Posted on Saturday, August 20th, 2011 by Central PA Gardening
First of all, I must tell you that my new no-till garden would not look this great without the artistic man behind it – my husband.
Last year I told him I wanted a no-till garden with permanent beds and permanent paths. He immediately thought of Williamsburg (his favorite place) and started designing a garden layout. Together, we created an ideal garden that is beautiful and practical.
Our garden was started last September. The first thing we did was mow the lawn short over the whole planned garden area.
Since my husband wanted a designed garden rather than a basic rectangle with single rows, he outlined the bed shapes with 2-by-4 lumber.
To smother the grass, we laid a 6-sheet layer of newspaper over the entire area. Topped with 2 inches of compost or mulch, that’s enough to kill the grass without having to till or dig it up.
We obtained unsold copies of newsprint from the local news company. Cardboard and packing paper work just as well. Whatever you use, be sure to overlap it so light can’t get in and let grass regrow.
It was a little windy, so I worked quickly to lay the paper down and wet it with a hose. But at times, I still had to chase pieces in flight.
This spring I learned an easier way to lay the paper. Just fill a bucket with water, and stick a stack of newspaper (still folded) in the water until it is all wet. (Thank you, Dauphin County Master Gardeners). If only I had known this last fall.
We worked in sections, adding 2 inches of composted mushroom soil over top of the paper on the beds and 2 inches of wood chips over the paper in the paths. I did not invent this concept but used Lee Reich’s book, “Weedless Gardening,” along with the knowledge I gained through a Penn State Master Gardener course. I suggest you buy Lee’s book if you want to learn all the details.
We live where there are a lot of wild animals like deer and groundhogs, so we added a picket fence border. A lot of people have asked if the deer have jumped the fence. I have a theory. Around the outside of the garden fence there is a 10-inch-wide planting border. I planted flowers that deer do not like to eat. I believe this has fooled them, and they don’t really know what is on the inside.
Other animals are restricted by the chicken fence stapled on the outside of the wood fence which is buried into the mushroom soil about 2 inches. So far nothing has entered the garden except for my cat and things that fly.
A no-till garden has lots of advantages. The soil in a permanent bed is not compacted because you never walk on it. The bed should only be wide enough for you to reach in from either side without walking in it. My beds are 36 inches wide, and the paths are 24 inches wide.
The loose soil allows plant roots, air and water to penetrate and move through the soil. Since you don’t till the soil in the spring, you can plant earlier. You no longer need to wait for the soil to dry before you plant… you remember how wet it was this spring, right?
One of the biggest benefits is that there are fewer weeds because you won’t be digging or turning the soil, exposing new weed seeds. It’s very important to remove the weeds while they are small before they go to seed. I even have a hard time finding weeds anymore!
Want to see it? Check out the video I posted on YouTube called “Carol’s No Till Garden” at http://youtu.be/387gBqVUO-I
One more thing I love about my no-till garden is the drip-irrigation system my husband installed. What a blessing during the hot, dry spells this summer. Only the newly planted seeds need to be hand watered until they sprout. The timed irrigation does the rest.
Finally, you should protect and feed the soil. A cover crop planted in the fall and mulch during the growing season will go a long way to protect the soil. Add a layer of compost to the beds and wood chips to the paths annually.
If you really get into gardening, you can mix your own fertilizer! But that’s another subject…
(About the Author: Carol Crum is a Penn State Master Gardener in Dauphin County who gardens in the scenic hillside not far from the Carsonville Hotel above Halifax. She also has a Penn State-certified Pollinator Friendly Garden. Her garden-building husband, Brad, is better known as an Elvis impersonator. Brad also has an outdoor garden railway that’s opened to the public at selected times during Christmas season and July.)