulch back and put seeds into the soil. Lightly cover with a thin layer of mulch until the seeds are up and established.

Plants can be added by pulling back the mulch and digging a hole. Add the vegetable plant and bring some mulch back to the plant within 3 inches. After the plants are large and established the mulch can be brought up closer to the plants.

No Till Gardening Up Keep

Within the first month of laying mulch on the vegetable garden I noticed a big difference in my weeding. I stroll through the vegetable garden and notice a few weeds poking through the mulch.

I either pick the weed or throw a few handfuls of mulch on top of them. I have noticed the weeds that do come through are quite easy to remove and no longer break off at the roots.

I no longer have millions of tiny weed seeds popping up in the garden. There is a lot more earth worm activity as I dig a hole to add plants.

The mulch needs to be 4-6 inches deep so in places that are thinner add more mulch as you notice weeds coming through.

Every 2 to 3 years as the mulch decomposes you can add more mulch on top.

Poke your finger thorough the mulch to check for the moisture level in the soil. Water the garden as needed. You should notice that you don’t need to water much if your mulch is kept at the right thickness.

Because I am not longer working my soil each year I am able to plant strawberries, asparagus and blueberry bushes amongst my vegetables.

It has be a great adventure growing vegetables with out much work once your garden is prepared.

I hope you’ll give No Till Gardening a try in your vegetable garden.

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