Posts Tagged ‘no tilling’

Tilling sucks

June 10, 2009

OK, I suppose tilling has its uses, but I must say that my tilled area looks really bad. I worked on it some yesterday, using a garden rake and a ho to get some of the grass up. There are some weeds in the tilled area, but mostly it’s just the grass growing back. Now to be fair, I haven’t done much of anything in the tilled area. Combine my laziness with lots of rain and that explains why the grass is growing back. However, compared to my raised beds, the tilled area is much worse. It is more work and the grass is growing faster. Even the Pie Bed, (the no-dig bed in which I turned some sod upside down and then filled with some potting soil), which is the raised bed with the most weeds, does not compare to the tilled area. 

Pizza Bed in the foreground, tilled area in the background

Pizza Bed in the foreground, tilled area in the background

The only complaint I have with the raised beds is that there is not enough room to get the riding mower between them. We don’t have a push mower and I really don’t want to buy one since we have a gas-powered weed whacker (that I can’t start!). Ideally I wouldn’t have grass in between the raised beds. I would like a garden with no grass at all, but how to get rid of that grass? Or, more precisely, how can I get rid of that grass without chemicals and without spending a lot of money? I know that if I put down mulch that will help get rid of the grass, but right now I’m short on mulch since our bagger for the riding mower was back ordered. We can pick that up today, so as soon as I can mow again, I will have mulch and lots of it. I also know mulch would help in the tilled area.

While I like the idea of grass clippings as mulch in the raised beds and the tilled area, I would like something else to put in between the raised beds. This site, Organic Weed Control Methods ~ Mulching, has some great ideas. It has some good information about why mulching is so helpful and has a list of natural mulches, with suggestions on where to get them. None of these mulches jump out at me as easy and cheap and quick (quick as in tomorrow), unless I want to walk around collecting the grass clippings from the last time we mowed. I guess I will just wait until we have the bagger and then let the grass clippings dry and apply them to the tilled area. Then I guess I will use the weed whacker to trim around the raised beds. I think it would be a good idea to put down cardboard and/or newspaper before putting down the mulch, too.

The best idea I’ve had for in between the raised beds is to use broken up concrete. I remember reading somewhere that broken up concrete is a flagstone alternative. It can be laid out so that it looks like flagstone, but has the benefit of being more environmentally friendly. One of our neighbors just up the road has a big pile that’s just sitting there. I’ve thought about asking him if he is going to use it, but I haven’t done it yet. Maybe I should stop by and ask him next time I am driving to town. I think I could always do the paper/cardboard with dried grass clippings piled on top and then add the concrete afterwards. The concrete part might be a good autumn project, though. You know, after we build a henhouse for our 24 pullets (though I suspect one of the Buff Orpingtons is a boy) and a greenhouse and a workshop for Tim.


Garden Experiments

April 28, 2009

I’ve been doing daily updates on the Garden in Progress page, but it’s time for a longer post about the goings on in my garden. Our original plan was to get the garden area tilled, then fence it in to protect it from deer, rabbits, raccoons, and all the other critters that live in the woods right by our house. The tilling has not been possible due to rain and mud, so perhaps this year we will skip the tilling after all. I am really waffling on the issue of tilling, but the weather might be the deciding factor. If we end up not tilling, then we will still spend money on compost and soil. However, if the raised beds do well, then we will be set for next year. We’ll just have to add compost, which we are in the process of making, and mulch and rotate crops next spring, I think.

While waiting for the tilling, I’ve been experimenting with killing grass. I have three 4′ X 4′ garden frames built and they are all out in the garden. For Experiment 1, I put newspaper on the bottom to try to kill the grass. I was too impatient and went ahead and put some potting soil and compost in the frame. I finished marking off the grids with nails and yarn, just like I did with the bed where I dug up the sod. In the middle of the last week I planted two squares, one with spinach and one with cosmic purple carrots. Then on April 25, I planted two more squares of carrots and yesterday (April 27) I planted another square of spinach and two squares of romaine lettuce with radishes in the corners. So I have 7 squares planted in that one, and will probably transplant the broccoli to the top/north most facing row.

For Experiment 2, I put down cardboard instead of newspaper, mostly because I had cardboard and didn’t have any more newspaper. The grass is dying, but not as quickly as I would like (did I mention I get impatient?). I don’t really want to put soil and compost over the cardboard. I know it will decompose eventually, but not nearly as quickly as the newspaper will. I think I will take the dug out sod from Experiment 3 (see below) and put it on the bottom, then add compost and potting soil to finish it off. That bed is too close to the others to do any vertical crops, so I think I will plant my herbs in that bed.

Experiment 3 isn’t really an experiment anymore. I dug out the sod and poured soil and compost in the frame and already planted. This is the first bed I planted and happens to be the north most one, though eventually I will have other beds north of this one. So, I will be calling it Bed 1. Here are some pictures of the progression of this bed:

Partly dug up sod

Partly dug up sod

Garden helper

Garden helper

Partly filled raised garden bed

Partly filled raised garden bed

Filled with potting soil and compost

Filled with potting soil and compost

Grids marked with yarn

Grids marked with yarn

Bed 1 (Experiment 3) fully planted

Bed 1 (Experiment 3) fully planted

This last picture was taken on April 22. Since then, bibb lettuce, radishes, spinach, parsnips, and leaf lettuce, and onions have started sprouting. It’s quite exciting. To the left of the picture (which is the north side and what I think of as the top) are the broccoli transplants that Scott the Farmer gave us and helped us transplant. We planted onion sets in each corner of the broccoli squares. The column to the right of the broccoli is where we transplanted some leaf lettuce and bibb lettuce, with some onion sets in the middle. The next column is kind of a mixture, with two squares of bibb lettuce seeds, with radishes in the corners. Then there is a square of spinach and a square with two celery transplants and some onion sets (not sure how many since the kids were helping!). The column all the way to the left (or what I think of as the bottom row) is leeks, carrots, parsnips, and onion sets. Those squares are not quite a full square foot, so instead of planting 16 of each vegetable, I only planted 12.

So far, no bunnies or deer have bothered this one, but I need to make a cover for it. There’s a quick and easy plan in All New Square Foot Gardening, so I just need to sit down with the book in front of me and try to build. Eventually I will have to use the saw myself, despite my fear of cutting off my fingers. So the next step is to build a cover (UPDATED to say this is done and there is a picture here) for the beds planted, build more frames and trellises for the vertical plants, and get an area ready for the corn, beans, and squash. I’m not going to make frames for those because that seems like a waste of wood. I will, however, try to make a raised area for it.

In a related note, I was doing some research on herbs in the square foot garden and I came upon this site, which I’ve added to my links. In particular, the page about plant spacing and herbs in the square foot garden were very useful. There’s a lot of other really good information, but I leave it to you to explore that page on your own.

Too long without blogging

April 15, 2009

I have so many things to blog about. It’s funny that’s it’s just been a few days and I am dying to blog! I just have not had the time to do it lately. So, here’s what is up.

The chickens are in movable coop all the time now. They spend nights in the garage, warm days in the garden area. Usually we take a blanket out there and lay around watching them for a while. It’s quite relaxing, almost meditative. We have a good time digging up worms for them, but I think they are spoiled and need to figure out how to dig up their own worms. Am I silly for being worried that they won’t figure it out if we keep doing it for them? They are getting bigger and bigger every day, but now they almost look like miniature chickens. They don’t quite have all their feathers, but they have most of them. The wattles and combs are growing, and a few of them have reddened as well. They are making noises that sound more like clucking than cheeping, which is really cool to hear. I do owe you all pictures of the coop and the 4 week old chickens. I suppose I will wait until tomorrow or Friday and post the 4 and 5 week updates at the same time.

We still haven’t heard from the people who are supposed to till the garden. I have put a 4′ by 4′ box out in the garden area, with newspapers spread on the bottom to try to kill the grass. It’s an experiment. I think it will work, but probably not in time to do a garden this year, so we might go with the tilling after all. I just can’t decide. It seems like a lot of people used raised beds and make their own potting soil because their soil is crappy – too sandy or too much clay or something like that. In this part of Illinois, we are lucky to have really good soil. So, I’m not sure what to do. I was partly thinking of no tilling because I am just tired of waiting. I suppose I could give them a call or stop by and say, “Hey, come till my garden already! I’m dying to get started!” 🙂 Whatever we end up doing, it will still be some form of square foot gardening for sure. It’s just a matter of whether to till or not, and if we don’t, then I think high raised beds (12″ or more, I think) with lots of mulch would work well. If we till, I will still be using the boxes/frames to do the square foot gardening, it just won’t be as deep.

One thing I am trying to figure out is how much lettuce and carrots to plant for a 5 person family. The square foot gardening book I have says you can plant something like 9 spinach plants per square foot. So if I have one 4′ X 4′ square for lettuce and radishes, and I decide to plant 5 squares of spinach, that’s 45 spinach plants. Obviously I will not plant them all at the same time, but even so, isn’t that a lot for a family of 5? I suppose spinach can be cooked and then canned or frozen, so that might not be so bad, but what about the bibb and romaine lettuce. I think it was (Edited to finish the thought!) 7 lettuce per square foot, so if I plant 5 squares, then that’s a lot of lettuce, don’t you think? Anyway, I’m just not sure how much of some things to plant. I guess extra is better than not enough, since we can give extra vegetables away to friends and family.

The seedlings are doing OK. Things that sprouted: broccoli, spinach, honeydew, watermelon, zucchini, gold rush zucchini, and butternut squash. The broccoli and spinach seem really skinny and leggy to me. I transplanted the broccoli today and we’ll see if it does better. If I have to, I will buy transplants. The peppers I planted have not sprouted at all. I am thinking perhaps the soil just was not warm enough when I planted them? My house is not warm, especially downstairs, so maybe it wasn’t warm enough for them to sprout. The only other thing I can think of is that the seeds were just not good. Any other ideas? It has been two weeks and it seems that they should have sprouted by now. None of the herbs have sprouted, but I have read that it is hard to start oregano and rosemary from seed, so I might have to buy them as transplants as well.

Scott the Farmer was here today and he and Tim are working on the fence for the cattle. They are only fencing in a few acres and we are only getting two heifers for now. That’s enough to get into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP for short. We’ll be sowing oats on the rest of the acres. He says that will improve the soil fertility, as well as providing some forage for the two heifers. The rest will be harvested and we’ll sell it, hopefully at a small profit. As for the heifers, I think we will be keeping one for ourselves for meat, and selling the other. I’m not sure of all the details at the moment. We have to sit down and talk to Scott about it soon. He says if we get too attached to the cows, we can always sell them as dairy cows. I would love a dairy cow, but I am not quite ready for that responsibility and would have to figure out how to make cheese and yogurt and butter before committing to our own dairy cow.  Scott doesn’t want to keep the heifers here over the winter, so we will have to decide before fall, which seems like a long time away at the moment. Scott went to some effort to find heifers that are already gentle and trained on a one wire fence. I did not even know cattle would stay behind one wire, but apparently they can be trained to do so. The one wire is, of course, electrified.

Mama Cat has been around lately. She is most definitely pregnant and is hungry and mean to her first litter (or at least her first litter we know about). I think Little Gray is also pregnant. Now, I love cats but am not all that happy about this. I wanted to get them all fixed, and still do, but it is very expensive as we wouldn’t qualify to do it through the Humane Society. However, one day I had a Great Idea. I finally figured out that we can pretend the cats are Tim’s so that we can do it through the Humane Society. So, after these two litters, we we will definitely be getting them fixed, even the males. I know the males aren’t a problem for us because they don’t have the kittens, but it just seems like a good idea to get them all fixed. Then at least when the neighbor’s cats get pregnant, I will know it isn’t my fault or my problem in any way. I think we will have to give some of the kittens away once they are weaned. It depends on how big the litters are, I guess. I was not planning on feeding 10 or more outdoor cats! Three outdoor cats is a good number, I thought. I admit I am quite attached to those three little kittens. We still call them baby cats even though they are obviously not babies anymore. They are so cute and it took several months for them to get used to us and let us pet them, so they are staying, for sure.

Killing grass

April 11, 2009

For some reason, I forgot to link to this blog post which got me all excited to research no tilling last night. I think I got to Hot Belly Mama through The Compost Bin.

Anyway, the thing I liked about this post is that she is just using mulch, straw and leaves, to kill the grass underneath and then using raised beds. So simple! No digging or tilling or chemicals. It was inspiring. I love the Internet!

No tilling?

April 11, 2009

Our neighbor, Jeff, recommended that we talk to a local nursery about having them come till our garden plot. He said they have a reverse tine tiller which is supposed to get the sod up better. Well, we talked to them about how much it would cost and all that, then finally decided to do it. I let them know and now we are waiting (I’m waiting patiently, Tim not so patiently) for them to call to tell us when they are coming out to till.

In the meantime, we have only built one box for the garden. It’s 4 feet by 4 feet (that’s 1.2 some meters, for you metric users) and is made out of 1″ by 6″ boards. I want to make a bunch more of these, as well as some 1 foot by 4 foot boxes for vertical crops, but we just haven’t had time between building the movable coop, Tim working, and my unwillingness to use a saw. I’m afraid I would cut my fingers off!

So we are waiting for time and tilling. But, now I’m reading more about no till gardening and rethinking the tilling. Here are some of the things I’ve been reading that are making me rethink the tilling:

Raised Bed Trials at From Dirt to Dinner.

Raised Vegetable Garden at No Dig Gardens.

No-till Gardening

No till and raised beds boost yields

No till gardening feeds the soil

No till gardening beds save water and labor

Now, I already knew that tilling isn’t always good. It does break up the soil, but it also exposes anaerobic bacteria to oxygen, thus killing them. Also, what about the worms that are already there? Wouldn’t tilling kill them? It seems like it would, and everyone knows worms are good for the soil. I have been thinking about tilling for a while, but was just too lazy to do the research, I guess. Our neighbor recommended the reverse tine tiller and I figured that was a good idea. Also, in the square foot gardening book I have, he mentions tilling, though I did wonder why you would need to till if you are adding your own soil anyway. Heck, even Mother Earth News recommends tilling eventually.

So I’m thinking maybe we will take the box we built out to the garden area and then lay some cardboard, newspaper, or whatever we can find down and see if it kills the grass. Then we will add soil, compost, leaves. Or something like that! I need to read and think about it more and see what we can find. We don’t have any compost of our own yet, so we might have to buy some. I was thinking of asking the diner in town (the small town near us, not the big town) if they would give me their vegetable trimmings and eggshells to use for compost. As far as mulch, we have an abundance of leaves since we have woods all around us. Also, I do recall reading somewhere that hair trimmings work well as mulch, but of course I can’t remember where I read that. I will ask Marvin, our barber, if I can have the hair trimmings from his shop. I bet he will think I’m weird, but heck it’s free and all I have to do is pick them up.