Soil is a living thing, each handful is full of millions of organisms including, bacteria, fungus, viruses, insects and invertebrates. All of these organisms are working together to help the soil replenish itself through decomposing plant material on the surface, helping to build soil structure by holding water and air, and supporting the conversion of minerals in the soil into components plants use to thrive. By using no-till gardening techniques we can support this natural process keeping the soil structure intact. No till methods help our soil thrive and improve over time, growing healthier plants all with less work than traditional methods and can be used as an organic gardening method anywhere from a commercial market garden to a patio container.
The secret of no-till gardening is the repeated application of organic matter in the form of mulches which cover the soil, minimizing the need for watering and weeding while replenishing nutrients to keep soil healthy. You can use a variety of mulches depending on what you have available including compost, straw, grass clippings, woodchips, sawdust, and leafmold. The key is to continually apply mulches as they break down to keep the soil covered. Since the soil is never exposed, weed seeds brought or blown into the garden are unable to germinate and since there is no annual tilling, older weed seeds are not brought to the surface to germinate either. Over time the need for weeding should decrease and the continual additions of mulch with limited disturbance should increase the health and structure of the soil, providing more nutrients and holding more water available for the plants you want to grow! You get heathier soil & plants with less work weeding and watering!
Establishing a new garden or converting an existing garden to no-till techniques is simple and uses a layering technique to smother existing weeds or vegetation while building soil. In a lawn, mow grass and weeds as low to the ground as possible and layout your beds. To make garden beds accessible without stepping on the soil and compacting it, beds should be no wider than 3-4′. Mark paths between beds with a cardboard layer to block light and smother weeds, give yourself 2-3′ wide paths for easy access to apply mulches and tend to crops. If weed pressure is significant you can start with a cardboard layer over the bed .Cover the mowed grass or cardboard on the garden beds with 2-4″ of compost or manure from a trusted source to add nutrients. Top the beds and the cardboard paths with 2-3″ of mulch such as woodchips to smother any weed seeds by blocking out light. This step is best done in the fall when there is time for the bed to rest over winter and earthworms and other microorganisms to work the soil layers, but you can build your garden this spring and plant seedlings right away. To plant, simply pull back the mulch layer, place your seedlings in the soil and then recover the soil. In arid areas consider placing drip tape or soaker hoses in the rows under the mulch layer for more efficient watering.