Our First No-Till Beds
Since we first started seriously looking at property to buy, Caylaugh and I had known that we wanted to adopt the style of farming commonly referred to as the No-Till Method. While not experts on the subject, the assortment of reading and research we’ve done on the No-Till Method points to a plethora of advantages - and scant few disadvantages (of which we can live with). For those that may be interested, I’ll link some recommended books and YouTube channels at the bottom of this post.
While we will likely blog more about the theory and practice behind the No-Till Method in the future, the focus of this post is strictly how we went about building the first few garden beds in this style. I’ll do my best to explain what you see in the photos below. Disclaimer: Like most things in life, we had to make some adjustments to the original plan - especially given our limited access to things like organic compost - but overall the process (and resultant beds) worked out as we expected!
Technically speaking, your no-till beds can be any size, shape, and configuration - and having to make do with the land you have available is always a driving factor when making these kind of decisions. For our location we chose a fairly wide-open area on our property that had the added benefit of two already-established rows of asparagus. We’re calling it The Kitchen Garden.
When we first took ownership of the property, the previous owners had already established two beautiful rows of asparagus in the Kitchen Garden, which we are incredibly grateful for. And back in the fall, we got ourselves in gear enough to plant two smaller beds of garlic in this location - as well as a row of rhubarb - and their presence was incorporated into our design. All-in-all, what you see in the above map is what our plan was going into this spring.
The asparagus rows themselves measure about 22 feet total, and so that 22 foot measurement became the ”standard” dimension for our bed lengths. We also decided that our bed widths were going to be standardized at 30 inches - which is a very common bed width with no-till gardeners. Lastly, we decided to make raised beds, placing 4 to 6 inches of soil on top of cardboard. The cardboard helps immensely with weed suppression, and earthworms LOVE wet, soggy cardboard so its a win-win.
To help streamline the measuring and laying out of the beds while we’re laying cardboard and moving dirt, I thought it worthwhile to grab some 2x6 lumber and assemble a template of sorts. The idea being that we just place it atop some cardboard, and just start mindlessly filling with soil without having to worry about strings, pegs, or measuring tape getting in our way. Once one bed is finished, we simply pick it up, or roll it to the next spot.
The overhang on the bed template is intentional, by the way. This will be upsized to a 50 foot chonker and used again out in the main field soon enough, and so I didn’t want to cut the boards. They made nice little handles for carrying, anyway.
Our soil - which is a mixture of topsoil trucked in from a local outfit, as well as composted cow manure from a neighbour down the road - was piled up only a stone’s throw away (and so were the woodchips) but we still used our tractor to do the heavy lifting and tramming of material for us, because why not.
We took turns playing on the tractor and using landscape rakes and shovels to spread the material evenly once the tractor had dumped a load. Once we got into a routine, it really didn’t take that long to go through the whole process of filling the template, scraping the soil flat, moving the template to the next spot, and then adding woodchips in between to form pathways.
To achieve that smooth-as-butter top to the raised beds, we used a wide landscape rake we found at Home Depot. We didn’t buy this tool specifically for this purpose, but it worked wonders for this task. We simply took the rake and used the flat end and ran the rake (which is 36 inches wide) along the two long sides of the bed template (similar to how you scrape flour off the top of your measuring cup with a butter knife).
Between a local tree removal business and the local utility (thanks Timmins Tree Service and HydroOne!) we accepted several loads of wood chips in preparation for both the Kitchen Garden as well as the field beds. Wood chips are something we are placing between raised beds, and around the perimeter of each group of beds, so further assist with weed prevention while giving us a safe place to step using a material that will slowly break down over time, releasing nutrients into the soil and retaining moisture in the meantime.
We typically waited until two beds were totally built up with soil before we poured the wood chips in between. For the outside edges, we just had to be extra careful with how we dumped our bucket, and did a bit more manual spreading.
After it was all said and done, we were left with five 22-foot raised beds, two 10-foot extensions added to the garlic beds, and wood chips strewn about in between and around the edges of the Kitchen Garden.
Nothing much else left to say with this blog post, other than that we obviously still need to, you know, plant things in this garden. But for now, I’ll wrap it up and list those no-till resources below - until next time! Farmer Taylor
YouTube: No-Till Growers
YouTube: Josh Sattin Farming
YouTube: Charles Dowding
YouTube: Richard Perkins
Book: The Living Soil Handbook