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3 Benefits of No-Till Garden Planting

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No Till is a method of gardening that utilizes none to minimal cultivation, heavy mulching and the use of cover crops to produces a loose fertile soil with minimal effort on your part.  When done correctly No Till gardening can improve yields, reduce labor and manage weeds and pests without chemicals or heavy cultivation. 

Mulched No Till Garden

Mulched Garden

Why no till is a good thing.

There are two ideas that you need to accept and understand in order to really appreciate what no till can do for you.  The first is that Soil and Dirt are not the same thing.  Dirt is what ends up on your pants at the end of the day, the mud you kick off your shoes, what is on your car after driving down a gravel road.  Soil next to water is the most important thing for supporting life on this Earth.  

The second is that soil for all intents is a living breathing organism that can be damaged and destroyed by careless human practices.  Soil is made up of organic and inorganic materials that form a immense and complicated network that make soil what it is.  To get a better idea of how alive soil is I have a few numbers for you to digest.

In one cup of soil there is,[1]

  • 200 billion bacteria
  • 20 million protozoa
  • 100,000 meters of fungi filaments
  • 100,000 nematodes
  • 50,000 arthropodes 

All that life in the soil is what makes is possible to grow plants in a sustainable way.

So with those two idea now bouncing around in your noggin we can get going on the 3 Benefits of No Till Garden Planting.

Maintain Soil Health

Maintaining soil health is probably the most important benefit you can reap from no till gardening.  By not cultivating the soil you are doing a couple of key things that will maintain soil health.

Like we covered above soil is a living organism teeming with microbes fungi and other living things.  Now with that being said how would you like it if a tornado, earthquake, blizzard, and comet hit your home town all at the same time.  It would not be an enjoyable experience to say the least and that is essentially what happens every time you cultivate the soil.  You destroy the "homes" of the microorganisms and release the carbon that they use to build soil structure and maintain soil health. 

So by not tilling the garden you will over time actually make it better for growing things and you will have better yield with no or far less inputs than a convention tilled garden. 

Mulching and Weed Suppression

Now historically cultivation is one of the primary methods of weed suppression and has been that way since the dawn of agriculture.  On the face of it cultivation is a wonderful weed suppression method as it digs them up and places them on the surface to dry out and die in the sun.  But we have learned a few things in the last 5000 years about what soil needs to be healthy.  Getting worked constantly and being exposed to the sun is not what soil needs.  Soil needs to be coddled and protected from the sun and rain.  The best way to do this is to cover the soil with lots of organic matter also know as mulch.  

Garden Mulch
Mulch protects the soil from drying out in the sun and eroding in the rain.  It maintains soil moisture, and slowly adds organic nutrients and material to the soil profile.  It also suppress weeds in the garden and allows you to expose the soil when and where you want to.  So being able to build and maintain a mulch layer is a great benefit of no till gardening that will help you in the long term.

Way Easier Than Digging

A properly built and maintained no till garden is a pleasure to work in as you don't need a tool bigger than a garden trowel.  Planting and watering a no till garden is a breeze and the level of work to prepare and maintain is nothing compared to a conventional tilled garden.

For example to prepare and use a conventional garden you have too,

  • remove excess plant material
  • cultivate by hand digging or roto tiller to loosen and level the soil
  • remove rocks
  • add soil amendments: manure, peat, etc.
  • plant
  • clean tiller and add fuel
  • use shovel or garden hoe to dig and pull weeds in summer
  • harvest
  • cultivate again the the fall

While on the other hand using a no till method correctly,

  • add mulch as needed
  • plant
  • harvest

It is fairly safe to say the the proof is in the bullet points on this one and that the third benefit to  a no till to garden is that you don't have to do as much work once it is established.  

So to sum it up the 3 Benefits would be,

  1. Maintain Soil Health
  2. Weed Suppression
  3. Less Work

I don't know about you but that would already sell it to me and there are so many other benefits that could be considered as well.  So if you have a garden already or you want to start one consider no till gardening as your method of choice.

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Nov 6, 2014 5:05pm
My 2nd father-in-law got me using no till methods over 20 years ago. I mostly used a spade to turn a plot, let it lie fallow with leaf litter as ground cover until the next planting season. During that time, weather, earthworms, and other natural processes rendered a great growing plot. Simply raking back the leaf cover is all I need to do to get started every year. This was a very thoughtfully written article, and the topic is a useful one (I love eating my own produce every year). Thumb's up!
Nov 7, 2014 10:54am
Thanks for reading, it really is a no brainer to garden no-till once you understand the benefits of it. Hopefully the techniques will catch on with a wider audience.
Nov 7, 2014 2:57pm
The part I like about it is the precious little prep work you have to do the first time. Once the plot is set keeping it mulched over fall and winter means you don't have to do a whole lot next year.
Keep up the good work!
Nov 10, 2014 3:08pm
I agree with the author and the previous comment on the concept of no till gardening. This is also in line with the teachings of the Master Gardener Program of the Extension Service. Tilling is not only more work but also breaks down the soil structure and has an adverse effect on the biology of the soil as was developed in the article. I don't do any more tilling than is absolutely necessary for my soil. I believe some is necessary to incorporate more organic matter into the root zones of the garden plants and, if you have soil that has a clay texture, to loosen the upper surface so that seeded plants can get a better start. Once this has been done I agree, leave it alone. Add your mulch to preserve soil moisture and slow the advance of the weeds. I appreciate the opportunity to comment.
Nov 10, 2014 5:07pm
Thank you for reading and replying with such a well thought out comment. I agree completely that some tillage may be needed to incorporate organic matter and loosen up clay soils but you don't want to do anymore that needed. Less tillage is needed in order to protect this countries agricultural soils but the techniques are slow to be adapted.
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  1. "The Living Soil." Colorodo State University Extension . 12/10/2014 <Web >

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