This year we tested out a no-till or lasagna garden patch. It seemed easy and required less money and effort than a typical tilled garden with equipment and gas considered. Not only that, it's much better for the soil and the micro-organisms that live there. A small patch was started in March with just paper in some places, cardboard in others and really old hay. That's all we could get for the first patch and the hay was very old. Should have used straw. Not a "by the book" start, but with no real compost yet and little time, it's all we could muster. After 7 months, the soil looks great! Dark and crumbly already and we've done a second planting.
Fist small test plot:
The dirt after 7 months:
It is absolutely amazing. You are also supposed to add a layer of compost, but I'm still working on the compost pile and it's not ready. When it is, I'll layer that on as well. I also add thin layers of wood ash as I have it. Since it's fall, leaves are going on thickly. I planted some roots recently and it was a breeze. I just pulled back a top layer of hay, put the root into this rich brown earth and covered. There are several books on lasagna, no-till gardening, one of the most popular being "Lasagna Gardening" by Patricia Lanza. It's not rocket science though.
Around the outside of the first plot I planted a band of flowering medicinal herbs to encourage the good bugs. Then close by a butterfly garden with milk weed and jerusalem artichoke. Beyond that I planted a winter mulch garden to build up the soil over the winter and planted things such as snow peas and vetch. In these bug gardens I didn't till either and just pushed the seed into the ground or sprinkled the seeds on top and walked around to push the seeds into the dirt. Another much larger no-till plot was just created with a generous donation of cardboard from a neighbor and after finally finding a good source for cheap straw.
Here is a pretty good video of the no till method, but I didn't do the dig down first step. After 7 months our soil is ready. We saw no need to get a jump start by tilling. He mentions what tilling does to the soil and then uses that as his first step? Still worth a watch though..
If you have any interest in getting a garden going, but don't want to till, try it. Just start small, you don't have to do it all at once. Get boxes when you are at the store, take the tape off, open it up and put rocks on it if you have to till you can find straw. Or use leaves or get creative. We've built up our second plot a little here and there is it has really grown. Layer your garden with leaves, compost, sand, ash, straw, and manure (some manure needs to age a bit first unless you are going to let it sit a long time like we have). For the second plot we had more straw bales than cardboard, so we just stacked the bales together around the plot to start killing off the grass.
I was curious how to start seeds in the no-till garden because I did not want to have to do starters for every plant. In reading and watching videos, I found that people just pull the top layer back and plant the seeds in the crumbly earth. When the seedlings come up and are big enough, then pull the straw back towards them. Since our compost pile will be ready by next planting time, I was also thinking about pulling the straw back, putting in a row of compost and putting the seeds in that. We shall see.
In an area that used to be a burn pile, I pushed snow peas in the ground to build up the soil. The plants are coming up big and strong, and are about 10 times the size of the same snow peas planted in the winter mulch garden. The burn pile snow peas are almost to my knees and the winter mulch garden they are barely to my ankles. Really shows what ash will do for the garden! What is amazing is there has been almost no rain for weeks on end, maybe 5 weeks with a break of only 2 hours recently. The peas are still doing great and we've not watered them. We do have a very hearty dew in the morning though.
Here is a photo of the new and larger no-till garden we've been working on. It increased again by a third today. Yes there are few rocks on top from the neighbors manure pile, those were picked out. Also since this photo, we've started adding leaves.