No-Dig No-Till Update

This year I am experimenting with the no-dig no-till method of gardening in a couple of beds and I want to give an update on that project. As I get older, I am always looking for more ways to make gardening easier, and this seemed worth trying. I was inspired by Dr. Lee Reich’s classic 2000 book called Weedless Gardening, and an episode I saw about his garden on Growing A Greener World. Reich’s background as a soil scientist and long-time gardener lends considerable credibility to his methods to have a successful garden without spending a lot of time weeding.

no-dig no-till test bed

The first test bed was home to brassicas and bush squashes I set out in spring. After spreading compost and other amendments over the bed, I put down woven weed barrier fabric. The material I’m using is four feet wide, and listed as “professional grade 3.2 oz” material. I secured the material along the edges with metal landscape staples. I planted broccoli, cabbage and kohlrabi at one end of the bed in late April, and the bush squashes at the other end once danger of frost had passed in early May. All of these crops did quite well, and I am pleased with the results. Broccoli and cabbage are known for being heavy feeders, and they did exceptionally well. That tells me my soil amendments gave them what they needed, even without being worked into the soil.

early brassica plants

For fall I wanted to follow the crops in that bed with collard greens and kale. After pulling what was left of the spring crops, I lifted the weed barrier fabric carefully and folded it up so I can reuse it next spring. Then I applied a nigh nitrogen organic fertilizer (Happy Frog Tomato & Vegetable), scattering it over the bed on top of the soil. Since I plant collards farther apart than broccoli and cabbage, I put down new fabric and I cut the holes at the wider spacing. I should be able to reuse this material next year as well.

new weed barrier in place


collard plant

The greens got off to a good start, and have grown quite well given our extremely dry conditions this summer. I have been harvesting them on an as-needed basis, and they should keep us well supplied for weeks to come. This test bed has given us a lot of veggies for a minimal amount of work, and I have to say that is encouraging news indeed!

fall crop of collard greens and kale

The other test bed was lightly worked up in spring, fertilized, and then covered in weed barrier fabric. I sowed bush beans on one end and blackeyes on the other, and I set out a few extra pepper plants in the middle of the bed. In early August, I pulled the beans and blackeyes and sowed those areas with turnips and radishes. I added no fertilizer or compost at that time, since I had amended the soil in spring. This bed has also done well, and my only concern is a few weeds that have come up down the edges of the weed barrier fabric. I put down cardboard and newspaper in spring, and I am guessing it has broken down and allowed the weeds to germinate. The bed itself is mostly weed-free, and overall these test beds have a lot less weeds than the rest of the garden.

no-dig bed with radishes and turnips planted

no dig bed with turnip greens

Next year I plan to convert at least one more bed to the no-dig method, and possible another one as well. The bed where sweet potatoes grew this year is right next to where the collards and kale are growing and is a prime candidate. I plan to plant tomatoes there next year, and hopefully I can get compost spread this winter. I do have another area where eggplant and paste tomatoes grew this year, and I might convert it to no-dig too. That would make over half the garden no-dig no-till. That second area will be home to the brassicas and bush squash next year, so they should do well there if I go that route.

area for no-dig bed

I hope you have enjoyed this update on my project. I will be working on getting the beds ready for planting in spring in the weeks to come, as well as enjoying the fall greens I harvest. I’ll be back soon with more happenings from Happy Acres!


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6 Responses to No-Dig No-Till Update

  1. Susan says:

    Great to see a summary of your no-till experiments Dave! And that it was positive (as you also mentioned in your response in the previous post). A side benefit I love in the spring is being able to plant early without having to wait for a window when the ground is dry enough to till.

    Interestingly I’m also seeing large scale farms transitioning to no-till because of heavy soil erosion, like this local example where I live:

    • Dave @ HappyAcres says:

      You are so right about not having to wait for the soil is dry enough to till! When I lived on a farm in Ky I rented it out to a local farmer, and he planted no-till for years. He didn’t plant cover crops though, bit I surely did in my vegetable garden.

  2. Bonny says:

    My favorite no till Gardner in Charles Dowling on you tube. He is also no till but without the use of ground covers.

    • Dave @ HappyAcres says:

      Thanks Bonny. I haven’t checked into his books or videos but I am aware of his work. Not everyone likes using plastic ground cover material. Lee Reich is not a big fan either. They are working for me at the moment, but I am lifting them at the start and end of the growing season to apply compost and amendments. I generally try and minimize my use of plastic as best I can. The material I’m using is made from woven polypropylene and can be re-used.

  3. Sue Garrett says:

    We just would need so much compost on our heavy clay soil to make this work. It would be great if we could though.

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