I have said it for quite some time that I am a “No-Till” gardner. This doesn’t mean that I would never-ever absolutely-never till, but that I don’t do so for gardening.
I believe that the soil is made up of layers and that by tilling we are destroying those layers. Most plants drive their root systems based on the soil layer that they do best in. The tap-root will go deep to harvest some deeper nutrients and break up the ground a little, and then the secondary roots will grow horizontally based on the layer of the soil that has the best conditions for the plants nutrient needs.
By tilling, we destroy this. When we till, we see our plants flourish, but not because we aerated the ground, but because we killed lots of insects and worms that were present. Where there is decay, there is fertility. So for the next season, at least the beginning of the season, it seems that your plants are doing quite well.
When we do this, we kill the life of the soil, which kills its ability to sustain plant life without fertilizers being added.
The problem with adding fertilizers is that any chemical fertilizer will sustain enough plant growth, by giving it BASE nutrients, but it doesn’t give the smaller nutrients that make the plant produce nutrient-dense foods. That is why even “USDA Organic” methods are no good. You just use less toxic things to keep pests off of your plants, but you are still probably tilling and still probably killing soil life.
Take a look at a typical production field and see what the soil looks like. It will look clumpy, light-brown, and dead. But if you look at the soil in a forest that has been untouched, even in a drought, it will look spongy, black, have white fungus in it, and will be moist. This is soil that is ALIVE.
So, for these reasons, I do not till. So what do I do then? How do I control weeds and nutrients to my plants?
Controlling Weeds and Nutrients to Plants
I must preface this with: WEEDS ARE NOT NUISSANCE PLANTS. They are deep nutrient harvesters designed to pull nutrients up from deep in the ground and to break up ground with large taproots. Then they die, decay, and make those nutrients bio-available to other plants. Many weeds are even edible (but don’t try them unless you know which ones you are eating).
If you want to clear a garden plot, my first recommendation is to add some cardboard about 2 inches deep, and then add a deep mulch layer of 4 inches on top. You want to do this before the fall, so the cardboard can decay during the fall and winter. Then when you are ready to plant, you can just move the mulch out of the way, cut a hole in the cardboard, place your seed in place, and cover it back up with the deep mulch.
But, if you have failed to do this, do not worry. I have another good way for you to get rid of weeds now, if you haven’t worked on your garden beds all winter long, but you need to do this NOW.
Go to the store or your garage and get a tarp. Stake the tarp in place where you want to plant. Then you will wait until planting time to lift the tarp. This will choke and kill all of the weeds.
If you are going to start the seeds in a tray first and then place in your yard, you can just wait till the day that you plant your sprouts to lift the tarp. If you are going to start the seeds in the ground, you can, lift the tarp, then add the seeds as you normally would, water the ground as you see that you should, and cover it back up with the tarp. This is very quick and easy to do. You may water once or twice while the tarp is in place, but after about 7-9 days, you will remove the tarp all together. Most seeds have had time to begin sprouting, or will be soon. With the weeds completely dead or dormant at this time, it will be easy to pick the few that will sprout back up.
Once the growing season is done, I would recommend either using a cover crop, or the cardboard method to keep weeds out of your beds.