SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

October 6, 2013

No-till gardening’

Gardening

No-till gardening method easy on soil as well as back

SHERRY MACDONALD STRATFORD ECOLOGICAL CENTER

At Stratford Ecological Center, vegetables thrive with the no-till approach.

By Diana Lockwood • FOR THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Don’t till; just chill. • In an organic nutshell, that sums up a technique that creates a new garden bed with little effort and requires no tiller or other power equipment. This easy method recycles weeds, newspapers and kitchen waste while making rich, crumbly soil that plants relish.

The approach goes by several names — no-till gardening, lasagna gardening and sheet mulching — although you might end up calling it the “Wow, I love this!” method.

It’s constantly being researched and refined but was pioneered by Mother Nature, through the cycle of plant decay and reuse.

No-till gardening “conserves the soil and reduces or eliminates erosion,” said Jeff Dickinson, executive director and farmer at Stratford Ecological Center, a nonprofit educational farm and nature preserve in Delaware, Ohio.

  • “It reduces the need for watering,” he continued. “It’s also a good way to prevent soil-borne diseases from fungus and bacteria.”

The one negative is that it takes time for the newspaper or other matter to decompose and for earthworms to help mix the layered ingredients into the soil. Many experts say fall is a great time to undertake this project; by spring planting time, earthworms and soil microbes will have done the prep work for a new garden bed. (Dickinson warns that cold weather might prolong the process.)

The common practice of tilling pulverizes soil and destroys natural layers. It also kills beneficial creatures such as earthworms and brings weed seeds to the surface.

  • The no-till approach, on the other hand, calls for layering organic materials on the soil surface and letting nature take its course. Think of it as “composting in place.”

Not surprisingly, everyone who practices this art and science — from the pro with decades of experience to the neighbor who brags about his tomatoes — has a different “recipe.”

Thankfully, as Dickinson said, “Nature is very forgiving.”

To start a no-till bed, most experts recommend laying cardboard or several layers of newspaper on the ground. That helps to keep weed seeds dormant and kill sod.

Then you can start alternating layers of high-nitrogen and high-carbon materials. Don’t panic if you’re not a chemist; just think green (nitrogen) and brown (carbon).

High-carbon matter includes dead leaves, straw and pine needles. For high-nitrogen matter, use grass clippings.

He warns against making a bed too thick too fast.

“It needs air and moisture,” he explained. “You want the exchange between soil and layered ingredients.”

Once your bed is ready for planting — typically a matter of months — don’t stop layering, Dickinson advises.

“The trick is to maintain the lasagna effect as you’re gardening,” he said.

Another benefit of the no-till method: Research suggests that it might keep carbon in the soil, preventing it from entering the atmosphere as the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

Further reading

   Here are a few books on no-till gardening:    Gardening Without Work by Ruth Stout (Norton Creek, $18.95)    Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza (Rodale, $17.99)    Weedless Gardening by Lee Reich (Workman, $10.95)

Diana Lockwood is a freelance writer. cdecker@dispatch.com

(My Comment:

Til now, didn’t know what kind of gardener that I am, but this kinda fits.   As a juicer,  I dump my fiber from the juicing out into the flower beds, tho I generally try to scratch it in somewhat because a big lump of orange-y stuff looks messy and I don’t think the management of this apartment complex would approve.   I wanted to do a compost box on the patio, but  – not allowed, just chairs and BBQ’s – the usual stuff. 

The way the wind blows here, don’t think layers of newspaper would stick around too long.   But why couldn’t one simply shred them into smaller pieces and then smooth them into and around the soil?  . . .would be easier on those lovely earthworms.  Well, I really like this article and just wanted to share.   Jan)

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