Lester C. Fretz
No Till Gardening
Why are some gardens unproductive?
It’s because spading and roto tilling kill beneficial worms and microbes.
For proven reasons, no till farming is replacing plowing. If no till farming is good for the farmer, perhaps gardeners should also consider the value of this approach.
Tilling the soil every year is an age old tradition. Hoeing around such plants as peppers, tomatoes or sweet corn simply cuts off roots which are desperately needed to transmit nutrients and moisture to the plant. Rather than hoe to loosen the soil and remove weeds, apply a good layer of shredded leaves around the plants. Not only does this approach have many benefits but it’s also less work for the aging back!
Based on the fact an acre has 1 ton of earthworms, a no till garden 20′ x 22′ (approximately 1/100 acre) would have 20 pounds. An earthworm eats its body weight daily. Over the course of the summer, the droppings from this many earthworms would produce significant nutrients such as 1/2 oz. nitrogen, 5 oz. phosphorous plus a considerable amount of potassium, magnesium and calcium. Their tunneling aerates the soil especially beneficial to clay soil.
No till gardening reduces erosion, helps to retains water and eliminates the need for herbicides. On the other hand, tilling: brings dormant weed seeds to the surface to germinate, kills earthworms and may compact soil while decreasing yields due to nutrient deficiencies. Reducing water runoff will reduce mineral leaching.
Rotating crops boosts worm number. Spreading corn meal on the soil is a good way to feed earthworms. An excellent alternative to tilling is the use of shredded leaves and adding mulch of chopped herbs of all kinds which will fertilize the soil, retain moisture and moderate soil temperature. No till relies on heavy mulching for the first few years.
It is acknowledged that tilling helps to get a garden bed started quickly where the clay soil is very heavy or breaking up a sod plot.
The photo depicts a no till garden early in the spring where shredded leaves have built up the soil over time. Note also the use of a trellis which has many benefits and can be left in place with no till.