We are often asked if we could only give our one and only absolute best garden tip – what would it be?
Up until a few years ago, the answer would often bounce back and forth between three of our favorites.
Never tilling the garden was always one of our top tips. It simply creates more problems than it solves. Every time you till, you re-plant weed seeds. Tilling, especially over-tilling, also destroys the soil structure, leading to more watering, more weeds, and less produce. See : 2 Reasons To Never Use A Rototiller In The Garden
Another one of our favorite tips was the heavy use of mulch throughout the garden. Using compost, straw and shredded leaves help protect plants and build soil fertility over time. And using mulch such as shredded bark or hardwood in walking rows eliminates the need for ever tilling. See: Using Mulch In The Garden
Last but not least among the top 3 was the use of cover crops. Cover crops are a simple, natural, and effective way to create incredible garden soil. We have used annual rye for 8 years now as a fall cover crop in our garden, and it is simply amazing. Cover crops recharge the soil, fix nitrogen levels, and keep weed seeds out. They also protect the garden from the harsh winter elements.
So what can be better than all 3 of these garden tips? What is the best garden tip ever?
Well, it is actually using a combination of all 3 to create the perfect low maintenance, highly productive garden. We call it No-Till Cover Crop Gardening, and it proved itself to us more than ever this year!
No-Till Cover Crop Gardening – The Best Garden Tip Ever!
If there was ever a year where our Raised Row Garden was put to the test, it was this year. We simply have not had the time we usually have to spend working it, and yet, it has been more productive than ever. And with little weeds and no worries about too much or too little rain.
Cover crops are simply incredible for vegetable gardens. But when you implement a no-till cover crop strategy, they go from being great for the garden – to simply magical!
In a nutshell, here are the benefits:
The Magic Of Never Till Cover Crops.
For starters, you never have to till. That means you can plant nearly anytime. No waiting for the rains to quit or the ground to dry out.
As for planting crops in the spring, it is quick and easy. Our 40 x 60 garden was completely planted in a little under an hour and a half this year. And that includes seed crops and transplants!
By using mulch in our rows on top of the no-till annual rye, maintaining the garden through the summer is a snap. Because the soil is rarely disturbed, there are rarely weeds. And in the fall, you start the whole process over again by simply sowing more annual rye!
Although we have the complete breakdown in our Raised Row Garden Book, (See : Raised Row Gardening), here is a quick synopsis of how the no-till cover crop works throughout each season.
The Never-Till Method
Fall – Plant the cover crop when your garden is complete in early to late fall. Seed the area you will be planting in the following year. We have always used annual rye – it germinates quickly and grows dense. The cover crop will slowly go dormant as winter approaches.
Winter time : Do nothing – just know your garden is protected by the cover crop!
Early Spring – The cover crop will come back to life after lying dormant through the cold winter months. As the crop begins to green and grow, mow every week or so as needed. We put the clippings in our compost pile. You can also simply mulch them into the garden.
For raised row garden beds, it is as easy as running your push mover over the thick rows of the cover crop. If you have raised beds, you can use clippers or a weed-eater to do the job. With each successive mowing, the annual rye will begin to die off. By the time that you are ready to plant, it will be all or nearly all brown.
Planting Day – Give the annual rye one final trimming about an inch or so from the ground. Then, plant right through it! We use a post hole digger to quickly make holes for transplants. For seed crops, you can make a furrow with a pick to easily plant rows.
When planting is done, mulch the rows with straw or shredded leaves and watch you maintenance chores decline year after year!
In the fall, start it all over again by raking back the mulch. The old annual rye will have disintegrated, and you can just lightly rake the soil and plant the next cover crop again!
Here’s to no-till cover crop gardening – and our best garden tip of all time! Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary. To receive our 3 Home, Garden, Recipe and Simple Life articles each week, sign up below for our free email list. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram. This article may contain affiliate links.