To Till, or Not to Till…

Last week we had a compost/topsoil mix delivered. We chose to buy this year because we are not sure what is in our soil and we thought it would be easier to start with a known mix. We will work on testing and amending our soil over the next few seasons.

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We are opting not to till this year…at least not all of our beds. We may have one bed as a control to compare, but our main beds will be direct sown. Here’s our reasoning.

The purpose of tilling is to remove weeds, shape the soil into rows for plants and irrigation. While we haven’t actually seen it first hand since this is the first year we are really going to garden, multiple blogs, podcasts and gardening books* claim that this leads to increased erosion, loss of organic matter, death of helpful pests like worms and increased erosion. As I’ve mentioned, our five acres is wide open, extremely windy and relatively flat so we are going to have enough problems with erosion as it is and we don’t want to add any opportunity for more.

*Survival Podcast, Square Foot Gardening, Wikipedia and other gardening blogs

With this way of gardening, organic matter and nutrients are kept intact. Weeds, while annoying, can actually be quite helpful as they have deep root systems that dive down and pull nutrients and water up to benefit the veggies, herbs and flowers we’ve so painstakingly started and planted in our garden.

Our raised beds are going to be constructed using a combination of methods:

First we laid a bunch of cardboard down and soaked it. The cardboard not only kills the grass and helps to keep weeds from popping up, it also helps to keep the nitrogen and all the helpful bugs and nutrients already in the soil intact.

Woody Beds (Hugelkultur)
Next we are going to pile rotted wood on top of the cardboard that we procured from Ray’s uncle’s place. Then we are going to cover the wood with a topsoil/compost mix and finally top it all off with a heavy layer of mulch…watering every step of the way.

Why rotted or rotting wood? Well, we first heard about this technique listening to The Survival Podcast. Benefits of woody beds are added organic material, nutrients, air pockets, water holding capabilities, nutrient exchange and ability to have longer growing seasons among others that are provided at the links below if you are interested in learning more.

Jack Spirko has an entire video series on The Survival Podcast YouTube channel at the link below. Paul Wheaton also has a page devoted to this style of gardening.

Paul Wheaton Link

When we plant, we will simply pull back the mulch, plant our seeds or transplants, water and recover with mulch. Over time, the need to water will decrease as the buried wood will act as a sponge rich in nutrients, worms and fungus feeding our veggies and making them strong…and, with any luck, delicious and abundant!

Pending rain, we plan to get at least one of our “woody beds” going this week and transplant our cabbage and broccoli under the cold frame. I will post pictures of our progress!

One response to “To Till, or Not to Till…

  1. Pingback: Maze Runner(s) | a pinch of homestead

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