I'm in the California Central Valley. I have a residential house and I want to ease into gardening by starting with one plant.
I used to like the idea of 'square foot gardening,' and I still might use some of those principles. I have seen that there's straw bale gardening. I heard about no till gardening on the radio; I don't remember reading a book on it. So, overall, I want to try no till gardening.
There's a spot in the backyard where the grass has died back because a car was there. I could start with a 4' by 4' section, if that's the better approach (maybe I need to start with a cover crop?).
Starting from kitchen scraps, indoor or outdoor, would be fun.
My understanding of no till is that it usually uses deep mulch. And that also happens to a good way to kill grass, as well as to soften up compacted soil such as an old parking space without work. Yes, using deep mulch, you still make a furrow if necessary and put the seeds in, and prevent the mulch from covering the seedlings completely. Or you can use a trowel and transplant a plant into it. Those actions are not like tilling, in which the soil is dug up or turned over or has compost mixed down into it.
But mulching to kill grass and improve compacted soil can take a lot of time, like a year. To get a faster start, a lot of people till once the first time to mix organic matter into the soil and maybe to loosen out perennial weed roots for removal.
Works at a residential alternative high school in the Himalayas SECMOL.org . "Back home" is Cape Cod, E Coast USA.
Hi, My version of no-till. lasagna, square-foot gardening is as follows. Last year I took cardboard boxes and laid them on my lawn and then covered them with mulch. Later I decided that the soil underneath was too acidic so I raised the cardboard in areas I wanted to plant and sprinkled lime and compost and re-layered. I did a garden before where I dumped compost, food scraps, bagged soil, bagged manure, and topped it all off with straw. In both methods, when I was ready to plant, I either made an opening in the top mulch layer and put a handful of "good" soil and planted in that, or I pulled back the mulch and made an opening through the cardboard and planted it directly in the ground. In areas I planted later, the grass was dead. In areas I planted earlier, I pulled the grass out being careful to mulch heavily around the plant.
As for starting with kitchen scrap plants, I have had good luck with pepper seeds, and the cuttings from onions. You can google and find dozens of "scraps" that will root.
Good luck - but beware -all big gardens start with 1 plant!
If you like square foot gardening, it sounds like a raised bed would be the easiest way for you to be successful. And if you are willing to do some labor, just do the following: Dig out your 4X4 bed 1 foot down, then add equal parts compost to that soil you dug out. Add that all back to bed and it should have a raised bed effect going. Then dig a trench around the border of the 4X4 bed at least 6" down and 4-5" wide. Add mulch to fill trench, then add more mulch to height of your raised bed. Voila!
This will now become your no-till bed. Don't put weight on it or walk on the bed. Continue to feed the bed with plants growing, it doesn't matter what you grow really, but one plant will not keep the bed happy. If you can care for one plant you can care for ten right next to it. With that said you are smart to start small.
Just start with your favorite vegetables as long as it makes sense where you live. I should put emphasis on growing something that suits your area; look for local seeds too that will help. Good luck!
As a pioneer plant in a former compacted lawn you could also try potatoes.
You dig them in with the some spacing, covering each with the soil you dig up from the next hole. If you do not have slug pressure you can mulch on top or at the latest when the plants emerge. The foliage makes a good job suppressing weeds, and the underground growth breaks up the soil.
I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do. (E.E.Hale)
From my perspective here in New Mexico, you already have your first crop. It is called terrone which is sod that can be cut into construction bricks, dried and used to make raised bed walls, a shed, or any number of building projects. My Grandfather lived in a sod house built in Nebraska. Many old buildings along the Rio Grande, including the large church in Albuquerque's Old Town, are built of sod blocks. So before replanting, consider "harvesting" your terrones. Once you remove the earth construction material, you'll see what kind of soil that you have. Depending on sunlight, soil type, access to water, and other conditions, some plants will do better than others.
As I've converted lawn into garden space, I would also recommend using cardboard/newspaper, and then a heavy layer of mulch over the top of that to kill off the grass.
Cardboard has a lot of plastic tape on it. Try to peel that stuff off before you put the cardboard down or you'll be finding it for years.
People sometimes get worked up over "toxic stuff" in cardboard, but fungi in the soil and in the mulch will remediate that. Unless you actually see that the cardboard is saturated in some sort of oil or chemical, IMHO, it's not something to concern yourself with.
Wood chips are my go-to mulch for this kind of application. If Chipdrop.com delivers in your area, that's a great way to get a free load of chips.
As others have suggested, tomatoes are a great starter plant for this kind of application. Also vining plants like cucumbers, melons or pumpkins.
Just because you are no-till doesn't mean that you shouldn't spend a little effort in improving the hole in which you plant. After your cardboard and mulch have killed the grass below (about 2 months or so), you can punch through the cardboard and did your hole, and then amend it with a couple of generous handfuls of compost. THEN plant your tomato.
If possible, you might want to dig out the grass right where you will plant in the future --- just that little square foot -- not the entire lawn. Throw down some compost right there. Then mark that spot with a stake before you lay down the cardboard and wood chips. That'll make it much easier to plant in a couple of months.
Best of luck.
"The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?" Gandolf
I put cardboard under all my new beds and paths last year, though the beds were in place first and filled with soil before I tackled the paths. My first mistake was bending the cardboard to somewhat line the beds instead of just running it under the frames. When I put the cardboard in the paths and covered with wood chips, the problematic area was around the outside edge of the beds, where most of the weeds have popped through. I was diligent about pulling all but the burdock and dandelion, which I plan to harvest soon for medicinal and food purposes. The last bed I put in had at least a 1' perimeter of cardboard around the outside edge. I did remove all tape, stickers and staples prior. Though I did have a few weed issues my total time pulling weeds in the whole garden area was less than the time spent pulling weeds in a previous unmulched bed.
So now for the no-dig gardening. I didn't start out with compost, but an assortment of bagged soil, rotted wood and leaves and basically anything that I though I could grow in. Then I discovered Charles Dowding on YouTube and thought wow! My new beds did okay for their first year and luckily I made enough compost to put about a 3" layer on all but two beds and will be planting in them with protection within the next month.
Don't be afraid to experiment. I didn't expect much of my sweet potatoes as I got them out late, but they produced well. Be sure to keep notes. They don't need to be extremely detailed, perhaps the date and crop planted or harvested, problems, and future ideas. I spent a few days transferring my notes to a proper notebook and am amazed at all the things I'd already forgotten and am using it to plan this year's garden.
Edit: As far as a suggestion for a good starter plant, I'd also recommend tomatoes as they're pretty easy. But if I personally would have to choose it would probably be green beans as I get a better yield per plant and I like them better.
I'm still noob to gardening, but I'll share what I've found so far.
First, figure what your terrain is: sandy, silty, salty, acidic, etc. This is crucial to know what you can plant. Then, look at the climate. If California is like Andalousia, then you have very hot and dry summers, which is a real challenge for your crops. For now, just learn how it rains, and the temperatures.
Then dig a small hole, just to check how the inner layers compactness. You see, no till is about not disturbing the soil, but sometimes you cannot create good healthy soil when the ground is excesively compacted. If you can dig comfortably at least 30 cm, you can plant many anual crops with shallow roots, otherwise you'll have to work the soil.
Even if your crops don't need it, it might be a good idea to decompact your terrain the very first time. Chances are that your terrain is very low on organic matter. So decompact it and mix with organic matter (might be mulch, manure and compost). Professional farmers might measure the organic matter, to know exactly how much organic matter they need to add, but you add it and mix until you see a difference in texture. Once you have a good soil, you can treat it as a no till soil.
For the bed, it is best with 1,20 m wide, and as long as you can manage, 60 cm pathways, but since it is your lawn, design it creatively (not too straight).
Next, if you have drainage problems, you could try raised beds, but they are best on ground level, or even below ground if you climate is too hot for the plants you want to grow.
Consider shading your crops if the sun is too hot on summer, until you can provide some tree shades.
I like raised beds. It's so much easier to keep it weed free. I would put down cardboard first then put the raised bed on top. Fill it with native soil, and organic compost, and maybe some organic soil. You don't have to buy organic, or anything else if you don't want to, it's just what I would do. I built a very inexpensive raised bed from fence boards. They are cheap, and you can just screw it together, and you are good to go. My favorite raised bed is cement blocks. They are not to expensive. I just set them next to each other. I don't cement or glue them so I can change it later if I want.
Veggie. I understand wanting to keep it simple, but you will probably be more successful with more than one type of veggie. A lot of pests target certain type of plants. So having a few different veggies make it a little harder for them to zero in on your veggie. It also ups the odds of being successful. If something happens to your one and only crop, you have nothing, but with a little variety if something goes wrong with one, you will have other veggies. I would urge you to look up your area or zone. Then look up what you should plant when. Some people suggested potatoes, which is a great suggestion, except it may be to late. I live in California, zone 9b, potatoes should have been planted in January. If I were to plant them now, I may get some potatoes, but it probably wouldn't be a good amount. I agree with tomatoes if you like them. Tomatoes are usually easy to grow, and love the warm California sun. Zucchini is another easy veggie. One plant will give you lots of zucchini, and it's pretty versatile, you can do lots with it. I don't know if you like radish, but they make a great companion plant. They are wonderful for beginners because not only are they easy, they grow very fast. In 30 day's you can be eating radish. Once the weather gets hot, so do they. I would suggest planting at least 3 different veggies, more is better. A little research is very helpful. Say you like beans (another easy veggie to grow). I would look up when to plant beans in your area. Also talk to people you may know in your area who garden if you can. Permies is an amazing place with lots of smart and helpful people. It's a great place to get information, as long as you remember it's world wide. So what works for me may not work for you. Most important is just do it. Have fun, and remember there are no failures in gardening, just learning experiences. Good luck, happy gardening.
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” — Abraham Lincoln
Yesterday I was in a hurry, so let me elaborate a little bit further.
What we call no-till gardening is a philosophy of not disturbing the soil life by any means. There are many variations, but essentially it is to not use a rototiller before planting every crop, not use heavy machinery over the planting area or even walk over it. The goal is to increase the microorganisms in soil, since they are required for healthy plants. You care for soil life and they shall care for your plants. How do you do that?
1. First you have to design where your beds and pathways will go, as you don't want to walk over your carefully prepared soil. A good bed is as big as possible, but which allows you to reach the center of the bed without stepping over. For most people that's 1.20cm wide (4 feet I think). You can make them thinner, but know that plants enjoy being surrounded by other different plants, the more the merrier, so having a big area plenty of different plants will give more chances of success if your goal is to forage your garden for your own consumption. As for pathways, a minimum width of 60cm (2 feet) is recommended if you are going to use a wheelbarrow. You can design it into rows, looking like a classic permaculture farm, or you can design it into free forms, looking more like a food garden. A good design will consider waterflows, shading and wind, but since you are just starting, let's hope your zone is fine.
2. Then you need to create a proper medium in which life will thrive. Good earth, silty, not too sandy or clayey (if it is sandy, add in clay or more organic matter), filled with organic matter at least a 2%, more is better. No pollutants, not too many rocks, a pH close to 6.5. That's why you need to analyse your terrain and see how it can be mended. You can fix almost any earth as long as it is not too polluted. If your terrain is useless, you can still add good soil on top of it, or replace a section with healthy soil. The deeper your good soil is, the bigger roots your crops may develop. Minimum depth should be 30 cm (1 feet), but 60 is recommended (2 feet). I would recommend to dig to the desired depth and loose or replace the hard pan that is most likely located at this layer, at least for the first time. This layer is what prevents your plants from developing good roots (that's why a rototiller is used in industrial farming). With proper management, this hard pan will not form again, or if it does, you might loose the top layer with a pitchfork easily.
3. Next, you have to figure how to work with your climate. In some climates and soils you have to be very careful about drainage, that's a killer. In my climate it never rains that much that the terrain risks flooding. In some others, the challenge is to prevent drying out. A shade from a tree, especially a decidious one, is the best protection for humidity, although too much shade is not good for some crops (check how many sun hours per day they require). Also, mulching will offer some extra protection. About mulching, you can do it with living cover crops, cut and drop weeds/old crops, hay and even stones. A word of caution, stones exposed to hot sun might burn your plants. However, you don't need mulching if you plant an intensive bed: if you plant so many seedlings that you can't see the ground, you don't need mulch. In intensive growing, you have to 'clear' some plants as they grow and compete for the space. Wind and heat are also threats for the humidity, so depending on your case you might need some wind barriers (usually a tree screen) and protection from the evening sun. Heat and cold might ruin your plants too, so you either adapt to the growing season or try to offer protection (greenhouses, food forests, walls, vines, ...). The general idea is to keep your soil moist, not wet, and warmth, not hot or cold.
4. Finally, you have to inocculate microorganisms into your soil. There are already tons living in your laws and given good conditions they will thrive, but you can help them by adding some well made compost (slightly brown, not black), or even purchasing an industrial inocculant.
5. Select varieties that will work well with the conditions you are provinding. It's a good practice to grow your seeds in a seedbed, and transplant the seedlings when they show their true leaves (the first ones are like baby teeth, you will know that the seedling is still a baby). It is still better if you learn how to grow your plants in different weeks so you don't have to harvest everything on the same day. You are gardening, not farming.
And that's it. The rest is common gardening knowledge. Keep doing this and let Nature do the rest. Let me add some other warnings.
-About raised beds, I will caution. They are good in some climates, but not in others. Raised beds: Less weeds, better drainage, less cold damage, easier to work. Buried beds: Less watering, less heat damage. If uncertain, start by using a ground level bed, see how your crops fare and decide which kind of bed will benefit your plants more. (If they flooded, you will need a raised bed or to install a drainage system, for example)
-About weeds, you might use cardboards under your planting area and heavy mulch around them, but if you use intensive planting, you just cut the weeds and your plants will cover the space, preventing further weed growth. Or you can become a permie and learn about benefitial/edible weeds and include them in your growing schedule. Lawn grass is pretty invasive, though, and might require extra effort.
-About organic matter, you will have to add it on a regular basis, since organic matter decays and dissapear into the atmosphere, so keep adding compost, manure and/or organic mulch every year. When harvesting, cut your plants by ground level (unless they are root crops), and let the roots rot in place. Use whatever you don't eat to make more compost.
-About plagues and pests. The recommended method here is to increase diversity. Not only crops, also herbs and flowers. Three to ten different varieties in the same bed is Ok. If you get some pests don't use pesticides, let that plant die and replace it with other variety. If everything keeps dieng, let it fallow for a year. If ever, use fencing and nets. Gardening is quite enjoyable when you don't overdo on saving individual plants.
A traveller stops to ask a farmer the way to a small village. The farmer thinks for a while and then says "If you want to go there I would not start from here.
My veggie garden is now no-till.
I tried mulching over the top to kill the grass, but the grass was resilient, and I lost much time and effort battling it.
Last year I bought a rotovator and in early spring I tilled the whole area, breaking up the grass clods, perennial weed roots etc. Then I mulched and top dressed everything and had the most productive set of vegetables I've ever grown. I maintain my growing area now by giving the beds a light touch with the hoe fairly regularly, and mulching with woodchips that have been used as chicken bedding in a deep litter system. I don't anticipate needing to any deep soil disturbance again. I consider myself no-till, but I couldn't have got to here without that first initial aggressive mechanical tilling.
Back to my joke above. I wouldn't attempt to start no-till gardening from thick grass. It is a recipe for frustration and heartache.
Beg/borrow a rotovator for an afternoon. Bust up those sections where you want to plant, and then maintain that going forward with less disruptive methods.
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A bit of advice on using cardboard from my personal experiences—If building your bed on a dry day, thoroughly saturate the cardboard first or else it will serve as a wick and pull moisture from the soil. Hot or warm water works best as cold simply pools up and takes forever to absorb. I used an old wading pool of my daughter’s to do the deed on the last bed but have simply laid the cardboard in place before saturating in most of the other beds. Also I removed tape and staples but didn’t think about the glue that some boxes are held together with. I pulled a few strips of it out of a bed last year when I was harvesting and will be sure to remove it as well in future beds.
Also I ended up with a nitrogen deficiency in three of my new beds yesterday and followed the first crop with a planting of beans or peas to help build it up. Since your bed is new you might want to consider a small row of bush beans or if you have a way to trellis them, pole beans in the back of the bed. As others have said, if you limit yourself to one crop, you’ll be left with nothing if it fails.
Thanks for all of the replies, especially the longer ones.
I have a Charles Dowding book (see next paragraph) and I'm waiting on a Ruth Stout book.
I don't want to put in unknowns which might have synthetic chemicals. Cardboard: I'm not going to use cardboard, newspaper, or other manufactured stuff. I watched the first five or so minutes of this video (https://youtu.be/X7iFHnsh6Y4). Hay/straw/manure: I'm leaning heavily against using it, too. Someone somewhere warned that their garden was damaged by synthetic chemicals after a few years of using materials that were said to have not been sprayed.
I'll consider and am leaning toward wood chips from a tree service. And leaves. Those should be relatively free of synthetic chemicals, no?
What about using the lawn? In the two years I've been here I haven't watered it, it grows in spring and loses its green in the summer heat (it seems like that heat has started early). The lawn is tall and is probably various grasses and weeds. There are some nice small flowers in there. Since I'm still deciding and starting small, I'm going to experiment.
There are two kind of grasses. One of then is safe to use, you just use it as organic matter in your compost pile or mulch or whatever you like. The other is risky, since it can grow again from just clippings. That's bermuda grass and gramma grass and the likes. If your grass is of this kind, then you have to let it dissicate first, completely dry, before you can use it, or it will grow and ruin whatever you're trying to do with it.
There has been a lot of good information thus far in this thread. Personally I think the best way to jump start a no-till garden is either a raised bed garden (I do this) or consider a straw bale garden. I would either place them in a weed-free area or place down cardboard or newspaper to block sunlight and impede weeds.
Assuming you can get herbicide free straw, take that/those straw bales, condition them (soak with water, add a nitrogen source—I like blood meal, but do what you want) and plant in the straw.
By the end of the season, the straw bale will be in pretty rough shape, about perfect for garden bedding for the next year. If you can keep the decomposition going over the winter, great! By spring you might well be able to plant in the straw residue.
If you don’t like the idea of straw, you could try woodchips, but the process is a bit different but can still yield up great results.
I define no till mostly just as not using any kind of powered equipment but I do use a shovel. Actually the three tools I use in my garden are a shovel, a hoe, and a rake. I don't use cardboard or anything else whose origin and history are unknown to me. I ma lucky though in that I have sizeable acreage to work with and am able to gather all the grass clippings, leaves, rotted wood and other materials I need mulch and improve the soil. I switched from using the tiller a few years back and my garden is easier to manage now and more productive.
I think if I was starting a new spot where grass is currently dominant I might just use my shovel to cut the sod into manageable chunks and turn it upside down. If able to I might set it aside temporarily and remove another few inches of soil and then put them both back in. Upside down sod in bottom, soil on top. And yes this might be considered tilling, but it would just be one time thing. Add on top whatever I could find, be it leaves, clippings, weeds pulled up from somewhere else.
A good first vegetable plant might be tomatoes. They have very strong root systems that can colonize compacted, tired soils better than many other things. I would also add in a second crop right off and that would be radishes, turnips or some other plant with large roots.
The radishes, turnips or whatever would not be for a harvest. I don't till my garden but plants like those do, even weeds with deep tap roots like dandelions do that for me. The tops are just hoed off occasionally or covered with mulch and the deep roots left to rot.
When those roots, as well as the roots of any other of you vegetable plants are left undisturbed to rot they leave little channels in the soil. Water percolates down, various bacteria and funguses begin to colonize, earth worms move it. All that puts the tilling back in no till. Later the roots of your vegetable plants find the open channels left by the older decayed roots and follow them down, they feed on the nutrients left behind. Gradually the soil becomes more and more loosened and more and more alive.
I don't think there is ever a need to mechanically till. It it's actually counter productive in my mind. It destroys all those channels created by the old roots and kills a lot of the worms. The weight of the machine packs the soil down and brings up dormant weed seeds. I find the no till method to be less labor intensive, more enjoyable and more productive than back when I used a tiller.
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