One of the best ways to increase the amount of nutrient converting soil microbes in your soil is to practice No or Low Till Gardening. This means that instead of disturbing your garden soil with shovel or tiller, you allow the natural fungi and carbon sequestering to remain intact by a simple management program. Whether you garden a small, raised bed plot or an acre, No Till can reduce your time and labor, while increasing your yield. Here are a few simple ways to adopt this practice:
Establish Beds First
You will want to establish a raised bed or garden area with lots of compost to create a loose soil bed with lots of organic matter before starting a No Till Garden plan. Once you have 6-12 inches of loose soil established in your area, your goal will be to maintain the quality of this soil. Plant your first season of crops, and once plants are established by more than 3-4 inches of growth, mulch heavily (2-6 inches) in areas where you see bare soil.
Mulch, Mulch, Mulch
Maintain a layer of mulch in all areas that do not have seeds, but do have bare soil. This serves to maintain moisture, provide organic matter for microbes to feed on, encourage earthworm habitation and protect those roots and microbe populations from UV damage. My favorite garden mulch is shredded fall leaves. As the microbes and earthworms feed on the mulch, they break down the mulch into humus. Another tip is to spread 6-18 inches of hardwood mulch in the walkways. About every 6 months you will be able to scrape aside the top layer of mulch and find wonderful humus to add to your garden beds. Replace walkway mulch to start the next season’s garden compost.
Trim, Don’t Pull
Whenever possible, try to trim spent plants at the soil level instead of pulling out the root ecosystem. This is especially important for legumes like peas and beans, which add nitrogen to the soil. Large roots usually have fungi established along their root hairs that act as nutrient converters for most plants. By pulling these roots, you lose organic matter that could enhance your soil as it decomposes and you also disturb long strands of fungal hyphae.
Add Compost, Worm castings and Amendments each Time you Plant
Every season, you will need to add some compost to the top layer of your soil to maintain your 6-12 inches of loose soil. If you had adequate mulch, you will need to add much less compost. Living worm castings, added at 10 lbs per 100 square feet will maintain your soil microbe population. Amendments like Azomite or Texas Green Sand will help keep trace nutrient levels high and allow them to be converted by the soil microbes in a plant available form. Watering and rain will allow these top dressed amendments and worm castings to filter into the soil ecosystem, there is no need to till them in.
Plant amongst Roots
Finally, you can plant your seeds and transplants amongst the old roots that are still in the soil. Brush back mulch to plant in the soil. If you added appropriate compost, there should be plenty of soil for seedlings to establish.
These tips should help your gardening experience by reducing many hard hours of work. Enjoy Your Freedom from the shovel and tiller and watch as your plants produce like never before!