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How to convert pasture to garden without tilling?

 
Emily Wood
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I am in the process of trying to figure out how to convert nearly 2 acres of overgrown pasture land into a market garden. I obtained my PDC a couple of years ago, and understand the importance of not tilling, but I can't imagine the prospect of sheet mulching that much land. Is tilling my only option? I know the land has been tilled in the past, and lots of organic amendments added to rejuvenate the soil, as it was used to grow tobacco for years. Is this a lesser of two evils mentality, where tilling is the only way? Thanks for any and all help.
 
Zach Muller
gardener
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Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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Why not till once at a good time in the season and seed it with desired plants to get the ball rolling? As long as tilling isn't your standard procedure year after year it will not have all the negatives associated. In my eyes doing it once is no problem, just another method you can use to establish the system you want.
 
Topher Belknap
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Location: Midcoast Maine (zone 5b)
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Do you have any animals to work the soil for you?
 
Eric Thompson
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Location: Bothell, WA - USA
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2 acres of market garden is really a lot if you're going to weed it! If that's the case, you will be far behind if you do the job halfway - the grass will fight back and you will do it halfway twice a year forever...
I would look at either tilling a few times with aggressive cover like buckwheat and radish between, covering with black plastic for 8-12 months, or sod cutting 2" strips and mounding those up into long rows to plant potatoes.

If you can do the job 90%, African weeder geese are famous for ongoing grass control.

 
Jordan Lowery
pollinator
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Location: zone 7
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we have 3 acres of market garden, we use chickens to prepare areas for planting, using them to reduce weed and pest populations as well. they move around in a mobile coop and mobile fence setup. followed by planting of crops or cover crops to further feed the animals next go around.
 
Emily Wood
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Thanks for all the input! I am starting out from scratch, so as of now have no animals to speak of. I would love to use chickens to till for me, I just wonder how long it would take. I won't be able to touch the land til first of August, so I am not sure if they will have the land done before it gets too cold. I eventually want pigs, which I feel would be a great job for this, but I am a beginner farmer and am hesitant to invest in pigs quite yet. The neighbor has a tractor, so maybe at first I'll hire him to till for me, plant some buckwheat and winter rye maybe, and wait for winter to come, after which I can add compost and till again after the soil thaws. Then in the future I can plan to use chickens or pigs, which won't be such an ordeal since the land won't be so overgrown. Does this sound like a reasonable plan? Thanks again!
 
Cj Sloane
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Location: Vermont, off grid for 24 years!
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Emily Wood wrote:...I am a beginner farmer and am hesitant to invest in pigs quite yet.


Pigs are actually pretty easy. They are the only animals I have the will totally be contained by electric fencing. One wire at nose height will do it.

If you got 2 pigs, kept them in that area over winter you'd have a lovely tilled and manured spot come spring. And you'd have bacon.

In the meantime if you could low-care plant pig loving plants like pumpkin or squash that'd cut your feed bill.
 
Charles Tarnard
Posts: 337
Location: PDX Zone 8b 1/6th acre
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Unless you've done something on this scale before, should you maybe consider biting off a smaller chunk of land to start? If this doesn't go according to plan it is going to be hell to keep it up, IMO.
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Emily Wood wrote:but I am a beginner farmer and am hesitant to invest in pigs quite yet.


then you have to do the pigs work!


2 acres is a LOT to do by hand unless you have a small army. Hiring the neighbor sounds like a good idea, if he has the right equipment to not destroy the soil. Subsoiler or chisel plow preferred with a little disking of the surface to kill the sod without inverting the soil. Plow if that is what he has. Tiller only if no other option, then preferably only tear up the top couple inches and loosen the subsoil with a broadfork. You have to keep ahead of it with cover crop.
 
Susan Pruitt
Posts: 48
Location: North Carolina, USA Zone 7b
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I'm in a similar situation of starting new gardens, although I'm an urban gardener with about 1/2 acre of bermuda grass. For 3 years I've been experimenting with various methods to rid myself of this ridiculous "lawn" (lol) and have succeeded in naturalizing a couple areas by planting more trees, letting white clover and wild violets take over in the part-shade areas, and sheet mulching with cardboard and 6" mulch. I confess I tilled some rows for vegetables before I knew any better (discovered permaculture the year after I moved here (: but the soil still needs turning and amending each year so my trusty shovel and developing muscles are getting the job done there.

Now I want to attack another section, about 600 sq ft where I want to try grains for green manure, fodder for me and chickens next year So (finally getting to my point) I'm thinking about just tossing some millet out there right now and see if it will peek up through the grass and clover and weeds. Mow that down in mid summer and plant buckwheat the same way, and then plant oats or rye this winter - all in the hopes that by next summer the grass will be smothered?

I wouldn't expect much edible harvest during this 3 cycle process but am I wasting my money on seed by not removing the grass first?
 
Dan Grubbs
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Location: northwest Missouri, USA
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I would recommend carving out about 1/4 of your space and covering it with sheet mulch and wood chips and follow the Back to Eden garden method -- no tilling and much less weeding and appropirate for almost any market crop. If you haven't seen the BTE method, you can find a several threads here. Here's one thread: http://www.permies.com/t/36305/soil/Eden

If you google Back to Eden garden, you'll likely come upon a documentary film. Watch it and you'll come away with ideas for your space. Not everyone is as enthusiastic about BTE method as some are, but those who practice it regularly and properly rave about it ... and no tilling. If you found it success with the method on part of your space, you can expand to more of your land.

Just a thought.
 
Susan Pruitt
Posts: 48
Location: North Carolina, USA Zone 7b
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Hey Dan, I wasn't planning to do any more tilling around here - just didn't really want to dedicate so much time and labor in sheet mulching my entire yard. The challenge is that the evil pervasive carpet of bermuda grass is EVERYWHERE except where I've dug or mulched and in those areas I have to be vigilant and keep cutting the edges to stop it from creeping back in. THANK YOU for telling me about Back to Eden. Recently I've been giving a lot of thought to food forest concepts and actually feeling closer to god when I'm in my gardens, than I ever felt in church or in the bible. This guy makes god real. And of course reinforces the value of woodchips -hooray! My experience so far has simply been for weed suppression in existing beds and paths, but of course after two years I'm finding inches of black gold so I'm scraping up my paths to use the compost in the gardens and applying fresh chips. It had not occurred to me to actually use the chips in my garden - duuh! I absolutely love this video and will watch it many times for continued inspiration :thumbup

Still wondering what percentage of grain seeds tossed in a grassy lawn will germinate........
 
Tina Paxton
Posts: 283
Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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Susan Pruitt wrote:Hey Dan, I wasn't planning to do any more tilling around here - just didn't really want to dedicate so much time and labor in sheet mulching my entire yard. The challenge is that the evil pervasive carpet of bermuda grass is EVERYWHERE except where I've dug or mulched and in those areas I have to be vigilant and keep cutting the edges to stop it from creeping back in. THANK YOU for telling me about Back to Eden. Recently I've been giving a lot of thought to food forest concepts and actually feeling closer to god when I'm in my gardens, than I ever felt in church or in the bible. This guy makes god real. And of course reinforces the value of woodchips -hooray! My experience so far has simply been for weed suppression in existing beds and paths, but of course after two years I'm finding inches of black gold so I'm scraping up my paths to use the compost in the gardens and applying fresh chips. It had not occurred to me to actually use the chips in my garden - duuh! I absolutely love this video and will watch it many times for continued inspiration :thumbup

Still wondering what percentage of grain seeds tossed in a grassy lawn will germinate........


Hi Susan!

Bermuda Grass, either a bain or a money maker! Coastal Bermuda Hay is THE hay sold in the Carolinas (alfalfa hay has to be shipped in and is thus quite expensive). Your space is a bit small for getting into the hay business unfortunately. It is a bain because it is very very difficult to irradiate! Tons of wood chips (al la Back to Eden) is about the best option if you have it. Otherwise, finding other crops you can get in there to compete with the bermuda. You might want to consider using a "Deer Plot" seed mix -- most are a mix of several types of clover and a copy different brassicas. look for it at Tractor Supply. The bag will say to till and scatter the seeds. I did not till. I mixed the bag of seeds with dried molasses and scattered it by hand in a weed and wild raspberry infested area. So far, so good! (I'm harvesting enough fresh forage from the area on a daily basis to cut my rabbit feed bill way down.) Buckwheat is also supposed to be a good competition for weeds (not sure about Bermuda grass). Much depends on whether you want perennial ground cover (of interest for your future chickens) or an annual.
 
Dan Grubbs
Posts: 501
Location: northwest Missouri, USA
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@Susan glad you enjoyed the BTE documentary. Paul is a unique guy and his results are impressive, no doubt.

I would think a low percentage of most grain seeds tossed into a grassy lawn would germinate and compete. I think it would behave differently in an area of brush. But, if it's really turf, the seed might have a tough time competing. You might see if someone might come run a disk over it to sort of put some grooves in it then broadcast your seed and then maybe even run a drag harrow over it. I wouldn't turn it over at all. That's why sheet mulch under your wood chips is one of the best solutions to what you're looking to do.

Another option, and I think others may have mentioned it, you might turn chickens loose into an area where you might scatter some feed for them to pick at and let them tear up the surface by their scratching. Then broadcast your cover crop once the chickens are done.
 
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