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When we moved to the Farm five years ago, the soil had had it. Our valley had been in a drought, the pastures hadn’t been planted, the garden area was overgrown, the weeds were running amok. The soil was hard, compacted and cracked. Testing revealed a soil depleted of necessary nutrients for plant growth. Now, ten acres isn’t a ton of land… unless every square inch of it needs attending! There were so many big jobs including the house, barn, fencing, outbuildings, garden and pastures not to mention the animals that we began accumulating! Clearly the Farm was going to be a years-long project no matter how we sliced it!
The most pressing issue was the house. We now had eight people, three generations, living in 1400 square feet! But while we worked on expanding and remodeling the house, we chipped away a bit at the soil health along the way.
Having animals roam the pastures is a major help in easily getting fertilizer into the sterile land, for sure but how were we going to get a successful garden in the abundance of weeds that threatened to take over our plot? By re-thinking everything!
We got our first look at no-till gardening thru a documentary called Back to Eden Gardening. We had crazy huge potential to make our own compost and bark chips and we weren’t getting any younger, so this method seemed well worth trying.
I’ll give you a brief idea of how the method works. You stop tilling. For like, ever. Here’s what we did…
We saved boxes. Living in the sticks means that you have an Amazon Prime account and the UPS guy on your speed dial! We have plenty of boxes.
We combined the soil from the excavation from our house remodel with pasture cleaning and chicken house droppings. Manure, straw, soil, hay… and we let it cook!
Last summer, the electric company was in our area trimming trees and I asked them what they were going to do with all of the wood chips. They were super happy that I requested they drop them off at my house. I, also, was super happy! Win-win!
So, we began laying out our boxes (and it takes a lot of them!). Then we brought in bucketful after bucketful of composted soil. Our soil has tons of rocks, so we raked and raked until we got them out. We smoothed the soil and layered it until it was about 3 inches thick. Then we added about 3 inches of the bark chips.
Bark chips are going to be key for us. The bark holds the water like a sponge and then sort of time-releases the water into the composted soil beneath. Because we’ve been dealing with drought conditions, the bark chips are a long-term solution if and when that situation gets worse. Ultimately it should mean less watering of our garden.
We have started seeds in our greenhouse, but nothing is direct seeded in the garden yet. When it’s time to plant in a few weeks, we will move aside the bark and plant directly into the composted soil. The bark chips help resist weeds and makes pulling any weeds that are determined to sprout, super easy.
Although this is my first year using this method, my friend tried it in her garden last year. She even had a patch that she grew the no-till method and a patch she tilled as usual. Her results confirmed that no-till was going to be the way to go! The no-till patch produced more food than its counterpart and fewer weeds. It was easier to maintain and required less water, too. We were sold!
Ok, as you watch the documentary, you’ll see that you can use many different things as your base. Cardboard, newspaper, Kraft paper, etc. Composted soil can be obtained from our local transfer station for a nominal fee and bark chips can be sourced from a tree service as well (possibly even for free and delivered for free depending on your location).
Here’s the key: Next year, we just add another 3-inch layer of composted soil on the top of the garden and another 3-inch layer of bark chips. Every year, the organic matter in the soil breaks down and feeds the soil. This produces food with a higher nutritional content along with a higher yield for less water and less effort! How can you lose!? Seriously. Watch the documentary and see what you think! I’ll keep you up to date on how the garden is growing throughout the season on here and on our Faith-Family-Farm Facebook page.