Mapping Out Next Years Garden - Episode 020

Mapping Out Next Year’s Garden – Episode 020

Maritime Gardening Podcast Episode 22

Fall Gardening in Zone 5? – Episode 022

September 22, 2016 Comments (0) General Gardening, Podcast

No-Till Gardening in Zone 5: Is this a Pipe-Dream or What? – Episode 021

No-Till Gardening in Zone 5: Is this a Pipe-Dream or What?

The concept of no till gardening has been around since the 70’s, yet few people practice this time saving, and highly productive form of gardening. Outside of its labor saving advantages, and of all the benefits to soil health that it has to offer – at the very least – the potential that this form of gardening has for moisture retention should be of interest to gardeners as we come out of what has been the hottest summer on record.  I’ll discuss this very beneficial application of permaculture gardening, and discuss my own successes and failures with this approach.

We are moving into fall, and it’s time to start thinking about next year’s garden, and getting started on some of that work now. Not only is it nice and cool outside, and a great time to be doing some of the more physical aspects of gardening, but the advantage of either amending existing beds, or building new ones, is that the various beneficial forms of life that exist in the soil get a head start for next year. In addition, next spring you will be that much more ahead of the game, and will have a very relaxing experience of getting back in the swing of things. The purpose of this episode is to get people thinking about a ‘no-till’ garden for next year, and to perhaps consider converting a few garden beds to a no-till system this fall.

What is no-till gardening

No-till gardening is a permaculture application to gardening that operates on principles that mimic the way soil systems work in the forest. In essence, the only inputs are added on top, and no mixing is needed. The reason it works is because this type of system is extremely beneficial to soil health, and is favorable to all of the beneficial organisms that live in the soil. Here are a few key benefits of a no-till system:

  • moisture retention – the mulch maintains moisture levels at an optimum level
  • perpetual compost – the mulch is perpetually being broken down and incorporated into the soil
  • stable environment – tilling upsets the balance of the life in soil, and releases a good deal of nitrogen
  • no weeds – weeds are far less likely to germinate when there is a good mulch
  • less disease – which the soil is always moist, the top of the mulch is usually dry, minimizing the potential for many disease problems.

What you will find with this approach is that you no longer need to till in manure, peat moss, lime and fertilizers each year; your need to water your garden will be greatly reduced; you will have far fewer weeds; and, the results will be at least as good, but most likely better than anything you have ever experienced. This is because you will be switching from the conventional input model of gardening ,which works on a principle of broken soil that is perpetually in need of amendments, to a permaculture models that work of on a principle of building soil health; working with the life in the soil to improve the nutrient balance in the soil naturally. With a permaculture approach, your soil only gets better over time, because you are creating an environment in the soil that is favorable to all the living things that live in the soil, and thus, enabling them to help you develop richer soil.

How do I get started?

A good deal of online resources on this topic imply that regardless of existing soil conditions, all you need to do is put down some cardboard, then a mulch, wait a few months to a year, and then plant. In my experience here in Zone 5 this has not worked, and actually takes about three years or more. Perhaps in warmer climates where things break down faster and soil organisms are active in the winter months this may work, but here in Zone 5 I think the soil needs a kick start, so here is what I recommend:

If you are building ‘up’ (least labor intensive):

– mow any grass or weeds you see in the area where you intend to build a new bed

– put about 3 layers of newspaper down

– add at least 6 inches of horse manure (free & nutrient rich)

– put 3 layers of newspaper over the manure (to smother the weeds that might germinate in the manure)

– apply 2-3 inches of mulch

– take is easy, you’re done and are ready for next spring

If you are staying on the ground (the best with regard to moisture retention)

– throw an inch or two of manure on the soil – any kind, the richer the better

– turn all the soil over (a foot deep), either with a roto-tiller, or just a pick-axe, pitchfork and shovel

– put 3 layers of newspaper over the tilled soil (smother any weeds that might germinate in the soil)

– apply 2-3 inches of mulch over the newspaper

– take is easy, you’re done and are ready for next spring

If you find your current approach to gardening labour intensive, and can’t stand the constant weeding, watering, and tilling, consider transitioning your garden to a no-till garden that employs permaculture principles. You will be amazed at how well it works, and kick yourself for not having tried it sooner.  Fall is a great time to get started on that, so get out there and have fun!

Some online resources on permaculture:

Bill Mollison

Geoff Lawton

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