Monday, April 9, 2012

No Till Gardening

Bellevue gardens,  4/8/2012
      When I started our first home garden in 1975, I did not have a truck or a tiller, and so had to dig the garden by hand.  A lot of work, but it worked fine.  When we moved to Michigan a year later, I had read about the double dig method.  It should read the double the trouble method.  I won't do that again.  We had a garden, but it was a lot of work.  Still though, I had not used a tiller.  When we moved here to Delaware in 1979, the garden was already in, but it was a wet clay, slippery mess where the previous owner had put down  "two by fours" to be able to walk without falling in the clay soup.  Since that time, I have put down wood chips for paths, and ground leaves for mulch.  And more wood chips and more leaves.  And more leaves, and more and still more.  Everything goes on top of the soil.  The only digging I do is to plant seeds or starts.
      A huge benefit can be seen in the above photo.  My garden on the right is fully planted and currently productive.  Most folks are still tilling and now just starting to seed or put in transplants.  The plot on the left has already had a load of mushroom soil tilled in, but that mushroom addition has disappeared as fertilizer for the weeds.  It will get tilled again before being planted.  Then the pathways between rows will be tilled again and again as the method for "weeding" the garden.  All the while grinding up the weeds and grass into more small pieces that will grow again.  You can see the mushroom soil in my garden on the right.  I used it as a mulch on top of the soil, where it will still release its nutrient value, while serving as a valuable mulch to keep down the weeds.  The soil is so friable and moist, that any weeds that do grow are very easy to pull by hand.  In neighboring Pennsylvania where the mushroom soil comes from, the mushroom growers by law have to steam sterilize the mushroom soil before it leaves the mushroom houses.  Thus it makes a great weed free mulch.  Grass clippings, leaves, and wood chips on top of the soil all work as good mulch.
      By setting up permanent beds and paths, only the path areas get walked on.  The soil in the beds stays light and unpacked.  And full of plants year round.

      This shot shows the garden plots on the east side of my plot.  All three kale varieties, Beedy's Camden, Red Russian, and Scotch Curly leaf, overwintered and are producing harvestable leaves even as they are going to flower.  The cut seed heads before flowering are a delicious alternative to broccoli raab.  We had some last night with pasta, sweet peppers, and sweet Italian sausage.  Scrumptious.
      Also in current production are collards and collards flower stalks, Egyptian walking onions eaten as green onions, leeks, overwintered Tango lettuce, and cutting celery.  Lots of different lettuces are still producing in the cold frames, even as new starts are being planted.  And some cardoon is ready to harvest if I only knew what to do with it. 

     Out of nearly two hundred garden plots at the park, mine is the one green oasis among plowed furrows or weed patches yet to be tilled.  With gas at $4/gallon, I don't see any reason to change from my old ways.



  1. Do you collect leaves by the bag full to mulch with? I put leaves on in the fall, but throughout the summer they're scarce. I'm trying to use more compost-type materials, but am never quite sure what is best. Maybe this summer I'll try using more grass clippings, once they're dry, so they don't get all clumped up! My husband uses no-till methods with corn planting, etc, but he does have to spray the fields first...

  2. Your garden is producing already...amazing. Very interesting about the mushroom compost. I need to use more grass clippings as natural nutrients. We also use wood ash, sparingly, and bark compost from the woodshed. Anything natural is so much healthier for the soil. Great entry.

  3. Very inspiring...Thanks for sharing all of your valuable knowledge!