“Wanna get a little bit Dirrrrty, get fired up in a hurry!” I started singing this awesome 90’s Aguillera song after I examined the soil in my no-till garden yesterday. I’ll admit it. I had pretty decent soil to start with. A sort of Ozark meets the prairie soil; good organic matter, but man, oh, man! After no-till last year, I have so many little worms and microorganisms working over the area, things are ’bout to get real. Check out this topsoil! ( Oh and don’t mind the crazy huge picture – WordPress picture manager is jacking up again, think I’m going to have to fork over some dough and pay for a legit blog).
Anyway you can see some of the woodchips that I used for mulch. A lot of folks said the woodchips would leach nitrogen from the plants. Didn’t happen. And I put a shit-ton of woodchips down so if it was going to happen it would’ve happened. The wood chips DID however help minimize the weeds in between rows and around the plants.
So let’s go over what we did last year and we’re going to do different this year:
1. We amended the soil with some lime before layering- the soil was slightly acidic (around a 6.5 ) so I figured a little lime couldn’t hurt. We didn’t add it scientifically, we just scattered a couple bags throughout the gardening area.
2. Next we layered the garden area with newspapers to kill off the weeds- originally we were going to layer the entire area then we had the not-so-bright-idea of just layering the rows we were going to plant in- this gave us issues later when the weeds took over in between the rows and started encroaching on our plants. This year- we’ll layer the entire area with newspapers and we’ll do double the layer we did last year.
3. Next we covered the newspapers with compost. Last year we used seasoned cow manure- this year I’m hoping to use a mixture of turkey manure and our own compost we’ve been brewing for a year or so. Then we covered everything with straw and because we have a crazy prairie wind I added water just to give a little weight to the straw and embed it a bit in the compost mixture. It worked better than I expected even after the straw had dried, as most of it lodged itself cozily within the manure.
4. Next we let everything “cook.” Technically there wasn’t a lot of “cooking” going on because it was wintertime, but still yet there was some microbial action going on.
5. By the time spring came around we could plant our seedlings directly into the substrate (creating a small hole through the newspaper layer). When I dug my first hole for a tomato seedling and witnessed my first worm orgy I felt giddy inside (and a lil’ Dirrrty).
6. We tried to make up for our newspaper error by adding woodchips in between the rows (lucky for us the city of Monett sells truckloads of woodchips for super super cheap!) but it was too late. The weeds had spoken. Regardless, we still had a great stand of veggies. I think this year, if we can minimize the weeds a bit more, our plants will be even more beautiful! We may still use woodchips this year to do weed spot maintenance but hopefully our newspapers will take care of the majority.
And that’s basically the gist of our no-till garden. People constantly ask “why no-till?” Well, I subscribe to the philosophy that there is an entire universe under our feet. Just as there’s an entire universe out in the cosmos and in the oceans (and even on our skin, our tongue, and on our toes if you wanna get super microcosmic!) . I believe the underground universe has its own balanced ecosystem that can be tweaked for whatever type of gardening you want to do. I also believe completely up-heaving that universe (tilling) disrupts the natural processes that are supposed to be taking place. A lot of people say you need to till to aerate the soil- I say: worms are natural aerators, why not provide a suitable environment for them and let them do the work? No-till is a long-term investment in your land and your soil. Each year you add, you add, you add and those additions multiply and make your soil better than ever. NOt just because you add compost or provide dead/dying matter in the form of weed roots- but because you create an environment worthy of the microorganisms that fix all the nutrients your plants need NATURALLY.
In contrast, conventional agriculture takes away. You till, you take away the natural balance of the microorganisms. You add chemical fertilizer and pesticide and the lacewings leave. The worms bail. Your microorganisms die. You continue to take away until the soil is sterile and your garden is nothing more than a chemical mimic of a real garden. And you keep adding expensive chemical treatments to eek out some chemical tomatoes.
But what do I know. This is only my second year in. And I believe it now more than ever. Especially after seeing the predator insects like lacewings and ladybugs that came in, set up shop, and worked over the aphids. Spiders spun their webs and had their babies in the garden and a eastern red-sided garter snake even frequented our garden to take care of the grasshoppers! We are still eating the last of our tomatoes at the beginning of December and we had our first tomato by the middle of July, even though we had our last snow in May.
I’m ready to get Dirrrrty this year and continue preaching the gospel of no-till.
And the soil shall set you free brothers and sisters!