Ask someone to picture a garden and odds are good the image is a rectangular tilled plot of land with all the plants marching in a row, kind of like ours. This method of gardening has some advantages, but they are mostly advantages if you are using machinery to plow and plant. It also comes with some significant disadvantages like soil erosion and compaction, along with an increased dependence on fertilizers and herbicides. Here are two alternative gardening methods that have significant advantages over a tilled plot of land.
Alternative Gardening Methods
Raised Bed Gardening
We’ve talked a little about raised bed gardens, mostly from the standpoint of the different construction materials, but they have a number of other advantages too. The first, but least obvious, is that the only thing in a raised bed garden is what you put into it. There are no rocks, no roots, old beer bottles or animal burrows. Another is that they are less prone to kids and pets frolicking in the garden, doing damage while having fun. Also, you can line the bottom of it with chicken wire to keep burrowing animals out of it but still allow for drainage, roots and helpful worms to do their thing. Because there is more area for the sun to shine on and less to warm up, it will thaw out faster, allowing for earlier planting. Last, but certainly not least, is that you can build them up high enough to cut down on, or eliminate the need for bending and kneeling as much. If you want, it can even be built up high enough to be wheelchair accessible.
The cons are that they are more prone to drying out because they are warmer and have better drainage, so you have to watch moisture more carefully. They are more expensive to start if you choose to go with wood, but not if you are using a recycled material. The biggest problem with raised beds is if you need or want to re-arrange – plan carefully or you are in for a large hassle.
No-Till Gardening can yield fantastic results, but it often takes a few years to get good planting beds built up and the soil ecology reset if you have been using traditional till and fertilize methods. Many people in this position prefer to transition from conventional to no-till by doing part of the garden no-till and increasing it each year. After a few years, you are totally no-till and comfortable with the techniques without the risk of losing a year of crops. If you are starting from scratch and don’t want the extra work of building raised beds or tilling and fertilizing – this is the way to go.
The key to no till gardening is mulch, which acts as fertilizer and weed control both. Lay down about ten layers of newspaper over the area you want to plant, then a layer of cardboard on top of that, and then water thouroughly. This will act as weed control and give your first bit of compost. Layer mulch on top of this, leaves, finished compost, year old manure, or hay will all work. Put a layer down about 3-4 inches thick then scrape back the mulch where you want to plant and dig your planting hole and plant as normal. If you are planting row crops, simply push aside the mulch where the row will be and slit the newspaper.
After your last harvest, pull up non diseased plants and toss them in place to add to your mix for the next year. Layer 4-6 inches of organic matter on top of your planting bed, preferably something different than what you used in the spring so that you get a varied nutrient mix in your soil. Within a few years, your No-Till Garden will be producing more than you ever got from a traditional garden without the work of tilling, weeding and fertilizing!
There are a number of other alternative gardening methods to look into, but these are two of the most common and easiest to implement. Remember, you are best off to start small and build up, letting your passion and ability for gardening grow over time, just like your crops!