No-Till Vegetable Gardens

The late garden author Ruth Stout had another way of preparing a permanent bed. Her aim was a no-till garden with year-round mulch. Stout avoided cultivating the soil. In How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back, she described her year-round mulch of straw. She parted the straw to plant, then pulled it back around the plants as they sprouted. The heavy mulch controlled weeds and kept the soil soft and moist.

Another of her systems is to cover the garden area with a layer of compost 3 to 4 inches deep. Sow the seeds on top and mulch lightly. The nutrients in the compost seep down into the soil beneath, and the plant roots and earthworms work the soil and improve it. Mulch the plants as they grow to replenish the compost.

A different no-till approach is to put the compost beneath the soil. Make a compost pile 3 to 4 feet high and 4 to 5 feet square on top of sod. Strip the soil all around the pile to make a path 2 feet wide and 2 to 4 inches deep. Throw the soil from the path on top of the compost bed to make a layer 2 to 4 inches deep. Wait a few weeks for the heat in the compost pile to subside, then plant in the soil on top. The roots grow right into the compost, and if ever you have had something green sprout on a compost pile, you know how it thrives.