The Grovestead

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Category: Weeds & Pests (page 1 of 2)

Back to Eden No-Till Garden, Revisited

2015 Garden

Last year I experimented with a no-till garden plot based on Paul Gautschi’s “Back to Eden” gardening method. This year I decided to go back to the conventional method of tilling, largely because I didn’t have enough wood mulch to cover my entire garden space, nor did I have the energy to put in the work up front. I promised myself I would stay on top of the weeds this year as opposed to letting them get out of control like I did last year.

And I did keep on top of them for awhile. Hoeing pretty much every day in May and June. But a 4-day hiatus in mid-July is all it took for the weeds to become unmanageable. July is probably the worst month for weeds because you’re at your least motivated place to do anything about it. It’s hot. You’ve been carrying on for months. Nothing is ripe yet. I’ll get to it tomorrow! Tomorrow eventually comes and the weeds are taller than you, so you throw in the towel. Weeds: 2, Me: 0.

It was about this time that I started thinking about no-till approach again. Avoiding weeds isn’t the main point of a Back to Eden/No-Till garden—building healthy soils is. Still, it was hard to ignore that the old plot had fewer weeds than any of my fresh garden beds, even a year later after no tending.

I felt like God was trying to teach me something. I had tried the traditional gardening for another year and really gave it my best effort, as much as one could without quitting their day job. But the results were no better. The soil was getting depleted and crop yields were way down. On the other hand, the no-till plot, while it requires more up-front work, requires less work throughout the season and builds my soil over time.

Watch the full documentary here: Back to Eden Film.

So I’m back at it, getting my garden set up for next Spring’s planting already. I’ve done a lot more research to correct things I missed the first time around. Becca has joined my enthusiasm and we’ve spent several days watching Paul Gautschi videos on YouTube and making our plans for next year. Here’s what we’ve learned:

  1. Back to Eden gardening is about building healthy soils. Many people (me included) give it a shot for one season and list off the pros and cons. But it takes years, decades even, for the garden to really shine. Paul has been doing this method for 35 years.
  2. Weeds are reduced, but not eliminated. As long as the mulch is deep enough (at least 4 inches), they should be easy to pull. One great tip to deal with patches of weeds is to throw newspaper on top and shovel another scoop of mulch. Anything that doesn’t get oxygen and light will eventually die off.
  3. Layer compost and new mulch in the Fall. Paul follows the cycles of nature. The Creator fertilizes the earth in the Fall, when trees lose their leaves, so the nutrients have all winter to decompose into the soil. That’s when he adds compost from the chicken pen to the top of his beds. Rains and snow wash the compost below the mulch. No mixing, just layering like in nature.
  4. Nutrient dense soil doesn’t need crop rotation. Paul has been planting his potatoes in the same spot for 26 years. There are no diseases because his soils are healthy and have an abundance of minerals and nutrients.
  5. Wood chips do not need to be brought in every year. After the first year or two, the chips will settle and provide a covering for the next decade or so. Paul has mulched his garden twice in 35 years.

Paul encourages everyone to use what they have. In my case, I didn’t have enough mulch to cover the whole garden. But I felt that I could grow more in a smaller space than I could in a larger, conventional garden. So I built a box, mainly as a border for lawn mowing, and filled it with compost and wood chips.

Small Back to Eden garden plot

Next year I’ll plant and if I come into any more mulch I’ll expand the box. Someday I might cover the whole garden with wood chips, but then again, I may not need to.

 


The harvest begins

Really really spicy pepper

With the exception of cucumbers and sweet peas which started ripening in late June, we’ve been waiting patiently for most of our garden to get to the harvest stage. It looks like harvest is now upon us. In the past week I have harvested:

  • 65 lbs of potatoes (about 1/4 our crop)
  • 7.5 lbs of beets
  • 9 lbs of tomatoes (with many more coming)

Tomatoes ripening

Tomato harvest

Digging potatoes out of the ground

Potato harvest

We’ve also plucked salad greens, cabbage, swiss chard, beans, carrots, eggplant and late-season strawberries.

Plenty of peppers are ready to harvest too, like this one called Cherry Bomb, because it feels like a bomb went off in your mouth if you try to eat one:

Peppers ripening

The sweet corn is just about ready too, except we came home from a family vacation to find many of the best stalks shredded and ears of corn eaten. It was raccoons, of course.

Raccoons got into our sweet corn

It’s the risk I take, not having a fence. I would have been more upset except the anemic growth of our corn this year didn’t produce much. I either planted the corn too close together or the weed pressure was too high (or both). However, in my no-till experiment, the corn stalks are mammoth. Look for a post on that later.

My pumpkins are growing great but watermelon and cantaloupe are struggling. Again, I think the weeds won the day in my melon patch.

Rainbow in the distance


Training the strawberries

Strawberry runners growing after the fruiting stage

This year is our second attempt at growing strawberries and we’ve made some modifications. We planted  them into a raised bed with fresh compost, mulched heavily with wood chips, and the piece de resistance: a plastic owl to scare off hungry birds.

And I must say, our improvements have worked! Last year I hardly tasted a single strawberry due to birds and slugs. The weeds completely took over, stunting the meager growth. This year, we’ve enjoyed strawberries every day since mid-June. I don’t think a single berry has been lost to pests. And the weeds are practically non-existent. The ones that do spring up are easy to pull.

Now the plants are finishing their fruiting stage and have started sending out runners. Runners are how strawberries propagate themselves. It’s pretty fascinating to see how prolific these little plants are. Its not unusual to see five or more runners growing out of each plant. And these things grow like crazy — up to 5 inches per day!

Strawberry runners grow at an amazing pace

Because of the wood mulch its important to help the runners get established in good soil. These will be the fruit-bearing plants for next year. So for the past few weeks I’ve been pulling back the mulch in strategic places and pinning down the runners into the soil.

Strawberry runners planted into good soil

Within a few days the roots have set and leaves begin forming. The strawberries will continue to spread this way, year after year.

Planted strawberry runner taking root


Cure for the common slug?

Slugs or caterpillars eating my strawberry leaves

I made quite a few improvements this year to my strawberry-growing strategy. I placed them up high in raised beds, mulched them heavily to keep the weeds at bay, and have bird netting ready to install. And so far, the strawberries have come in nicely, even surviving a deer attack. But when I saw the picture above, I realized I forgot about the slugs. Last year, the slugs got what the birds, the deer, the rabbits, and my 3-year old son didn’t. There are many interesting things people do to deal slugs in their strawberries: beer traps, salt, diatomaceous earth, organic toxins, non-organic toxins, and plain old squishing. They all have pros and cons. I was going to use diatomaceous earth because I have it on hand. DE is powdered remains of fossilized hard-shelled algae. Its completely harmless to humans, but is an effective insecticide because the microscopic crushed shells destroy insects that traverse across them. However, I was lucky to discover that among the affected insects would be honeybees who pollinate strawberry flowers. So DE was out. But another organic remedy was a perfect fit: wood ashes. Ashes are a garden additive, in fact. If your soil is too acidic, spreading ashes will help balance it (similar to lime used in farming). And I’ve got plenty of ashes.

Ash pan inside my cabin office

I’ve been collecting ashes from the wood burning stove in my office cabin all winter. I knew there would be possible uses for it in my garden, so never got rid of it. Now I’m glad I didn’t! I spread the ashes around the base of each plant in one of the beds. Ashes placed around strawberry plants to deter slugs

Of course, I have to run a proper experiment, so I’m holding off on treating the second bed until I know if it works.


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