SEMI NO TILL GARDENING
In the early 1960s, my Grandmother Green moved into town from the farm in Southeast Missouri. She had a 20’x30’ garden area with sandy soil containing very little organic matter. She ‘over cultivated’ her garden by hoeing it daily to make sure no weeds or grass grew. She raised tomatoes and corn. Nether grew or produced very well.
In 1965-67, I had a 50’x40’ garden behind the parsonage in Southeast Indiana. I left room to mow grasses and weeds in between the rows of vegetables. In July when my neighbors’ gardens burned up without rain, my garden continued to produce into September.
My parents retired to Southeast Arkansas on 2.3 acres of land in 1976. The clay soil was fertile because it had not been tilled in over 20 years. Dad started out as an organic gardener selling strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, okra, and corn at 1950 prices. Dad wore out 3 large tillers on his one plus acre garden over the next 22 years. He ‘over tilled’ his garden disturbing the soil structure. During his last ten years of gardening, organic manures and compost became difficult to find and deliver to his garden. The soil became compacted without organic matter and with the constant tilling.
My wife and I moved to the Rockport area in the Coastal Bend of Texas in the summer of 2007. I fenced in 30’x54’ of fine sugar sand behind our home. Through the years I have added 13 cubic yards of clay to hold moisture, 2 pickup truck loads of rich composts annually, and added various kinds of both solid and liquid organic fertilizers to the soil plus using Spray-N-Grow to spray on the vegetables and citrus trees.
Through these 12 ½ years the weeds and grasses have thrived in my garden along with the vegetables. Weeding has been a constant problem. I have tried not to ‘over till’ with my small cultivator tiller either in the rows or the middles in order to maintain soil structure. I have used Persian Clover and alfalfa as green manures to control weeds and grasses. Hurricane Harvey blew in some additional varieties of weed and grass seeds in 2017.
In October of 2019, I pulled up 3’ high weeds and grasses covering all the rows and middles. I added organic fertilizers, tilled, and planted the winter garden. With the winter weather sometimes dipping down into the 40s, working in the garden was not pleasant. Rains came. A thickly matted 1’ weed took over the whole garden despite my tilling the middles twice.
A friend who is in his 79th year like me has decided to ‘no till’ his garden for 2020 because of limited mobility and the loss of stamina that goes with our age. I realized I have a ‘semi no till’ garden this winter. Yet, the English peas, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, turnip and mustard greens, radishes, carrots, and herbs are large, healthy, and have produced truck farm quality and quantity of vegetables. I have pulled up over ten times the number of large bunching onions than I planted, plus we ate a lot of them.