Everywhere I go I find a pal
I don’t know what I’m doing, but I am going to do it anyway.
My plan is to turn a third of my backyard vegetable garden into a no-till plot.
This past weekend, I pulled the last of the weeds from this year’s garden and, using a hand shovel, turned over the soil, effectively putting the garden to bed.
I did leave a row of kale, which continues to grow nicely in cold weather, and a clump of parsley and sage that has weathered a couple minor frost events.
This is all standard end-of-the-season garden protocol for me. This year, however, I raked down a section of the garden so I could plant it with cereal rye.
When the garden dries out a little, my plan is to broadcast, cover the seed with a little dirt, and wait for the cover crop to sprout and green up the western end of my garden.
Come spring, the rye will continue to grow. At some point, I will roll down the rye plants, breaking their stems and killing them. The cover crop will turn into a dense mulch which will (as I am told) effectively suppress weeds. Come Decoration Day in May, my plan is to plant this section of the garden with squash-type plants. This past year, our squash section included zucchini and butternut squash.
What I want to happen is under the ground. The idea is to not to disturb the soil, allow worms to populate it and, with time, to enhance soil health. The soil will hold more water and nutrients. I should be able to grow even more handsome squash and, if the mulch actually works, with no spring tillage and less garden weeding.
This is kind of risky. I have never seen in person a no-till garden. I am working off of a few casual conversations and a couple of You-Tube videos. This is pretty thin information. Thus, I am only committing to a fraction of my garden and putting at risk some pretty easy-to-grow vegetables, like zucchini.
I am thrilled, however, to take this next gardening step. Back in the 1980’s, I fooled around with garden mulch, trying to become a “natural” gardener. That didn’t work. In time, I reverted back to conventional gardening where you treat the soil as a growing medium, not as a living thing.
I have had great gardens over the years with a conventional approach. In the back of my mind, however, I always wanted to master a more natural technique. I read “One Straw Revolution” by Masanobu Fukuoka in my younger days and the lessons of that book never left me.
So, I will see what happens. This weekend, as I spaded the garden, I noticed signifi cantly more worms in the section of the garden that didn’t get weeded this year (the squash area) versus the intensely weeded area (the tomatoes). I took this as evidence that tillage discourages worms.
I wish I knew more. I can see my no-till garden working as planned until next fall. What do I do then? I will need to replant the cereal rye as a cover crop, but how will I do that with last year’s cereal rye mulch still on the ground? Can I just broadcast the rye seeds without covering them with dirt?
I don’t know.
Next year, my wife and I will plant a garden, but, also, engage in a new adventure. Hopefully, we will harvest our typical crop of vegetables, but also grow our skills as gardeners.
Peter Weinschenk, Editor, The Record-Review