The veggie garden has been evolving over the last three years. When we moved here there was no garden so we had to create our own. We started with an area that had been “lawn” for at least 20 years. That year we had no choice but to till since the sod was well established and the grass deep rooted. After tilling, we spent hours removing the clumps of grass that had been tilled under. Even so, that first year our weed crop far exceeded our desired crops.
Year two we tilled again. HWA, BOF and I worked hard to get ahead of the weeds early in the season and were then able to keep up through the summer. The garden looked like a garden and produced well; we harvested and canned a lot.
This year – year three – we made some major changes to our methods. Now that the weeds have been largely controlled, we decided not to till and instead are using deep mulch. Over the winter, whenever I cleaned out the chicken coop, I spread the bedding over the garden area to age and create a deep layer of mulch. We also took advantage of any other forms of mulch we found – for example, I ran last year’s tomato plants through my leaf shredder and turned them into usable mulch. By spring the entire garden area was covered in at least 4″ of mulch.
The mulch serves multiple purposes. First, it makes it harder for weeds to grow, as it blocks light to weed seeds, preventing them from growing. Second, the few seeds that try anyway are easily pulled, as the layer of mulch is loose and friable. Third, the mulch keeps the ground underneath moist. When it rains, the moisture is retained in the ground instead of evaporating, reducing our need to water. And last, as the mulch breaks down, it provides nutrients to the growing plants. By not tilling or adding fertilizer or other chemicals, we have allowed the soil organisms and earthworms to reproduce and grow healthy colonies that are ready to nourish our veggie seedlings as we plant them.
So far, we are thrilled with the “no till” method of gardening. Every other day or so I pull any weeds that have tried to sprout. It takes no more than 20 minutes, compared to the hours per day we spent in previous years. And our veggie garden is starting to look like a “real” garden at last.