Cindy’s House

Saving your back and a bit of the Earth as well …

Isn’t it great when the virtuous thing to do turns out to be the lazy course of action as well?

Not watering the grass in July and August, for example.

Which leads to only mowing once or twice in July and August — good for Mother Nature, good for summer siestas.

So I was really excited when Shari Wilson told me about a local experiment in no-till gardening. I hate rototilling. More precisely, I hate imposing on friends to borrow a tiller and on my husband to wrestle it around the garden. (It’s not as easy as it looks on infomercials.)

Wilson is special projects coordinator for Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education. The no-till experiment in question is being conducted at Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, KS.

Back in early May science teacher Michael Hotz showed me side-by-side plantings in the garden he created in 1999 in an interior courtyard surrounded by three-story brick walls but open to the sky. Half of one bed had been planted with vegetable crops such as peas, spinach and potatoes using traditional rototilling. The other side was planted with the same crops using a no-till method.

The no-till bed appeared to have had a better germination rate: Rows were uniformly full with no empty gaps like on the tilled side. The plants were slightly larger, too, but the most noticeable difference was the relative lack of weeds compared to the tilled bed.

Farmers Steve Mann of Platte Prairie Farms in the Northland and Joe Jennings of Kansas City, Kan., who work with Hotz teaching students how to grow food, explained how no-till works:

  • On a bed that has been cleared of large weeds and leveled, cover the soil with eight-page-thick sections of newspaper that have been soaked in a tub of water, overlapping sections by one-third.
  • Cover the newspaper with 6 inches of semi-composted mulch, such as shredded leaves and ground up limbs.
  • Make furrows in the mulch for sowing seeds, or holes for transplanting seedlings. Fill furrows and planting holes with a topsoil-compost mixture, then plant as usual.
  • Add more mulch during the season.

Mann and Jennings, who use organic farming methods, like no-till cultivation because it is better for the soil. I like it because it’s better for my back. The eco-friendliness is a nice fringe benefit.

Roto-tilling has several problems: It kicks weed seeds to the surface where they can germinate; increases erosion, and interferes with the natural balance of microorganisms below the soil. If you keep improving the soil from the top, earthworms will take care of the “tilling” from below.

Reach Cindy Hoedel at
choedel (a) kcstar . com

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