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Q: I am new to the gardening world and realize there is a steep learning curve. The pandemic has also made me realize that growing my own food is something that I both need to do and enjoy doing. I will be starting my COVID Victory Garden next spring, although right now I am growing my own tomatoes and other salad vegetables in containers.
My reason for writing is that I ran across an article the other day on no-till gardens. I wonder if you have heard of this method and what your opinion is on this subject?
A: I love that phrase COVID Victory Garden. For those of you who might not know the term Victory Garden, according to Wikipedia, “Victory gardens, also called war gardens or food gardens for defense, were vegetable, fruit, and herb gardens planted at private residences and public parks in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Germany during World War I and World War II.
“In wartime, governments encouraged people to plant victory gardens not only to supplement their rations but also to boost morale. Besides indirectly aiding the war effort, these gardens were also considered a civil ‘morale booster’ in that gardeners could feel empowered by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce grown.”
In many ways the COVID fight is not unlike the wars. The COVID Victory Garden is useful in supplementing the food supply chain today, and it certainly can act as a morale booster.
In reply to your question on no-till gardening, I am familiar with this technique and have a few opinions on it. This technique has been around for quite some time and has been the topic of debate. Some experts have thought that tilling the garden disturbs the soil structure and makes it more prone to compaction. Many gardeners will tell you that regular use of a rototiller can actually create a layer of hard pan where the tines of the tiller hit when used year after year.
There is also one school of thought that says that soil that is left alone will have less weeds since you are not disturbing dormant weed seeds. Others say less fertilizer is needed since the natural organic matter in a no-till garden is enough.
Traditionally gardeners turn over or till their beds. This is done to get rid of weeds, loosen the soil, incorporate organic matter and allow air to get into the soil. In a no-till system, once the bed is established the surface is never disturbed. Amendments such as compost, manure, mulches and fertilizer are added to the top of the soil. These amendments are then drawn into the soil through watering and the work of organisms living in the soil. These materials are added in layers, allowing the subsoil to remain soft and helping to conserve water.
I have used both methods but I tend to lean towards the no-till method. My reasons are as follows:
– Many experts believe that tilling actually dries out the soil and disturbs the complex symbiotic relationship with microorganisms that is ongoing with the soil structure. They also believe that weeds seeds are less likely to grow on the undisturbed soil.
– No-till gardening promotes earthworms and their tunnels, which provide aeration and drainage. No-till also encourages the buildup of beneficial soil fungi.
– Mulching helps to conserve water. One study indicated that the moisture content of the soil in a no-till system in July was 10 per cent higher than in the till system. Mulching also helps control weeds.
If you are contemplating a no-till system there are a couple of points to bear in mind. First, plan your garden carefully. Try to plan it so you can access all parts of the bed without having to step on the soil. If this is impossible use a plank to walk on. This will help spread your weight out more, rather than concentrating it when you step directly on the soil.
Second, put the effort into creating the bed the right way, incorporate large amounts of organic matter. If needed, bring in a good quality soil as a base and remove any old soil.
Mulching is the key to a successful no-till garden. I have grown tomatoes in a no-till system for many years. I use a grass mulch in my system. The grass clippings from mowing are spread in and around the tomatoes. These clippings break down slowly, help conserve water, and definitely control the weeds. Other things you can use as a mulch include compost, hay, straw and leaves. Good luck and happy gardening!
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