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No-Till Gardening

You may never hear them say how much they enjoy spring, but the gnomes in your yard celebrate it with as much enthusiasm as any Wisconsinite. If you do hear them say it, you’ve been in the sun too long. The gnomes know everything that happens in the backyard and garden, and if they could offer any advice, they’d probably say that conventional tilling isn’t necessarily the best way to keep your plants healthy and your thumbs green. They’d also say that the mystery clumps in the sandbox have something to do with the neighbor’s cat, Roxie. Fortunately for us, this article will focus on alternative ways to garden, specifically no-till gardening and trying not to interfere with the natural ways soil helps create perfect produce. The mystery clumps shall remain a mystery.

Isn’t Tilling The Best Way to Aerate and Open-up the Soil?
Sure, cracking open the shed and grabbing the tiller on a Saturday morning to make the soil appear fresh and new feels great, but that’s not what your soil needs. To quote the great Thom Yorke, “just ’cause you feel it doesn’t mean it’s there.” Tilling, although a mainstream practice, creates soil erosion by allowing the surface layer to be turned over and over, exposing beneficial earthworms, bacteria, and fungi while compacting the deeper layers of soil. The tilled soil, then, could be washed or blown away, while the earthworms would be exposed to the likes of birds and toddlers. The no-till approach, conversely, advocates poking holes into the soil for aeration, gently. The plants may not be there, but the ecological elements necessary to make them succeed certainly are. To get started, suggests placing an inch of compost over your existing soil, followed by two inches of mulch, and then creating holes. They say, “No-till gardening doesn’t provide the sudden jolt that a fertilizer does, but it provides a nice, even delivery of nutrients.”You can skip the fertilizer all together with no-till gardening. The mulch helps block the sun from baking the soil, while the compost retains moisture so you don’t have to water as much.

Why Carbon is Important
Plants use photosynthesis to take carbon out of the atmosphere to create organic matter and oxygen. When soil is tilled conventionally, carbon dioxide is released at an abnormally high rate. The carbon you release into the air away from the soil would be much better in the soil where it works hard to make plants thrive. No-till gardening simply means taking a lighter approach to aerating while keeping photosynthesis in mind, treading lightly on areas where you plant and allowing compost to help build the carbon in your soil. The more compost and organic matter you can introduce to your soil, and the less you turn over the soil, the better your yields will be over the years. In other words, allow the organic matter to perform its duty and turn the tiller into a piece of yard art.

The Tools of The Trade
Since your tiller is now out of the picture, the best tools to use in no-till gardening are your favorite stick and some patience. A garden that has been tilled year after year will need time to regain its ideal growing strength, especially if the soil has been deeply compacted. On a larger scale, think of the weight of the farm equipment that is used to till fields, and imagine how that weight deprives the soil of its ability to aerate. Too often we are concerned with the great crops we’ll have in autumn and miss the focus on our soil in the spring. So this growing season, grab your favorite stick, poke some gentle holes in your garden soil, and let Mother Nature do what’s she’s been doing forever. If you can’t practice no-till gardening for your plants, at least practice it for your gnomes.

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