Preparing the garden for next year – No till with cardboard and grass clippings

Have you ever had to start a garden with no tiller? I mean START, like grass still on the compacted ground?

Have you ever had to start a garden with no tiller? I mean START, like grass still growing on the very compacted ground? I managed to maintain, and I use that term loosely, a garden just like that this year. Sure I tilled some rows but tilling up the ground brings weed seeds to the surface so what did I REALLY just do there? Grass growing between the rows and weeds growing IN the rows calls for a lot of extra work and a garden that’s not as satisfying to look at.

Of course there will ALWAYS be weed pulling though, as Ray Daniels exclaimed, “Landscapes evolve steadily by jerks“. I am one such jerk that jerked a LOT of weeds this year.

I read about a method of no till gardening that includes cardboard and grass clippings. It sounded like a lot of work up front but surely soil preparation is the key to a good garden!

So what does this method do for you?

  • According to Wild Ones, “smothering surface vegetation with cardboard causes less trauma to a site compared to digging it up.
  • According to GrowVeg, one of my favorite “go to” gardening sites, it “can save you time and effort – and all while boosting the health and vitality of your soil.”
  • Also from GrowVeg, “Consider the myriad of soil life that’s disrupted every time we dig, from bacteria to earthworms, ground beetles to fungi. Tearing at the soil disrupts this intricate web of life, setting back the natural processes that lead to healthy soil.”

For me, that was convincing so here we go!

Here’s my project/experiment:

First step, get a good yard sweeper so I can gather grass clippings. I wanted one of these anyway so I could have a steady way to add nitrogen to my compost pile so this garden tractor addition was a no brainer. See my post on “Working a 5 acre homestead with garden tractor“.

Yard Sweeper

Next, secure cardboard. A LOT of cardboard! I just started asking friends if they could save cardboard boxes. I made sure to get plain boxes or boxes with little color on them. (I’m sure I’ll hear from some enthusiasts about using NO color. Let’s discuss below in the comment section.) The idea of “clean cardboard” is that it will have no or few chemicals from the color. Also, be sure to remove staples, labels and plastic tape.

A friend of mine works for an electrician that installs generators and has large boxes all of the time so he became my ” dealer”. Thanks Jef!

Now that I had grass clippings and cardboard it was time to start preparing the area for my, new and improved, garden!

I mowed as close to the ground as I could first and then started laying down the cardboard. I used my pull behind sprayer to soak the cardboard so it was nice and wet then I started laying down the grass clippings on top and giving that a good soak.

Water tank/Sprayer

no till garden

Grass clippings will hold in moisture for a while but WILL dry out so if you see that start to happen go ahead and give it a good dousing once again. I guess termites like the dry environment of the cardboard and grass.

no till garden

The progress to date has taken a good two months since cardboard comes in every few weeks as do the grass clippings.

no till garden

I’ll update the post next year as I begin to remove the cover.

Once the cover is removed I’ll get more cardboard and clippings to keep my pathways from growing weeds and I’ll lay top soil down for veggies in a pile to make a raised bed without the actual raised bed box frame. Next, keep the top soil covered with mulch or clippings to minimize the weeds and keep my seeds moist!

Once you stop learning, you start dying” – Albert Einstein

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