Monday, May 23, 2011


For our food gardens, we are doing a no-till, wide row, raised bed method.  It's pretty unanimous that yearly plowing and tilling is bad for the soil.  Soil is not just dirt.  It's full of air space, water, minerals, plant roots, insects, worms, fungi, bacteria and other mircoorganisms.  These things make the soil healthy. When you do a deep till, it destroys the structure of the soil that was allowing these organisms to thrive.  It kills the worms and the little bugs and ruins the aeration and drainage. This isn't a good thing.

If you want a better explanation than I can provide, there is a great documentary called "Dirt!"  Google it and you can find a couple of places to watch it online.

So with no-till gardening, you only till (if you have to) once at the very beginning of bed-building. You also can't walk on your beds because this compacts them and mucks up the structure.  Once your beds are in place you maintain the soil with amendments (rock dust, manure, cover crops..etc).

So that takes care of the no-till.  Next is wide row.  Wide row beds with narrow paths in between is the opposite of industrial farming.  With wide rows you get more planting space.  With single rows you get more paths.  Single rows are good if you are mechanically planting and harvesting your crops.  You need the wide paths to drive your machinery through.  But that brings us back to plowing, tilling and compacting the soil.  You need way more space to garden the industrial way.

The only downside to wide row gardening is that as far as we can see, you have to build them manually.  With a shovel.  This wasn't a problem back at the old house with our friable soil and little garden.  With heavy clay it's a right pain in the ass.  But as Limey keeps saying, it will only be done once.  When the beds are up, they will be up forever. 

Raised beds are well-known in the square foot gardening method.  What is often overlooked is that you don't need a physical barrier like wood to keep the soil up.  You can hoe them up and they will stay just fine.  For clay soil, raised beds is a must.  They drain better and faster than beds that aren't raised and I find them easier to reach into.

In addition to the NTWRRB method, we're going to be interplanting crops for better use of space and for companion benefits.  We've already got this going on in the hoophouse along with a square foot spacing.  The greens were broadcast in and when it was time, Limey made a space in each square foot of lettuce to plant either a tomato, pepper or eggplant.  By the time the hot season plants are getting really big, the lettuce should be done.

Succession planting is also a great way to use less space.  There are lots of vegetables that grow better in the cool seasons.  For example, plant a space with peas and lettuce long before your last frost date.  By the time they are harvested it's warm enough to plant your peppers in the same space.  When the peppers are cleared out you can plant your winter crops like kale.  Or if you don't want a winter crop, plant a cover crop to grow out and chop down for amending the soil. 

People always seem shocked when we tell them our plans.  How can we fit so much onto 4 acres?  This method of gardening is how.  Just the wide row gives me twice the amount of planting space as single row gardening would.  Raised bed square foot spacing gives me more space.  Interplanting crops gives us even more.

If your interested in reading more about more sustainable gardening methods, some terms to search for at your library or on Google are;

  • French biointensive
  • No till gardening
  • Lasagna or sheet mulching
  • Permaculture
  • Double digging
  • Wide row gardening
  • Companion planting
  • Succession planting
The United Nations recently stated that eco-farming would double the world's food production in 10 years.  These are the methods to get there.


  1. This is what we are planning for next year for our veggies...This year we have allowed a neighbor to plant our back 3 acres with melons with the 55acres he rents behind us...this year many of our veggies are planted at the end of the melon rows that are directly behind the house.

    In exchange for the use of the land he will be reseeding it with a better quality grass for pasture than we had previously, so when we bring in the sheep they will have green grass 9 to 10 months of the yr v's just 6 or 7...oh and of course we get all the melons we can eat/give away to friends/and pickle.

    So having said all that, this will be the last time in over a hundred years this land will be deep tilled and we can start the process of trying to reverse the damage done over the years of conventional farming.

    Good luck with your garden, looking forward to following along for any tips we might incorporate next year.

    Blessings Kelsie

  2. This is what we do in our backyard and I get sooo much stuff out of a small space.

  3. Hi!

    Do you have a particular book on no-till gardening that you recommend? I just have a very small scale backyard garden with two raised beds. This spring I decided to expand a bit, but am looking for some ideas for layout etc and what best approach to take go forward.

    Love your blog!

  4. My absolute favourite gardening book is "The Vegetable Gardener's Bible" which is here

    I don't know if he specifically calls it no till but it's essentially what he's talking about.

    Have you checked out my references post? It's here;

    I'm glad you're enjoying the blog!

  5. We kind of stumbled onto this way of gardening. We had been doing square foot gardening in our little 5 foot by 11 foot space in the back of our old house. Since we've moved out to some land we bought we tilled up the grass then made 4 foot wide paths and we are planting like a square foot garden. Keeping about a foot and a half paths in between the rows.

    You can kind of see a picture of it here

    Cheers from Alberta.