No-Till Gardening

Spring is here, and summer is just around the corner. If you don’t already have a garden, now is the time to do it.

You don’t need a rototiller. Pick an area with good sunlight,
and mow the grass short or chop away the weeds. Lay down a single layer of
cardboard. If there is a lot of weed stuble, you might want a double layer.
Plain is fine, but I like to use corrugated carboard.
Many grocery stores will give the boxes away for free. You can also use
layered newsprint. I’ve found that newsprint is not nearly as effective as
cardboard unless a fairly thick layer of newsprint is used. I would recommend
no less than 10 sheets.

Make sure to overlap the pieces of cardboard or newsprint, otherwise the weeds
will find their way up through the cracks.

On top of the cardboard, apply a layer of mulch, 1 to 3 inches.
Then water the mulch pretty thoroughly. This will work its way down
to the cardboard, softening it, and making it conform tightly to the ground.

Between the cardboard and the mulch, you should have nearly eliminated any
weeding through the course of the summer, as well as helping to conserve
moisture during the heat of summer.

If you use the same location for your garden year after year, this layer of
mulch will decompose and act as fertilizer and soil building organic matter.
Top dress with 1 inch of so of mulch each year, adding new cardboard every
other year or so.

By the way, bushes and trees can also benefit from a 1 to 3 feet circle of
mulch, thinner towards the center, thicker at the outer edges.

Aged mulch is better. It has had the chance to compost somewhat, and is not
as nitrogen leaching as fresh mulch. Because it is partially decomposed, aged mulch
usually has a nice natural dark color. Dyed mulch is quicker to produce, but
it is often made of lower grade wood, pallets or demolished home debris. With dyed mulch the
addition of some nitrogen may be necessary to balance the fact that the
freshly decomposing wood will draw some nitrogen from the ground.
I also find the dye tends to stain everything it touches.

In my area I’ve found that it is easy to locate a double ground tree top mulch
that is undyed, and aged for a year before being delivered for retail sale.
This makes an excellent mulch that helps build a biologically active soil.

In the absence of a good wood or bark type mulch, straw can be used.
I’ve used baled straw, taking sections off of the end and laying them over
the cardboard. Every year my wife and mother in law set up a Halloween
display using a couple of bales of straw. By spring time it makes an
excellent, long lived mulch. You can fluff it up to make it look prettier,
but in my mind this makes it a lot less useful as a mulch.