Sunday, June 2, 2013
Ruth Stout was an advocate of a gardening method called no-till. Tilling has many disadvantages. The primary one is that it exposes dormant weed seeds that then sprout. Tilling is a lot of work, even with a gas-powered or electric tiller. It disturbs the soil structure, and displaces earthworms. As I recall, Stout's method involves piling compostable materials atop the garden beds: leaves, pine straw, grass from untreated lawns, compost, etc. These materials are left on the top of the bed and renewed as needed. You do not till at all, but simply plant into this mulch.
I am interested in no-till gardening for one main reason: I am in my mid-50's and am looking for easier ways to garden. Though I am not yet old, I am also not young and have some of the usual twinges and aches associated with my age. No till will save my back, which has been a source of trouble for me for years.
Last fall, I asked someone in my neighborhood for their bagged leaves (after checking that they did not have walnut trees in in their yard-all parts of walnut trees, even leaves, inhibit plant growth). I took these, and spread them on one of my vegetable garden areas, along with grass clippings and pine straw. The mulched areas sprouted almost no weeds over winter, as compared to the weedy beds that are often tilled. Benefit one! When I moved the mulch aside to plant squashes, I saw no weeds sprouting underneath. The soil was light and fluffy and seemed to have more earth worms that other areas: benefit two! (These earthworms may attract tunneling moles, so this benefit has a cost). And the most important benefit: I did not have to till!
We'll see how this experiment fares and if I will use this method all around the garden.