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Updated: May 17, 2021

Sit down close your eye, relax, and let your mind wonder to what your dream garden looks like. What do you see? Take a few moments to write it down or draw it.

Don’t rush this process. Building a garden is going to take work, sweat, and maybe even some tears. That’s why having a vision will help you get through the hard work, hail storms, bugs, and who knows what.

Let’s expand on your vision. What do you see? Do you see raised beds, for easy maintenance? Do you see a no-till garden, with designated beds and paths that don’t change over the years? Do see a garden with militarily rows of vegetables? Do you see a garden full of vegetables and flowers living in a codependent environment? Do see a one season garden? Do you see a multi-season garden? Do you see a year round garden? Do you see a garden that will be a hobby to take up extra time or a garden that will feed your growing family? Do you see a garden that is planted once and keeps giving for many years to come? The options are endless. Or do you see a combination of garden styles?

I want to help you accomplish your dream. But all of these dreams, have to start somewhere. Today I am going to walk you through the three most common growing styles. No-Till, Till, and Raised Beds.

Lets start with till. Till gardens have been around since the invention of the plow. A till garden is one that is tilled or the soil is turned over every year. This is how I started out, why, because that was what I was taught and is the easiest way to start a garden quickly. A till garden involves extra work every spring to till the garden and make new rows and beds. The advantage of this garden is that you start with a clean slate and can add in lots of organic matter every year. This garden is best planned around a row system. What I mean is your veggies will be planted in rows and you will have paths between each row. This garden style is very useful for a beginner but it does require the use of a rototiller. If you don’t have it in your budget now to buy one most hardware stores or growing centers may have the option of renting one. There is also the possibility of asking your neighbors or friends to borrow one. This garden style is great but it has a few problems. The first being that a row type system takes a lot of space more space then a bed system. Weeds will also be harder to control as you will have more path area than growing area. Weeds will come up in the paths where the soil is more compact and will be harder to pull. There is the next problem, soil compaction. Soil compaction is not a good thing. Veggies need air pockets in the soil to grow. So with a high ratio of paths to growing areas your soil compaction will be high and also will make it imperative that you till again next year to aerate your soil. That comes to the next problem, too much disturbance of the soil will diminish your soil structure. Soil structure is very important. Worms and other insects work very hard to bring nutrients and make air channels in to the top six inches of soil and when we till, we flip that soil over and disrupt the natural system of things. This flipping of the soil will also bring up more seeds from the weed seed bank every year. You work hard all season to pull weeds and suppress them but then every time you till you will just bring up more seeds and they will grow into more weeds. It is a very vicious cycle. I used this method for years, but I have moved to a bed system. Why, because I have a small garden space and I want more growing area than paths. I also have found that with my clay soil, tilling has not helped but harmed the soil structure and there for my soil health.

The next style is No-Till system. With the this system, the garden is only deeply tilled once to loosen the soil. Then permanent mounded beds are made. These are raised beds, in a sense, as they are above the path level but they are not more then 6 to 12 inches high and have no boards or other things to hold the soil in place. For further maintenance the beds are only lightly tilled with a tither, hoe, or rake. Organic matter can be added in bulk the first year but then it will be dressed on top of the beds after that and only scratched into the surface for the worms to deal with. What I liked about this method was less work to get started every year after the first year and it almost doubled my growing area. More growing area means more food for my family. This style also helps with my clay soil and my weed problems. As the rows are permanent then mulch can be applied and the growing areas stay nice and fluffy for easy weed removal. I also found with permanent beds it was easier to plan companion planting and crop rotation. I will cover what and how I use Crop rotation in my Online Course.

The last style is the raised bed system. Like the No-till style you will have lots of work the first year establishing and making your beds. This method is also the hardest on your wallet. Why? Because the materials for building the beds and in most cases the soil will need to be purchased. But once this system can be put in place it does become very low maintenance. Paths between beds can be deeply mulched to suppress weeds and with proper mulching and tarping in your raised beds they can become free of weeds. Both the raised bed style and no-till method can eventually become weed free. You would only have to deal with the seeds that are blown in and not from the seed bank below as they will never be brought up to the surface to grow. Thus ending the vicious weed cycle.

I personally actually use all three of these style in my garden. I till sometimes to turn in any green manures I may grow over the Winter. I have No-till beds and raised beds. So as you can see your dream garden can be a combination of many methods or styles. Tell next time.

Pray, Just Plant!

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