The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

Planting a No-Till Garden, Step-by-Step

No-till garden planted

A few years ago I watched the documentary Back to Eden, which describes how master gardener Paul Gautschi uses a revolutionary new method to suppress weeds and rebuild soil fertility. If you do any gardening at all it’s a must-see (the whole video is free on the website).

This past season I finally got a chance to test out the method, which has come to be known as “no-till” gardening. Unlike traditional gardening where the soil is tilled under every season, with no-till gardening the soil is always covered and therefore never becomes hard and compact. Also, the weeds are virtually non-existent because of the thick mulch.

I sectioned off a portion of the garden and set about converting it to a no-till plot.

No-till garden plot

I’m pretty sure there’s no wrong way to create a no-till garden, as long as you put down enough organic matter. My no-till recipe goes like this:

  • 1-inch compost
  • Sugar (carbohydrates activate the microorganisms in the soil. can also use molasses)
  • Biodegradable paper mulch (for weeds)
  • Organic fertilizer (a.k.a. chicken droppings from the last coop cleanout)
  • Leaves
  • 4-inches shredded woodchips

Dumptruck leaves giant pile of woodchips

Wood chips arrive.

Layer of compost added to soil

Bare soil is covered with 1-inch compost.

Paper mulch laid down over no-till garden

Paper mulch from the garden store acts as a weed block.

Added organic fertilizer to no-till garden plot

Pine shavings from the chicken coop.

Leaves added to no-till plot

A layer of leaves.

Woodchips spread over no-till garden plot

The shredded wood chips are put down last.

Watering no-till garden

Final step is to soak everything thoroughly.

I came back two weeks later to plant the tomato seedlings and found the ground beneath the wood chips was still moist from this initial watering (it hadn’t rained since).

Seedling transplanted into no-till garden

While the ground right next to it was hard and cracked.

Bare soil is dry and cracked

The results speak for themselves:

Comparison of corn grown in no-till garden

Comparison of onions grown in no-till garden

comparison of plant growth till vs no-till

There was a significant difference in both the growth of the plants and the size of the produce from the no-till plot.

However, there were a couple of drawbacks. There is a cost to getting the woodchips, and the general prep was a little more than just hoeing dirt into rows. But the time saved weeding more than makes up for it. The biggest problem I experienced was low germination rates. Many of the direct-sown seeds did not germinate. But of the ones that did, or of the transplants, they grew significantly better with far less input (I never watered the no-till plot after initial planting the whole summer). I have a couple of theories as to why the seeds didn’t sprout. Mainly, the wood chips have a tendency to fall back over the soil where the seed was placed, making it more difficult for the seedling to sprout. Also, since the black soil wasn’t exposed, the ground would have been cooler in that plot. Some vegetables like corn require very warm temps to germinate.

So as I said it was definitely a success but also had some challenges. I will continue to grow the no-till plot next year and, as always, keep learning.

 


Colors & Shapes

Dad and son playing Colors & Shapes

Creating board games has become something of a pastime for me the last couple of years. Having grown up addicted to video games, I became a board game enthusiast later in life (thank you, Settlers of Catan). For me, there’s no contest. Board games are far more creative, social, and memorable than their flat-screen counterparts.

So I now have several games in various stages of development. Some are educational, like “Sugar Maple” which is a game about tapping maple trees. Others are conquest-type games, like “Patriarchs” an antiquity-themed game with biblical overtones. But the most popular game in this household is one I created on a whim one night to keep Ivar occupied until bedtime. It’s a simple color and shape matching game. Easy enough for a 3-year old, but entertaining still for adults (sorry Candyland).

Colors & Shapes, the board game

I don’t know if Colors & Shapes has mass-market appeal, but I thought it would be fun to share it here. All the pieces (including the gameboard) can be printed right from your home computer.

Color Printer Version Black & White Printer Version
Colors & Shapes Color Printer Colors & Shapes Black and White

So if you have little ones, give this a try and let me know what you think! I’m still working on a more durable version. But the paper-based version works fine. It’s been six months and Ivar still asks to play it almost daily.

Ivar wins

 


Oops!

Potatoes sprouting inside box

A few days ago one of Becca’s friends was visiting and asking a lot of questions about getting a new garden going this summer. Becca told her she would undoubtedly make a lot of mistakes but the important thing is to try, and keep learning.

Well, I’m still learning and still making plenty of mistakes. This week we discovered our potatoes had begun to sprout in the basement. We hauled in over 120 lbs of potatoes last fall, but sadly only went through a quarter of them before discovering this box. I figured they could easily last the winter if I sealed out the light. After all, how did the farmers of yore keep a seed crop until the following spring? But it turns out potatoes only keep about 2-3 months, even under optimum conditions.

This morning I discovered that the last box of potatoes had sprouted so vigorously the vines pushed the lid a few inches off the top!

Red norland potatoes sprouting  pushing up lid

Full sprouts out of red norland

Oh well. I guess next year there will be plenty of leftover Thanksgiving mashed potatoes.

 


2014 year in review

Planned garden plot (early April)
Garden in early May
Garden in late-May
Garden in early June
Garden in mid-June
Garden in mid-July

Becca picks a forward-looking word for each year on her blog. If I had to pick a word for 2014, it would be “ambitious”.  I was driven mostly by the long-range rewards of perennial plantings, with apple orchards and blueberry patches taking 3-5 years to yield a harvest. But I also wanted to cram in as much as possible in our truncated Minnesota summer, where delaying a project means waiting out the long and frigid winter before getting another shot. So, as I’m prone to do, I over-committed but got most of it done.

March

April

May

June

July

  • Built mobile chicken coop for raising broiler chickens
  • Chickens arrive
  • Weeding, weeding, weeding
  • Harvested peas, beets, broccoli, carrots
  • Second hay cutting
  • Wild blackberry picking
  • Staked apple trees

August

  • Harvested tomatoes, corn, peppers, potatoes (124 lbs)

September

October

  • Re-mulched apple trees
  • Garden cleanup
  • Third hay cutting
  • Pumpkin picking

November

December

  • Pruned apple trees

 


Homemade Chicken Food

Kids help make Homemade Chicken Food

We ran into a small dilemma on the homestead this week: we ran out of chicken feed. The supply store is about 30 minutes away and I’ve been out of town the last several days. We knew we were running out but just didn’t get around to it. So the chickens have been subsisting on leftovers and stale bread from our freezer for the last 36 hours, and it was still going to be another day before we could get to the store.

After googling “diy chicken feed” (try googling ‘diy’ in front of just about anything and you’ll find a novel solution), I came across a chicken feed recipe that I realized would work — in a pinch.  I also realized this would be a perfect toddler-approved activity. So I rounded up the supplies and the labor and we set to work.

Dumping corn kernals into homemade chicken feed

Basically, we mixed all the leftover nuts, grains and seeds from the cupboard. It went something like this:

  • 6 parts wheat grain
  • 2 parts corn kernels (we used popcorn)
  • 1 part oats
  • 1 part lentils
  • And the whatever scraps we had of pine nuts, sesame seeds, split peas, and sunflower seeds

Kids were great mixers

Adding oats to the mixture

Not exactly gourmet feed with all the needed proteins and such, but the chickens didn’t seem to mind.

Rooster eating the homemade chicken food

 


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