The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

Month: January 2015 (page 1 of 2)

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 but forgotten 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)
  • Another inch of compost
  • 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


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