"And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress and keep it". Genesis 2:15

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Our New "No Tilling, No Digging" Herb Garden

When winter was cold and dreary I bought a pack of seeds to make an Herbal Tea garden. When the time for planting said seeds was here, the seeds were back ordered and they did not arrive until I was out of town for a whole week at Presbytery, so this whole project got off to a very late start. If you plant stuff after May here it has a very hard time with the heat, but perhaps the seeds will have a better time of it than full grown plants would.

I had originally planned to just stuff the plants into existing beds, but after looking it over and seeing that there really was no room, and after hearing Garry complaining about how much lawn we had to mow, I decided to make a whole new bed right out in the lawn on the East side of our house. This is in keeping with the urban homesteading idea of growing more useful plants and less lawn.

Our Lawn is Bermuda grass. This is the hardest grass to kill in existence, I think. When we put in our garden beds we have to till or dig down at lest 8 inches to get to the Bermuda roots, and pull it all out. Then you have to very carefully sift every grass stem out of the dirt or the smallest piece will sprout! We had just gone through this whole procedure this spring when we expanded our vegetable garden, and we were not ready for this again. So we tried something we had read about in the past.

The Bermuda grass problem is taken care of by laying cardboard or paper out directly on the lawn, wetting it down, and piling lawn clippings and leaves, whatever can be composted on top. Pile this on a couple of feet thick. Ideally you do this in the Fall and plant in the Spring, but since I wanted to use this right away we added a step and moved  a pile of dirt we had handy from digging out a walk way, on top of the leaves. This dirt was from the area we excavated to put in a pathway last year, and had spent the year under a pile of compost. It was pretty good dirt and we needed its spot to plant something else in. Finally remember all those woods chips from our defunct tree? This was spread on top for mulch, to keep down weeds while I get the herbs ready to plant and to keep the bed moist.

Every cardboard box we could spare from the attic was opened up and laid down.

An entire compost pile is being moved on top.

Garry did use the little tiller to make a ditch for the edging. A smart person would have done this first! My bad planning!

Edging installed and walkways established, we piled on the dirt.

Wood chips are on and the bed is finished.

The entire project was pretty fun and the whole family worked on it together. (We discovered having more than one wheel-barrow would have been helpful!) It probably was just as much work time-wise as doing it the other way since I added two steps (dirt and wood chips), but it was less back breaking and tedious than the tilling, pulling and sifting would have been. Now that the bed is done I will never have to till it or mess with it again. 

The No Till philosophy is to improve soil by doing it the way nature does by adding amendments to the top of the soil and using copious mulch. This accomplishes several things. No tilling means the soil's structure is not destroyed. Tilling actually adds too much oxygen to the soil and makes the organic matter break down too fast. Mulching prevents weeds, regulates soil temperature,  prevents erosion, attracts earthworms,  and becomes an amendment in itself. You can further protect your soil structure from another problem, compaction, by setting up established pathways, only walking in those areas and never stepping in you planting beds.

Most people will apply these principles to their flower gardens, but what about your vegetable garden? Yep our vegetable garden is going to be no till from now on! Our next area of expansion has little Bermuda grass and is already covered in a deep layer of wood chips. When we are ready to plant this area it should be weed and grass free.

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