When it comes to working less, weeding less, and having more fun growing vegetables – a simple no-till garden is the answer!

simple no-till garden
Our no -rototiller, Raised Row Garden at the height of summer last year.

Simply put, there is never a need to till your garden. In fact, tilling your soil every garden season can create more work for you, while harming the soil. We created our first raised row, simple no-till garden 8 years ago and have never looked back. The benefits are simply amazing.

  1. Little Weeding.  Actually, tremendously less weeding! As each year has progressed, we now spend almost zero time in the garden ever having to weed.
  2. Better Soil and Better Harvests. Using raised rows, cover crops and compost – our garden soil continues to improve each year. That means bigger and better harvest, for little work – and at little expense.
  3. Less Watering. The raised row set-up keeps plants protected and insulated. That means less watering, and better root structure development below the surface.
  4. Never Waiting To Plant. In a more traditional garden where a tiller is used, it can take weeks or a full month to let soil dry out in the spring and allow for planting. With a simple no-till garden of raised rows, planting can be done right after the hardest of rains!

Below are the five simple steps to setting up and maintaining a simple no-till garden. You can also check out our new top-selling book Raised Row Gardening, which covers every aspect of simple gardening in depth. It is now available in bookstores, and on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  See : Raised Row Garden Book 

Creating A Simple No-Till Garden

1 Create Your Raised Rows

If starting from a grassy, never before gardened area, mow the area as close to the ground as possible. This is the one and only time you could use a rototiller to break up the soil – but it is certainly not necessary. We built our first rows right on top of the ground and never used a tiller at all.

We create our raised rows 18″ wide x 20′ long, with 24″ to 30″ between rows left open between as a walking space to maintain the rows. To create our first rows, we laid down a combination of straw and compost about 4 to 6″ high, then added a 2 to 4″ of topsoil on top. It all compresses to about 6″ in height in the middle of the 18″ rows. We then taper the soil to each edge.  See : How To Create Raised Rows From Scratch

2 Mulch Your Walking Zones

simple no-till garden
Mulching growing rows and walking rows keeps weeding to a minimum

For walking rows, we use a thick layer of inexpensive organic material to block weeds permanently. This eliminates a large portion of the garden from ever having to be maintained. We use hardwood bark chips for our rows, but you could use straw, leaves, or whatever is available locally and inexpensively. To provide extra weed control the first year – you can put down cardboard or newspaper to help snuff out any existing weeds.

3 Plant And Mulch Your Growing Rows

Planting is a snap. For transplant crops like tomatoes, peppers, cabbage and more, we use a post hole digger to plant in minutes. We dig the hole with one drop of the blades and plant. For seed crops, we create furrows with a hoe or pick and plant.

We then cover the growing rows with a mulch of straw, compost, shredded leaves or grass clippings. The key is to keep soil covered so weeds can’t take over. Each year, the soil becomes disturbed less, and the weeding chores drop as well.

4 Plant A Fall Cover Crop

simple no till garden
The protective cover crop of annual rye in the fall

Each fall, we plant only the growing rows with a thick cover crop of annual (winter) rye. It quickly fills the rows with a lush, protective, dark green carpet of grass. A cover crop recharges your garden soil as it grows and then breaks down the following spring. It helps to fix nitrogen in the soil, while replenishing valuable nutrients and minerals.

That thick growth in late fall and early spring also helps protect bare soil from weed seeds blowing in. That eliminates a large portion of any weeds that can ever grow in the garden. If that wasn’t enough, the roots of the annual rye below the surface help to break up and loosen the soil.

5 Mow Off – And Plant Again!

Here is the best part of all –  you will never need to use a tiller again! The next spring, and each year thereafter, all you need to do is mow off the annual rye a few times until it dies off. There is never a need to disturb the soil below, or replant hundreds of thousands of weed seeds by tilling. And clippings can be left in the growing rows to decompose, or added to your compost pile to fuel it as well.

By the time you are ready to plant, the annual rye has died off. You can then easily use a post hole digger to easily create planting holes. The soil below gets better every season, and planting chores are finished in minutes, not hours! To complete the process full circle, we mulch the growing rows again after planting. It once again protects rows from weeds.

Come fall, we pull out the plants, pull back the mulch, rake and seed. The previous year’s rye has completely decomposed, and planting takes minutes per row. The entire no-till garden cycle is simply a beautiful thing!

Here’s to Simple No-Till Raised Row Gardening! Jim and Mary. To receive our 3 Home & Garden, Recipe and Simple Life articles each week, sign up for our free email list. You can also follow us on FacebookTwitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. This article may contain affiliate links.


14 thoughts on “How To Create A Simple No-Till Garden With Little Weeding – Forever!

  • April 17, 2018 at 12:43 pm
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    You must not live where there is a lot of wind, because where I live the straw would all blow away.

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    • April 17, 2018 at 5:19 pm
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      Hi Penny We do get quite a bit of wind at our garden. We find that if we put it down in thick layers with the straw still in a crisscross pattern that it helps tremendously. We have even watered it down if there was no rain in the forecast before to help it stay in place.

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  • April 15, 2018 at 10:56 am
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    On e you are done your garden and before you plant a cover crop what do you do with the straw around your plants. Also, I am Canadian, yes cover crops work well in Ontario, but where do I purchase your books amazon.ca doesn’t have them my first year doing it this way.

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    • April 17, 2018 at 9:24 am
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      Hi Sheri Once the plants are done for the season, we pull them out of the ground and cover the planted area with straw until we are ready to plant the cover crops. We always keep the growing rows covered so that weed seeds can’t enter the area. As for the book, it is also available at Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound if you have access to those websites. Hope this helps!

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  • April 10, 2018 at 4:23 pm
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    Hi Jim & Mary- have seen you speak several times and have both your books. Cannot wait to get my garden started this spring. I have noticed you have a few pics of watermelon on your site from several years ago, but fruit, specifically watermelon and cantaloupe, aren’t mentioned in your raised row book. I’m using your directions to plant and would love to hear how closely you’d plant those as I plan to include them in my garden. Thanks so much!
    Joey

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    • April 12, 2018 at 11:30 am
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      Hi Joey Watermelon and cantaloupe vines spread wildly during the growing season. We actually planted our watermelon in a different location on our property as a trial run one year (up close to where the house now sits). We have not grown them in our set up Raised Row Garden. You can plant them about 3 feet apart, however, the vines will need to be trained to stay out of the walkways. Hope this helps!

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  • April 6, 2018 at 6:01 am
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    After planting the rye seeds in the Fall, do you cove the seeds with the mulch you “pulled back”? Love your website and farm!

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    • April 7, 2018 at 8:50 am
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      Hi Kris Yes, we cover the rye seed with a thin layer of the straw that we use in our growing rows. And thank you for following our website!

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  • April 5, 2018 at 9:33 am
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    The only problem with this method I have found is the sow bugs and snails / slugs that love this environment. How do you deal with that?

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    • April 7, 2018 at 8:49 am
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      Hi Kathie We don’t have too many pest issues, most likely due to crop rotation and soil revitalization techniques that we use. Broken egg shells around the base of our plants may also help keep slugs away.

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  • April 5, 2018 at 9:21 am
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    Ok this is all good and well but how do you water the plants, sprinkling . This would wast a lot of water, and you can’t flood it.

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    • April 7, 2018 at 8:46 am
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      Hi Bob We water directly at our plant’s base. You can do this with irrigation tubes or we actually do it with milk gallon jugs and water each plant directly.

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  • April 5, 2018 at 7:58 am
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    Yes, this is the way to go! Do you know if the rye grass grow in Quebec, Canada?

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    • April 7, 2018 at 8:44 am
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      Hi Diane You would have to plant the rye grass earlier so that it starts to grow before the first freeze.

      Reply

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