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It took over 20 years of gardening to realize that I didn’t have to work so hard to achieve a fruitful harvest…

By Greg Seaman, Eartheasy.com Posted Apr 26, 2011

A no-work gardenIt took over 20 years of gardening to realize that I didn’t have to work so hard to achieve a fruitful harvest. As the limitless energy of my youth gradually gave way to the physical realities of mid-life, the slow accretion of experience eventually led to an awareness that less work can result in greater crop yields.

Inspired in part by Masanobu Fukuoka’s book, One Straw Revolution, my family experimented with gardening methods which could increase yields with less effort. Fukuoka spent over three decades perfecting his so-called “do-nothing” technique: commonsense, sustainable practices that all but eliminate the use of pesticides, fertilizer, tillage, and perhaps most significantly, wasteful effort.

Here are the strategies we used which enabled us to greatly increase our garden yield, while requiring less time and less work.

1. Use the ‘no-till’ method of gardening

‘No-till’ gardening is a series of methods in which the soil is never disturbed, thereby protecting the complex subsoil environment for the benefit of growing plants. Amendments such as compost, manure, peat, lime and organic fertilizer are simply added to the top of the garden beds, and over time they will be incorporated into the subsoil by watering and the activity of subsoil organisms. There is no need to dig anything into the soil.

With ‘no-till’ gardening, weeding is largely eliminated. The use of mulch blocks soil-borne weeds from emerging, and any weeds which do emerge are easy to pull out because the soil is always moist. This moist, spongy soil is also the perfect medium to boost the growth of your seedlings and transplants. This process mimics the way plants grow successively in nature.

By switching to ‘no-till’ methods, you won’t have to do the heavy tilling or shovel work which so many gardeners suffer through each spring. You will need to ensure the beds remain well mulched, and take care to never step on the beds. To learn more about this gardening method, read our article No-Till Gardening.

2. Mulch, and mulch again

MulchA thick layer of mulch around your plants and over the entire bed will enhance the growing conditions for garden plants while reducing time spent weeding and watering.

Mulch saves water because it reduces water lost to evaporation, and it prevents the surface of the soil from drying out. The need for regular watering is greatly reduced. Mulch also blocks weeds from sprouting, and any weeds that make it through are easy to pull since their roots are in moist, loose soil. Mulch is an essential garden amendment in areas where water is scarce.

Gardeners are always on the lookout for free sources of clean organic mulch to add to their garden. Lawn clippings are a ready source, and fresh clippings are nitrogen-rich. If plants are close to fruiting, however, let grass clippings go dry and brown before using. Fall leaves, straw (not hay), seaweed, and forest duff can be used as mulch. Bark mulch, landscape cloth, geotextiles or plastic materials should not be used as mulch on vegetable beds.

View this chart of the common materials used for mulch and their properties when in use.

Once mulch is in place, it doesn’t need to be disturbed. Amendments like lime, compost and rock phosphate can be top-dressed. When transplanting or sowing seeds, simply part the mulch to sow seeds, then fold it back in place as seedlings take root.

The mulch you apply to your beds will gradually disappear as it breaks down and becomes incorporated into the soil. You’ll need to reapply mulch to your beds regularly, how often depending on the type of mulch used and the time of year. As the mulch gets thinner and disappears, you’ll know it all went into building new soil for the next crop.

3. Plant ‘green manure’ cover crops between rotations

Green ManureBy planting green manure cover crops, such as peas, vetch, rye or buckwheat, between crop rotations, we don’t have to purchase and haul heavy bags of peat moss as often. And we buy fewer bags of composted steer manure for fertilizer. The green manure crop is easy to seed, and when mature, it’s easy to turn under in preparation for the following vegetable crop.

Using green manures complements the ‘no-till’ method. Green manures and cover crops can be used to improve soil aeration, tilth and fertility without digging into the soil. Cover crops should be turned under before going to seed, but this can be done with minimal soil disturbance. We cut our cover crops to ground level using a garden shears, and leave the clippings in place, or we ‘smother’ the crop with a heavy mulch like seaweed. This creates a ‘lasagna effect’, and enables us to replant the bed without disturbing the soil. It also saves the work of tilling and weeding usually associated with gardening.

Here are some other ways green manure saves work:

  • Displaces weeds. Nature abhors a vacuum, and any exposed soil will soon be covered with weeds. Planting cover crops makes it more difficult for new weeds to get established.
  • Reduces the need for peat. Each bag of peat we use has to be picked up and put down about 4 times before the peat is spread onto the garden beds. We need the peat to lighten and help aerate the soil, but green manure also contributes to the soil in much the same way.
  • Reduces the need for fertilizer. Leguminous green manures will fix nitrogen into the soil, thereby reducing the fertilizer needed for new crops. We still need some fertilizer, and use canola meal for this. A benefit of using canola meal is that, unlike steer manure, it is lightweight and gardeners don’t have to worry about stray seeds being imported into the garden.

4. Grow in Raised Beds

Raised bedsAfter a few hours in the garden, my back would gradually get sore and tired, sending me indoors for a cup of tea and a different activity. And as middle-age wanes, the flexibility of the back and knees seems to diminish. One day I noticed that our best beds, the ones which were well tended and yielded good harvests, were the tallest beds. My wife and I, it seemed, each gravitated to these beds because they were easier to tend than the ground-level beds.

Over the years we have converted the entire garden to raised beds. Today, we can enjoy gardening longer, without sore backs! And the garden is evenly productive, since all beds are equally comfortable to tend. After experimenting with various configurations, we’ve settled on beds which are 4’ wide, so we can reach across the bed from one side. Our garden is on sloping ground, so we built our beds 18” tall on the high side and about 6” – 10” on the low side. We work mainly from the high sides.

Raised beds have also enabled us to control the pathway weeds which used to encroach on the ground beds. By having the bed sides as barriers, it’s easy to control pathway weeds by laying down sheets of cardboard or bark mulch. The garden is tidier now and gives us a feeling that things are not growing out of control. And we spend almost no time weeding!

5. Use soaker hoses for watering

soaker hoseFor too many gardening seasons, we dragged the hose from bed to bed in order to keep our garden watered. We were slaves to dry weather, often changing our personal schedules to be in the garden to water a bed with starter plants. Care was taken to avoid watering the leaves of some plants, like tomatoes, to prevent blight, which meant we couldn’t just set a sprinkler and leave. Watering was done by hand since different crops had different water requirements.

Today, we simply turn on the water spigot and each bed receives a slow, steady flow of water directly to the root zones. Soaker hoses are laid on beds, delivering slow, steady dripping to the plant root zones. This saves us time, and also saves water since no spray is lost to wind, and our pathways do not get watered. This is important because pathway weeds will dry up and require less work in weeding. Less work!

Soaker hoses can be laid beneath light mulch, like straw, so they’re not visible. We also use a battery-powered electric timer to turn on the soaker hoses, and to turn them off after a designated period. This enables us to be off-site, without worrying about watering our vegetable plots.

To our surprise, we’ve had more consistent gardening results since switching to the soaker hose and timer system. The plants are bigger and the yield is greater. The slow, steady supply of water enables the roots to maintain a slow intake, feeding their natural absorption capacity. Our hand-watering practice, on the other hand, applied the water faster, and in larger amounts, which resulted in considerable water lost to runoff (which watered the pathway weeds) and less water actually being absorbed by the plant roots. We found that use of soaker hoses helped us achieve better garden production with less work.

Here in North America, we have a cultural notion that hard work is a good thing. I prefer to think that results are a good thing. If we can enjoy better results in gardening with less work, more people will be encouraged to try gardening, and those who already have gardens will enjoy it that much more.

Browse Eartheasy’s line of natural lawn & garden supplies here.

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GregAbout Greg
Originally from Long Island, NY, Greg Seaman founded Eartheasy in 2000 out of concern for the environment and a desire to help others live more sustainably. As Editor, Greg combines his upbringing in the cities of New York, Boston and San Francisco with the contrast of 31 years of living ‘off-grid’ to give us a balanced perspective on sustainable living. Greg spends his free time gardening, working on his home and building a wooden sailboat with hand tools.

 

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  • http://www.tapparhar.se/ sven

    Thanks for this awesome post
    I really enjoy reading your blog
    Christmas Bird Count seems fun
     

  • Emahon15

    Great article. Thanks

  • Angela

    This is great!  We live in Florida and often struggle in the summer.  I am going to use soaker hoses this month, so simple, and I never thought of it.  Thank you!!

  • Arlenepelle

    Great article.  My problem-I live in the Rocky Mountains 8600 ft altitude.  Our season is barely long enough to grow one crop much less a cover crop.  Which grows fastest.

    We have no soil.  It is mostly crunched up granite.  Any suggestions.

    We have a tremendous chanllange here at altitude.  My green thumb disappeared when we moved here!   HELP

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      You might want to consider growing in containers or raised beds. This article will give you suggestions for building soil for your beds:
      http://eartheasy.com/blog/2012/01/6-tips-for-building-soil-for-your-raised-garden-beds-and-planters/

      For high altitude gardens and gardens in northern climate zones, the season can be extended using a covering system such as cold frames and greenhouses. To learn more bout the options, see this article:http://eartheasy.com/how-to-buy-a-greenhouse.html

      • Arlenepelle

        I already do that.  One of my problems is amending the soil.  I am older and cannot move truckloads of soil around without being exhausted.  That is why I was interested in a cover crop-if possible.  Thought I might grow my amendments on the spot.  I do compost and carry that around my site.  I also raise worms and through some in each site and pot every year. 
        I will try covers this year and also red wall of waters and red mulch.

  • Luv2vacation2

    I only like raised beds for my vegetable. Flower beds have to be part of the landscape in my opinion. I only use the mulch in my shaded beds and in my beds that get more sun i do a layer of crushed egg shells and old coffe grounds then cover with coconut hust. Works for better drainage close to the ground and retention of water over the top of the bed. Also a must for me is a sprinkler system. Now we are talking “work free”

  • Randi Kearvell

    inspiring to my 84 year-old back–maybe I can become more active again. Randi

  • ejam

    Thanks for sharing. This will helpl me a lot., as I am about to plant cabbage, collard greens, tomatoes, beets, carrots,and beans. My yard has broad- leaf weeds, that keep appearing on a daily basis, even after they are uprooted, and pulling ond oils turned by the  hoe.oor spade Weed killer does not get rid of them. I plan to cover them with mulch, and later, ‘ separate the tears from the wheat.’ I will post a picture of the weeds im my garden..

  • Margie

    Can I plant a cover crop in early March here in N. Idaho to grow for this spring or do I have to wait till next fall?

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      If you are having an early spring, you may be able to plant a cover crop for beds that will be used for early summer planting, like beans. You may also want to do a fall planting of garlic. Some gardeners ovewinter brassicas, such as brussels sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli and kale. These would all benefit from beds prepared with green manures.

      After harvesting and turning under a green manure crop, it is advisable to wait about two weeks to give the bed a chance to mellow. Planting right after tilling in green manure can set beck your starters. It is better to wait a bit longer before planting.

  • Candylyn58

    Unfortunately, I have read many times that mulch is very detrimental to the bee population.  They like to get natural stuff off the ground and mulch inhibits that.

  • Vickibg

    I have a big problem in southern California with sow bugs eating my seedlings, and they thrive in in the mulch environment. Any suggestions for controlling sow bugs?

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      Mulching with seaweed was the solution for our sow bug problems. Diatomaceous earth is also effective but it should be dry for best results. In the rainy season it is less effective..

  • David Capocci

    We effectively garden from February to November out here in the Pacific Northwest, in the Cascade mountains using these techniques, and those of permaculture.   We also incorporate our veiw of the garden as part of the larger homestead system. In doing so, we’ve actually grown wheat in our winter paddocks and use chickens for pasture care following the herd of alpacas.  A Chicken tractor has become our most effective pasture technique and we use nothing but that: no fertilizers at all.  The garden uses logs not only for raised beds, but for the additional thermal value in keeping the soils warm.  We just had 6″ of snow and our temps are in the 30’s, but in our covered raised beds, my onions are 8″ tall and cabbage seed from last season is germinating!

  • Teresa

    I am new to gardening and also have a slopped yard.  Most all other blogs have nice flat yards and I’ve been concerned how to start with raised beds.  I love the look of wood; however, the price difference between #2 Pine and Cedar tempts me to go pine or consider cement blocks.  What do you advise?

  • Chris

    Some excellent ideas here, many thanks! I’m just starting a new, organic garden and may use some of them.

  • maid3marian

    What a cutie Greg is!!!

  • Revlovee

     This is a well written and very informative article…. I am sharing this with my hubby as soon as he gets home tonight.

  • Joycelintner

    your info on gardening arrived at just the right time for me.  i’m working in our flower beds
    this week with Zach’s help. 
    Gardening here in S.C. has proved to be a challenge to say the least.  We have NO shade in our
    beds and experimenting has proved to be expensive and time consuming. 
    I’m definately going to give some of your helpful hints a shot.  Anymore ideas for southern
    perrenial flowers?
    Thanks. joyce

  • Penelope_Starr

    How about gardening in the Southwest hot and dry climate?

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      The points mentioned in this article do apply to your region, especially the section about mulch. The wise use of mulch is key to gardening success in arid regions.

  • Kironbutterfly

    This is one of the best ,comon sense articles on gardening I’ve read in years! Thank You! I’ll  share it with my children & grandchildren .The Greats are a little too young yet.

  • AdenaF

    Sooo glad I found this blog. I finally got my husband to build me raised garden beds. I wanted several smaller ones but I have two big ones. At least it’s something. I am a new gardener so always looking for more how-to’s. I live in Florida and its very dry and hot; love the idea of mulch to help retain moisture. Can I mulch over sown seeds? Always afraid that the new plants won’t be strong enough to force their way through mulch.

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      We do not mulch over newly sown ground. After the seed has sprouted and the seedling is established, then the mulch is added.

      In cooler regions, it may not be advisable to add mulch too early in the spring, since this can delay the warming of the soil. But I guess this does not apply in Florida.

      I think you will come to prefer the larger beds. Good luck this season!

    • Madhatter1944

      I wouldnt mulsh over seed, if there is a proublem with weeds try starting seeds in peat pots then put in the ground after they are established and mulsh around them. as for smaller raised beds, thank God you have a husband that got it built  even if they dont always get it right. But nun the less just add planks or what ever your beds are made of at each end of them to raise them up and it will be more  like smaller beds and you can grow deep root crops and even less bending.

  • Patrick N. Paternott

    Totally agree, except there is an alternative to peat moss, which is Coir Fiber Pith, which is from the Coconut.  This is totally renewable and sustainable, unlike peat moss which its removal is destructive, and its use discouraged.  Patrick N. Paternott

  • Anotherimpulse

    Glad to see that someone else recognizes how easy it is to garden this way.  Besides being so easy it is terrific for people with  limited physical abilities

  • http://www.backyardsimple.com/ Mitch

    This is a great article. My 10 year old daughter wants to start a garden of things we can eat. I suggested something small to start like a over sized planter on the deck just to “Test the waters” . But a small raised garden might be an even better idea – thanks!

    • toni

      You might also try putting some lettuces and kale right in the annuals planters on your shaded porch if you have one. I tuck them in all of my early spring planters. Kale here, romaine there, butter lettuce over there. They are shade lovers though so make that when you plant your spring annuals you stick the pot in a nice shady spot. Both flowers and greens will be very happy.

  • Jeannehannah

    This is a good read for my friends that grow vegetables!

  • M J

    Tip 6, lock up that ba$7*rd guinea pig who ate my banana plant.

  • SerenitySea

    Found this post on Stumble Upon.  Awesome info!  LUV IT!

  • Cnhartman2

    This is SUCH a helpful article!  Thank you so much!

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Soaker hoses do need to be strung together and run through the garden to work. They can be covered with mulch or a light ground cover to reduce visibility, but the flow is continuous throughout the length.
    Our situation is similar to yours. In a large garden with multiple beds, some raised and some at ground level, trying to cover it all with soaker hoses is difficult. We use soaker hoses on certain beds, especially those with more regular watering needs (e.g. salad greens, brassicas, tomatoes), but we rely on mulch and hand-watering for other beds such as all beds in green manure (usually 1/4 to 1/3 of the garden),with deep-rooted crops and with crops that are finishing up and have reduced water needs. We move soaker hoses from bed to bed as needed and do not try to cover the entire garden with the soaker system.

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    This is a fascinaitng comment. You certainly come from noble gardening lineage, as Mr Burbank is still highly regarded for his contributions to gardening science.
    One of the fun aspects of the gardening is that there is still so much to discover. Our neighbor does a lot of fruit grafting, we have tried but with poor results. But it’s always interesting to see what works.
    I like the idea of a separate garden for the animals. We could use one of them! We do keep a spearate “wild” section in our garden for native plants and insects to proliferate and this also attracts native pollinators to the early spring garden.
    Your father’s careful assessment of what went into the compost shows his understanding of the value of compost, which we consider the single most valued soil amendment.
    I hope you get back into gardening. I think it will bring you pleasure as well as produce, and will deepen your connection with your father and grandfather.
    Thank you for your interesting comment.
    Greg

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Hi Nushka,
    Thanks for your comments. We are still experimenting and learning ourselves, which is part of the fun of gardening. Enjoy the process and the harvest is a bonus.
    Greg

  • vineyardflute

    Excellent article and I learned a great deal. Thank-you for all the time tested ideas. I didn’t know you could use grass as a mulch. So after cutting the lawn I can just use the filled bag and work it around my plants?

  • vineyardflute

    So you just spread the straw out after harvest? Is there a concern of drawing mice with that much straw?

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Soaker hoses for raised beds are commonly thinner diameter and shorter length, and snaked around plantings or doubled back once or twice for more coverage. This takes up more hose length. For very small beds (and larger ones) the drip systems are effective, and they don’t water the pathways.

  • Bessie

    I get some Plastic pipe that my soaker hose will go thru and string it between beds so the water only goes into the railsed beds. some times I only want it to water spots like my raspberries and not the area in between, then i drill holes in the pipe so the water goes where I want it.

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      Very clever. Thanks for sharing your idea!

  • Syalutsa

    Hey Greg: This is wonderful stuff. Just share this on Facebook. I have been gardening and leading garden workshops here in Pouch Cove, Newfoundland where we live now. Forty people signed up last year. Also have been marketing our own locally raised seeds.

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      Way to go. I look forward to hearing more about your seed venture.

  • polfeck

    As I get older I will certainly require an easy garden to manage

  • Anita Rivera

    I have been practicing this method my whole gardening career without realizing it was technically a real method! :) However, I need to take it many steps further as I had a spine injury that makes even daily house work very painful. I missed out on gardening for 2 years now, & am missing it terribly. I would love more input about even less work in the garden without having to hire it out. If I have to do that, the point of gardening is lost! I will see if my hubby will build me 3ft high beds, but other than that, I don’t know how I will be able to garden. Any suggestions?

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      I suggest you try a bed height of two feet before building up to three feet. It’s easiest when the bed height is close to the wheelbarrow height so there is less lifting. The pathway width should be a minimum of 24″, and preferably 30″. This gives you room for a folding gardening seat which really helps when weeding and transplanting. Keep beds under 4′ wide, in your case maybe the width should be 3′ so there is ess reaching out towards the middle of the bed.
      Keep an eye out for sources of mulch such as straw, leaves, grass clippings so you can top dress your amendments and cover with mulch. This way you can reduce tilling which is the strenuous part of gardening. Using mulch will also reduce the need to weed.
      You might want to consider buying starters instead of growing from seed, at least for your first year back in the garden.
      Good luck to you.

  • http://twitter.com/SquarePennies Maggie@SquarePennies

    Love these methods. This seems like a lot less work than hugelkultur and with more produce too. Thanks very much. I’ll be linking to your article at my blog if you don’t mind. Happy gardening!

  • Bren Kirksey

    great article…we did two raised beds last year and it was awesome…hardly a weed..so this year much easier to have more of them…fantastic produce…

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.buckwalter James Buckwalter

    Why should over crops be turned under before going to seed?

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      If you let cover crops go to seed, they will start a new crop in your garden bed. This will interfere with the crops you intend to plant and harvest.

  • Lance Snodgrass

    I have also seen the benefits of using grass clippings as a mulch, and used them extensively in my garden in which I grew tomatoes, sweetcorn, squash, strawberries, blackberries, watermelons and cantaloupe.
    The grass clippings do smother weeds as long as its applied thick enough that it doesn’t blow away in the wind. However, keep watch for bumble bees that may nest in the grass clippings as a result.
    Also, I noticed some type of fungus or white mold, not sure of what particular species, that grew on the underside of the mulch, which makes sense because the moisture would be contained underneath the mulch like you said. I’m just curious if a fungicide might be called for in some instances where a certain crop would be vulnerable to those types of mold. I didn’t see any negative effects when used with the crops I used grass clippings on, so there probably isn’t any need for worry.

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      Great comment Lance.
      We also see the white mold when pulling back the mulch but this seems to have no negative effect, just part of the breakdown of the mulch and the moist soil conditions beneath the mulch.
      We hold back a bit on mulch in early spring since it can delay the warming of the soil, and it provides habitat for sow bugs, and others, which nibble the young plant shoots. Once it warms up, we then close in the mulch around the plants and pile it thicker.

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Thank you Maria. Also useful for a bad back is to build your beds taller. Our newer beds are 18″ tall and it sure makes a difference from the 12″ ones. It’s easier on our backs.

    • Lindsey Le corre

      Love my 18” garden beds

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Hi Joellyn,
    Thank you for your comments. We have a lot in common in gardening techniques.
    Your question is a good one. There are several variables, such as the diameter of the soaker hose, the needs of the plants (starters vs. mature), the weather and the drainage characteristics of your soil. So you will need to do a test run ot two before you know the best watering schedule for your beds.
    In our garden we run the soaker hose for maximum 1 hour on most beds, such as tomatoes, beans, squash, salad greens, etc. For the fruit trees we triple the time. For your garden, I suggest that you run the system for 45 minutes, wait 15 minutes, then poke your finger down into the soil – your fingertip should be in moist soil. You can dig a small hole if you want a better idea. The top 6″ of soil should be damp. In very hot weather, you may want to run the system a bit longer. After a few tests you will have a more precise watering schedule for your garden.

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Perfect. The straw will be a big help in reducing watering while retaining soil surface moisture.

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Yes, cover crops are usually cut before going to seed and the stubble is turned under. Some gardeners interplant right away, between the stubble. We usually wait a few weeks before planting the new crop.
    Soaker hoses vary in quality, we only carry the top quality Osmile brand. We have several of these in our garden which have been in place for years with no apparent degradation.
    The flat hoses, which we refer to as drip tape, also work well but we have found they don’t take a bend very well when we double the line back on a garden bed. At the curve, the tape turns on its edge and water collects and puddles in these spots. For straight row, however, drip tape is a good solution for watering.

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Thanks Joshua, what a great thing you are doing with your time. I admire your work and thank you for your comments.

  • Arleen Cook

    Does #3 mean in between seasons? I have a question about this as I live in a very short growing season and usually have months of snow. I don’t really understand the rotation thing. Thanks.

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      You can plant green manure crops in between crops. In other words, if you have been planting and harvesting from a certain bed, after one or two rotations you will need to restore the soil which becomes depleted as each crop takes nutrients to grow. So it’s not about growing green manure between seasons, it means between crop rotations. You may need more space in your garden to accommodate this practice. In our garden we have about 12 beds and at any given time about 3 of them are in green manure.

  • GardenPlantGrowEat

    What a fantastic post, thank you for the bounty of information. I will definitely be incorporating some of these ideas into my garden redesign for next year!

  • Jim

    I’ll also say, great article! I recently happened upon eartheasy looking for composting information and have been reading as much as I can ever since. I am a novice gardener who is beginning to look at it more seriously as we now live on a horse farm with ample space to grow. I had a question about weed barriers and mulch. It states in the article not to use weed barriers or geotextiles in a vegatable garden, however I think I read an article elsewhere on this site touting its use. Or is this just part of the “no-work” since it doesn’t have to be removed after the season?
    Also, should I plant green manure in the fall and let it go over the winter and till in the spring or plant in early spring? We live in northern Maryland (very close to Delaware). Thanks!

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      Hi Jim,
      For gardens with large trees nearby which are sending roots into your vegetable beds, we recommend digging a narrow trench (closer to the tree than the bed, if possible) down to hardpan, then cutting the roots and slipping in a barrier to prevent further incursions. For this barrier we use sheets of HDPE recycled plastic which were free from the feed store (used on feed pallets).
      For weeds in beds, mulch is a great way to supress them while also adding organic matter to your soil.
      Yes, you can plant green manure in fall for overwinter in your region. Ask your garden center which they recommend for your area. We use fall rye this time of year.

  • Kristen Espino

    I just love your site!! It has helped me so much!! I have to report that my first season of gardening in a couple of raised garden beds went alright. One bed had strawberries and herbs and the other had lettuce, brocolli, and kale. The ever bearring strawberries are great, but I’m sad to say that the brocolli bed got sick. I’m not sure if this bed didn’t get enough sun, but I saw a few different things that I looked up on the internet that disturbed me. One thing that concerned me was the fact that we may have had a fungus. The brocolli stems kept falling off and the leaves developed large yellow spots. It never produced a head!:-( The kale only produced small leaves. I pulled them all today. The lettuce produced for awhile, but I pulled them last week after noticing the roots were turning brown. Atleast we were able to enjoy a few salads before this occurrence!! Just a little history, we started our new beds in fall with our local nursery’s landscape soil, fertilizer, and bone meal.
    Almos forgot, i do have new small plants of spinach left in the bed. They look fine. They were started as seedlings. Any info you could offer, I would love to hear. What do I do now with this bed? I live in FL. Is it too late for a cover crop and what can I plant in this that won’t be in danger? Thank you, again!! On a side note, I’m a mom of 5 including a set of quadruplets, so I haven’t had time to read much. That’s why I like your site! It’s easy, informative, and to the point!! Thank you, again!

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      Off the top of my head, it sounds like you are using too much fertilizer. This would account for the yellow spots on the leaves.
      Broccoli and kale are members of the Brassica family and usually do best in cool climates. There may be varieties which adapt to conditions in Florida. At the least, you would want to use a generous application of mulch to help keep the surface soil moist and cooler.
      It is never too late to plant a cover crop. With your new beds, it can take a season or two to develop ideal soil conditions. I find it difficult to rely on fertilizers, and prefer to develop organic soil using compost for organic matter, peat to help lighten the soil, rock phosphate and lime. It takes some experimentation to get the perfect soil mix for your garden.
      The best advice is to hang out in your garden center and talk with other gardeners to learn what crops and growing strategies work in your region. Gardeners love to share information, so don’t hesitate to initiate a conversation.
      I am in awe of your intention and ability to develop a garden while raising quadruplets!! You sound like a very special person.

    • Kristen Espino

      Thank you, Greg. I will plant a cover crop. Also, Where can I get rock phosphate? My local nursery acted as if they had never heard of it and encouraged me to buy their options they had available for phosphate. I did, and shortly after is when these problems started to arise. It was 14%, phosphate which seemed high to me, but I trusted them and amended with it anyway. Thank you, again!

      • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

        We find rock phosphate in just about any garden center. We apply it to the beds about once per two years. With all amendments, except compost, it is better to be sparing than to apply in excess.

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Good question. You want to be sure whatever you use for mulch does not harbor viable seeds. You could throw them in the compost, or make a separate pile and leave it till it composts enough to use. In our garden we have a low spot that is used for this purpose, and in time a fruit tree will be planted in this spot.

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