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The benefits of a No-till garden are beyond compare but what happens after you have left tilling behind. How do you maintain a no-till garden? Today You and I are going to walk through the ins and outs of maintaining soil fertility and weeds in your new no-till garden. Let's get growing!

What kind of garden do you maintain?

I would say I have maintained several different types; from raised beds, tilled, and now a no-till garden.

I have struggled for the past few years trying to maintain this type of garden. I know in my soul this is the best choice for the life of my soil. But, I remember when pulling out a tiller was so easy. I could have a clean canvas to plant in minutes and turning in compost and amendments was a cinch.

Maintaining no-till garden is not hard, but I think you can't just change your style garden without also changing your mindset.

I also figured if I was struggling with this, others might also. So, if I could show you all how easy maintaining a no-till garden can be I could also encourage myself to break the tilling habit. Let's first start by discussing the differences between till and no-till.

Till Or No-till

Both of these in the garden world are referred to as garden main maintenance styles. Or, more simply how one chooses to maintain their garden year after year. Both have benefits and drawbacks. Let's start with till.

Tilled Garden

“Tilling is simply turning over and breaking up the soil.”

Benefits include:

  • turning or mixing in amendments into the soil

  • breaking up severe compaction

  • removing weeds quickly

  • mixing in organic matter

  • breaking up sod when starting a garden

Drawbacks include:

  • not always beneficial to the worms as many are killed

  • can bring up dormant weed seeds deep in the soil to the surface

  • tilling too much can cause the hummus in the soil to be burned up too quickly

  • breaking up the natural soil layers

No Till Garden

“Is a method of growing crops without disturbing the soil through deep tilling. And only the top two inches of soil are cultivated.”

What is cultivating?

“Breaking up with a crusty soil surface allowing for a much easier penetration of air, nutrients, and water.”

Benefits include:

  • build soil

  • benefits the worms and microorganisms

  • less weeding after the first year

  • less watering when mulch is used

  • don't have to wait to plant

  • helps the soil retain carbon

  • reduces soil erosion

  • saves time

Drawbacks include:

  • mindset change for tillers

  • can't control weeds by tilling

  • risk of carrying over plant disease

  • takes time and patience for soil to rebuild itself

  • learning to maintain and plant a no-till garden

So you can now see where I was a few years ago as a tiller and now a non-tiller. I do think there are times when tilling is still necessary, like when establishing a new garden or when a large amount of amendments need to be added to repair a soil structure.

You can also see that the two major drawbacks of no-till is mindset and learning new methods.

So let’s not let the old metaphor, “ You can’t teach an old gardener new tricks” stand in our way.

How To Maintain A No-till Garden

To begin with we must first find out the definition of “gardening maintenance”.

“To maintain is to cause or enable a state of affairs as well as providing necessary necessities for life and existence.”

So in short “garden maintenance” is the cause and enables the continuance of providing your garden with the necessities for its life and existence.

So what jobs help us maintain our garden life?

I think first and foremost jobs are Soil Fertility and Weed Control. But, how are these jobs accomplished in a no-till garden?

Soil Fertility

For a gardener to maintain Soil Fertility they need to do several things like: add amendments and organic matter (like compost), aerate the soil, utilize cover crops and of course cultivate. Here are a few ideas on how to do that in a no-till garden.

Adding amendments and compost is done by layering them on top of the soil or no-till bed and leaving it for the worms in organisms to work into the soil. That is why Fall is the best time to do this because that gives the worms all winter to work.

Aeration is done with a broadfork or I use a spud fork. The fork is pushed deep into the soil and then the handle is tilted backwards towards the gardener. This lifts the forks and the soil without flipping. The soil structure remains intact but allows air pockets to be added in the lifting. This helps in clay soils and when reducing compaction. Compaction should be less in a no-till garden but there still is going to be some from the wind and rain.

Cover crops are used to protect the soil from erosion and add nutrients when they're turned in the soil in a tilled garden. But, in a no-till garden, a gardener must think outside of the box when it comes to cover crops. Planting of course is the same.

Tilling in a Cover Crop without Tilling?

  • A cover crop could be trimmed and then the green manure turned into compost and later layered on the soil

  • after trimming the residue can be covered with mulch or a tarp and left to decompose on its own, you could also use chickens to scratch the top remnants of the cover crop and the mulch to let the roots in the chicken manure decompose

  • you could also cut the crop and then burn the remnants and cover with mulch

  • last you could just pull the cover crop like weeds

Turning in a cover crop can be done in a no-till garden; it just takes more time!

Weed Control

Weed pressure the first year is going to be crazy in a no-till garden. Once a gardener stops turning their soil the weeds are going to need to be controlled in other ways. I have written another blog on this topic. so click here to learn more.

The important thing is to not get discouraged. In fact, some gardeners will let the garden rest for a year when they move to a no-till method because of the weed pressure. I think the only way this could be done successfully, so the weeds don't take over, is to use solarization and lots of mulch. Like I said I go into great detail on weed control here and here.

I'm sure you can think of a lot more methods to incorporate cover crops or adding amendments as you maintain your own no till garden. I pray that this has encouraged you to not give up on maintaining a No-till Garden.

Until next time,

Pray, Just Plant!

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