There are many benefits to not running a rototiller through our gardens every year. Whenever we till, we disrupt the life of within our soil that is responsible for cycling nutrients for our plants to grow. As soon as it rains on our freshly tilled areas, we develop compaction zones that create anaerobic layers preventing the plant’s roots from going deep.
To eliminate these problems and to promote a healthy, diverse soil-food-web, we utilize cover crops and smothering to prepare our seedbeds for planting. Our first stage is planning. We cannot just decide one day that we need to get our garden planted, fire up the tiller and get it done. Smothering a cover crop to prepare a seedbed takes at least three weeks to accomplish.
In our experience (NE Ohio), we have had great results with white clover as a cover crop. We do NOT use straw to smother, we use the cheapest grass hay we can find. Here’s why:
Straw has a high carbon/nitrogen ratio. It does not feed the soil biology well.
The structure of straw is too “straw-like” (go figure!) Meaning: they are like hollow tubes and allow too much room when stacked up for the cover crop to poke up through
Grass hay has nutrients and a perfectly balanced carbon/nitrogen ratio to feed a diverse soil-food-web
The structure of grass hay mats down well in order to retain moisture and effectively smother the cover crop.
Harvests are nothing short of incredible when we focus on promoting life in our soils. These no-till gardening seedbed preparation techniques have served the soil-food-web, our plants and ourselves very well through the years.