To till or not to till?

Aaron positioning fresh compost in his prized, no-till raised beds.

If you’re planning on gardening this year, consider trying something a little different. It’s a process that has been a central part of ecosystem development around the world since…. well since there was a world. It’s called No-Till gardening. No-Till is essentially just what it sounds like- leave your soil undug and grow in it!

The plants we so lovingly grow are supported by a host of different organisms that live under the surface. Soil fungi, for instance, produce a glycoprotein called glomalin, which helps bind soil particles together and store carbon. There is a microbial community in the soil that digests and decomposes organic matter into nutrients for plant use. When a garden is tilled, the tilling disrupts these communities, hindering their ability to make nutrients available for plants. Imagine what life would be like if once or twice a year there was a massive earthquake that destroyed all of the local infrastructure. It wouldn’t leave you with much of a choice but to constantly rebuild. This is not the only issue that arises when we disturb the soil, however. 

Carbon is stored by plants in the soil through photosynthesis. It is both a building and binding material, helping plants grow and create structure in the soil. Tilling releases that carbon, letting a precious resource escape. This leads to erosion and nutrient leaching. If you don’t happen to be a lover of the environment, think of your wallet! If your soil can’t provide your plants with nutrients and carbon, you’ll have to pay (fertilizers and compost) to restore them! 

Gently adding compost to the top layer of a no-till raised bed can boost the nutrient content!

So this year we encourage you to start the long journey of building your soil, instead of breaking it up. If you’re interested in starting a new no-till bed, simply clear rocks and debris from an area, then add a thick layer of compost on top. This suppresses any weeds growing in the area, while creating a nutrient rich bed to start planting.  You can also use cardboard or any sunlight blocking material to cover the area you want to plant, a technique known as “solarizing”. This heats up the soil and triggers weed seed germination, but prevents photosynthesis, killing the weeds quickly. For continued protection after you’ve planted your desired garden, cut holes your cardboard cover for planting but leave the rest of the area covered.

We hope you’ll give no-till gardening a chance this year! Combining this process with adding compost to your garden is a sure fire way to lock more carbon into your soil, and foster healthy microbial communities- making for an awesome garden.

Written by Aaron Chism, Team Boot