So, you want to grow your veggies cheaper, easier, and better?
No-Till gardening offers so many benefits! I don’t know why anyone bothers to till!
Well, I do miss that first day of planting in a newly tilled garden, going out into the sun-warmed, freshly tilled earth and sinking my toes right in, similar to a kid in sand box . . .heaven!
As to actual benefits TO THE GARDEN, No-Till wins. Hands down.
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- When you use deep-mulch, there is no need to worry about soil compaction. In the spring, when other gardeners are sitting around looking at their garden waiting for it to dry up in order to get in there to till or plant, you can traipse right out and get to work! All that mulch keeps the soil safe.
- It reduces the need to water in the heat, because the mulch holds water, thus keeping it available to the plants much longer.
- It almost completely eliminates the need to weed!
- It keeps the soil structure intact, promoting a healthy micro-environment. Earthworms LOVE it!
- It promotes healthy growth and strong root systems in the plants, which in turn, reduces pests.
So let's get going!
These techniques will help you get started extremely quickly and inexpensively.
We do not own a tiller, and have never even borrowed or rented one. These methods have all worked for us, on virgin ground, to create a new (and excellent) garden bed.
1. No- Till Layer Method
Sometimes called lasagna gardening. This is the first raised bed I ever created that didn’t include hauling in a truckload of dirt.
The idea includes starting with a layer of cardboard, or several layers of newspaper (to kill grass and prevent it from creeping back up into your garden later), then adding compost, more newspaper, more compost, and then, some straw.
- Wet a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard, and lay it down
- Next, a layer of mulch; like straw or wood chips.
- Add a layer of compost
- More newspaper
- Then, compost on top of that.
Keep creating layers until your bed is 8-12 inches tall. It will shrink as time goes on, composting itself into good, glorious soil!
When you create layers deep enough, or tight enough - similar to a flake of straw - you can forgo the cardboard or paper. It’s worth noting that cardboard takes a very long time to break down and decompose. I have dug into garden beds a whole year after making them and still found very large pieces of hard cardboard there.
2. No- Till Dump it! Method
One year I was in need of new garden beds fast. I had no chickens at that time, nor rabbits. What to do?
We had an old cold frame that was just sitting there, I set it up where I wanted my first bed, and just started dumping our garden scraps in there. (You know, the ones the chickens would have gotten if I would have had any!) I also threw weeds in there from parts of the garden that had gotten away from me, a bucket of coffee grounds that the local coffee shop was gracious enough to give me, etc. On the top of these, if I was planting seeds, I threw a bag or two of topsoil that I purchased for $1.98 each. If I was transplanting, I put straw on top and nestled them in. These were all different, and all of them grew - still grow- very nice vegetables!
3. No- Till Sod Garden
Another variation, I call the sod garden. I used this one year when I wanted to plant on new ground that I hadn’t put straw on the year before. The name comes from what the pioneers called their first gardens, and it is similar to those type of gardens.
I used a spade. Putting the point in only a couple of inches, I tipped it back and used it to shave the grass and roots off the top. I did this in the space between beds or rows, then flipped it over, root side up, in the area in which I wanted to grow. You can plant right in this if you have enough soil with your sod, or you can add a bag of topsoil or compost before you plant your seeds. Alternatively, you could add rabbit poop, if you have enough, or composted chicken litter. The grass matter decomposes and makes for nice soil. If you are planting small seeds, like lettuce or greens, simply scatter them on top, then cover with straw, dried grass clippings, or compost from the deep-litter chicken coop!
4. No- Till Chicken tillers
This method is great to work with. You can use it to start new growing spaces, or clean up old ones that have had a crop, or have gotten out of control with weeds! Simply put your chickens in a moveable shelter and leave them there until the job is done! This can be just a simple frame made of 2x2s with an open bottom and chicken wire sides. Part of the top and sides should be out of a solid material to keep out weather and allow for shade.
Alternatively, for larger spaces, you can have a small, moveable shelter and house a rather large flock with moveable fencing. Check out how Justin Rhodes uses his “chickshaw” here.
Also, for wintering, check out Harvey Usserey’s chicken expertise here.
My chicken tractor is 18 square ft. and I keep 3-4 chickens in it. If I have a crop or a lot of weeds in an existing garden plot, the chickens can have it ready to go in a couple of days. If they are on a new plot of land that I want to use for growing, it might take another day or two.
If the intent is to sow seeds, I can do that as soon as the tractor is moved. I simply scatter my seeds on the ground, then cover with straw or grass clippings, and move on with myday:)
If the plan is to transplant, I cover the ground with mulch, and wait a couple of weeks before transplanting. Because the chicken poop is "hot", there is a chance of burning the transplants if it is not allowed time to cool.
5. No- Till Rabbit wonders
I love to use this method with my grow-outs (bunnies who are weaned, but not yet ready to be harvested). I place the rabbits in a run, usually 3x6, and place this run on the ground where I want my garden plot to be. The rabbits eat the grass, leaving behind their magic “bunny berries” to fertilize my future crop! This can be moved once or twice a day, after the grass has been eaten down.
Just put mulch down on the area after moving.
If this is the chosen method, the plot will be ready to plant in a few weeks.
Alternately, you can add the mulch with the rabbits still in there, after they have eaten the grass. This allows you to leave them longer, and consequently, they will provide more manure for your bed. If this is the chosen method, you will have to provide fresh greens for them during this time.
If you want to know more about feeding your rabbits more naturally, and for almost completely FREE you can do so Here
You can also read how I implement this method in Pellet-Free Rabbits
In this method, you can plant right in the plot, as soon as the rabbits are moved. It is harder to move the run, though, with all that mulch in place! In this case, I usually remove the rabbits before relocating the run.
The specifics on the run can vary greatly. You will need to make sure your run is “dig proof” if they are older rabbits. Learn more about how to do that Here.
Young rabbits can fit through very small holes, so you need to make sure and keep some wood or rocks handy to plug up any places where the ground is uneven - or you will be spending a lot of time chasing rabbits!
Rabbits will eat the grass down, and then scratch up the soil slightly by hopping around and digging with their claws. Just scatter seed for a cover crop, covering with a thin layer of straw or dried grass clippings. After the cover crop is done, it is a great plot for other garden vegetables. And best of all, it’s as close to Zero work as you can get! That is a WIN, in my book, for sure!
6. No- Till Goat gardens
I am just experimenting with this one, but it shows excellent promise! We have a small shelter for our goats that is semi-moveable. As the straw bedding builds up it it, we move it. As goats are messy eaters and drop hay all around their feeder, the small area between feeder and shelter is covered in mulch. As we moved the shelter to new places in their fenced living quarters area, I realized those rectangles (4x8) looked like wonderful garden plots!
Last year I planted squash and corn in the goats old shelter spot, and it was a nice garden. This year, I planted root vegetables there. The soil is full of organic matter and is very rich!
The goat bedding can be direct seeded, or transplanted into. Goat poop, similar to rabbit poop, is considered a cold manure. Last year I moved some of their deep-litter onto a garden spot and planted into it and it was marvelous!
The moveable goat shelter beds will be a great asset and help us tremendously in new garden areas!
7. No-Till Mulch it!
This is the ultimate in ease of use. Simply lay a THICK layer of mulch in an area you want to become a garden spot. 6 - 12 inches thick. Unless you are using compact flakes of straw, laid down intact, then you only need 4 inches. If you do this in the fall, it will be ready in spring. Some of the mulch will have composted in the winter, attracted earthworms, and the soil will be improved immensely in that short amount of time!
If you are planting seeds, simply move back the mulch in the area you desire to plant and use a claw or handheld tool to gently work the top inch or so of soil, then plant your seeds! Another method is to scatter your seeds on the surface of the bare soil/compost, then spread a thinner layer of mulch back on top of the seeds. No Kidding- it works! The layer of mulch needs to be a little thicker than the amount of soil that would normally be used to cover. For instance, if you are planting lettuce, you need about a half inch of mulch. For beans, you would need about an inch of mulch. The reason is that mulch is lighter than soil, and once it is packed down by rain and time, it thins out. I then usually walk on it a bit, or pat it down with the back side of a hoe to ensure good soil contact. That’s it. You’re done! Can’t beat that, can you?
If you are transplanting, simply transplant it right into that mulch! Done.
Ruth Stout, the original no-till gardener, is a hoot. You can learn more about deep mulch and how easy it can make your life in her Book
Here’s to Easy, Simple, Inexpensive, and Healthy Gardens!
Everyone wants to be able to plant MORE! For ideas on how to get more out of your existing space with companion planting and succession planting head on over to More Garden Space
For details on times for planting each vegetable in your garden Check out When to plant What