No Till Vegetable Gardening: The Easy Way

No Till Vegetable Gardening: The Easy Way to Organic Gardening

So what is no-till gardening?

That’s easy. You don’t dig up or turn the soil to incorporate organic material and/or to aerate/loosen the soil. You just spread mulch on top,  plant the seeds under the mulch and water regularly. Nice and simple.

…and it really does work. I dug up some soil in my no till garden one day and to my surprise, the soil was soft and easy to dig up. Amazing!

…it was full of worms too.

I always thought you had to plow or turn over the soil before planting to loosen and aerate the soil. Apparently this is not necessary at all. And it’s actually detrimental to the soil.

I used to spend hours and many sweaty days digging in my backyard in order to prepare it for gardening. I hated how tired I got from digging in the soil. I live in Arizona where the soil gets rock hard because of the clay content. This makes it even harder to dig up.I had to use a claw hammer to break the soil up.

I wish I had of known about “No Till” gardening.

Why Digging/Turning Soil is Bad

Anytime you disturb the soil, you also disturb beneficial insects like worms. I remember every time I would dig in my garden I would see lots of worms. I didn’t think about what I just did.I not only disturbed the worms but may have cut a few in half with the shovel. Yikes!

When you attract worms to the soil, they will loosen the soil, break down plant material and leave behind the richest fertilizer known to man…worm castings. Worms will do everything needed to make the soil super rich and nourishing for plants.

You also disturb the microbial systems in the soil. These help break down plant materiel and fertilize the soil. They are best left alone to flourish.

So, no till gardening is simple….just add compost and/or mulch on top of the soil, water and then plant seeds. A 2-3 inch layer of compost or mulch works fantastic. Keep the soil moist so worms and other beneficial insects are attracted.

So what kind of compost or mulch for No Till gardening?

You can use something as basic as grass clippings or a compost product like Kellogg’s N’RICH soil enhancer. It all works really well. I have used grass clipping with great success. Let the grass dry out and then spread it over the soil. Now water regularly. You can make your own compost or buy it at a Nursery or Home Improvement store like Lowes or Home Depot.

What about weeds and grass?

If you are wanting to start a new garden but the ground is covered with grass or lots of weeds, you have some options.

The easiest option is to trim the weeds and/or grass as short as your can with a weed wacker or lawn mower. Water liberally. Then cover the area with thick paper or cardboard and add 3-4 inches of compost on top. The cardboard will stop weeds and grass from growing and will eventually kill and decompose them. Eventually the cardboard will decompose into the soil and enrichen it. I would recommend waiting 2-3 months before planting seeds to give it time to decompose and condition the soil.

Another option is to pull the weeds up and/or the grass. Then dump a 3-4 inch top layer of compost on top of the soil. Water regularly to stimulate decomposition and attract worms. Now you can plant your seeds.

It’s amazing how little mulch you actually need to condition the soil and reduce water evaporation. I had a small area in my backyard that I spread a thin layer of grass clipping over. I think it was less than 1/4 inch thick yet it prevented the soil from drying out 24 hours after watering… in the hot/dry Arizona climate. The daytime temperatures were in the 90’s.

Mulch is like insulation. It reflects the Sun’s heat and locks in moisture.

How to Start Vegetable Seeds Outside

So what’s the easiest and most productive way to start seeds for a vegetable garden?

Is it, in peat pots inside?

Or in garden soil outside?

Or by soaking them in water first and then planting them?

I figured this out the hard way…from experience. I tried the peat pots filled with garden soil. I placed them outside on my patio. I put 3 cucumber seeds in a 1/2 deep hole in each peat pot and watered every other day. They dried out very fast because they are exposed to the air on all sides. I tried to keep them moist but failed. They never sprouted after 2 months.

So did I give up? Nope

I had been experimenting with grass mulch in the yard, I have a 6′ x 4′ area covered with grass mulch/clippings. Mulch does wonderful things to soil. Anyway, I decided to throw the last 10 or so seeds into this area under about 1/2″ of soil and then covered it with grass mulch.I watered every few days for about 2 weeks. And Wah lah. I now have 10 seedlings growing throw the grass mulch.

Cucumber Seedlings growing through mulch

Here is a close up of the cucumber seedlings growing through the grass mulch.

Cucumber seedlings growing

So why did this work?

Well, the grass mulch keeps the soil moist by preventing the air from evaporating the water. The seeds stayed moist and germinated in about 10 days.