We are totally sold on no-tilling and avoid disturbing the soil as much as possible. We believe that it helps the soil life thrive and while we don't get fertility boosts, we benefit from a steady soil growth, season by season.
To support this ongoing improvement, we add organic matter. This can be done either adding compost, or planting some plants that will not only cover the soil (hence minimizing evaporation, erosion and temperature changes), but also add nutrients to the soil - the so-called green manure.
That is all lovely, but the growing season is fast approaching and as we approach some vegetable gardens, we realize it is completely covered with plants. How do we go about sowing or transplanting there, without removing everything or tilling it?
The solution came from Geoff Lawton (an excellent permaculturist and teacher). He shares a convincing entry point for first time gardeners: the instant garden. His idea is that anyone can start planting in just a few minutes, no major tools, materials or time commitment required. The solution is simple and elegant. Not only it improves the soil, but it delivers on his promise. And, opportunistically, it also solves our problem: you can use it to just restart your vegetable garden, after the Winter months.
So, how does this “Instant Garden” look like? You add layers of goodness on top of the soil.
Here is our process:
- We cut all the plants, leaving the roots. All these stems and leaves were kept aside for latter
- We added a layer of wet cardboard. This will deter the plants from growing again and let the soil life know there is a party going on at the ground level. We also used packing paper to cover or top up areas between cardboard sheets.
- We added a layer of compost. This optional but clearly a nice to have, especially if you are going to plant hungry vegetables
- We added a layer of soil. Whatever you have, but obviously potting mixes and growing soil will be best.
- We added a layer of mulch - that is, more organic matter. We picked mostly the green matter we got in the first step, and then added more. Ideally, you will add things that are seed free to minimize competing with your sowing efforts
Once this is done, you can start sowing and transplanting.
In our case, we are not sowing/transplanting just yet, so we covered everything with a black cover we had lying around. This will further deter the plants that were there from regrowing and minimize the amount of seeds that the wind will unavoidably bring.
Here is a video that Geoff has made available, so you can follow the Instant Garden approach step by step.
Good luck and Bom apetite!