Adventures in Permaculture – Preparing for Planting The No Till Way

In 1975 it was pretty common practice to fill in a wetland to build a house and that’s exactly what happened with my home and 1.7 acre property.  The  soil used to fill the site  was heavy clay and (obviously) some poorly drained areas managed to peak through the clay fill especially at the edges of my property which borders Spring Brook.   The next assault to this landscape came when thick sheets of black plastic were laid down under all the planting beds. ‘Back int he day’ this was thought to prevent weeds, but alas, does not work as weed seeds land on top. This practice gets my vote as probably one of the worst ideas in gardening yet.    It soon became apparent that digging into this  murky, plastic covered mess to plant  was a waste of time.  So the first thing I did upon moving in was rip out a bed of overgrown poodle junipers and order a delivery of 10 cubic yards of compost. Over the past seven years I’ve practiced no till gardening which has always created a lot of interest in students and others when I explain what I’m doing.  So here is my spring planting process, pretty much from start to finish, for my vegetable garden this spring.  My house is set back on the lot with the largest part of my yard facing south so perfect for flower and vegetable gardening.  We’ve been slowly reducing the massive amount of turf grass we have by converting it to native plantings and flower/vegetable growing.  The front yard closest to the entry has a large flower garden mingling with a vegetable garden wrapping around to the west of the house.  I like having vegetables and herbs near by for ease of care and to harvest, so in the front yard it is.

Vegetable garden before layering with paper and straw

Vegetable garden before layering with paper and straw

After Layering with paper and straw

After Layering with paper and straw


The cold, wet spring this year made it hard to get in the garden to do anything.  The wet conditions made the weeds grow well and when I finally got into the garden, the thistles and wild lettuce were growing gangbusters.  Instead of poisoning or pulling, I smother.  I stomp on the weeds to flatten them and then layer newspaper in sheets about 4-5 pages thick.  I make sure to cover the weeds from light fully and then pile on a thick layer of straw.  The straw was purchased last fall and was stored over winter as insulated walls making up my compost pile.  I started with about 20 straw bales

Straw bales stored over winter used in garden

Straw bales stored over winter used in garden


Some of the straw was used in the garden in fall and this particular load of bales contained a lot of seed which sprouted to become a rather large wheat crop in my garden and flowering now in June, it will be ready for harvest in a few weeks.  I decided to let it grow and use it as a support for tomatoes and a trellis for beans.  Who knew wheat flowers were so sweetly scented!

I don’t plant much in rows but more in patches based on sun and slope.  Paths are important in this type of garden so some of the wheat near the front door was pulled and laid flat with paper and straw over top to form paths.


wheat was pulled and flattened with paper and strawo n top.

wheat was pulled and flattened with paper and straw on top.




I felt like I had to pull the straw first to make the path as it was so tall and fairly stiff and hard to stomp down.  While this process was a lot of work it isn’t as hard as pulling weeds which just come back.  As weeds do manage to find there way through the paper and straw layer I’ll just flop another layer over it and try again.    I did apply Roundup in about April when weeds first began emerging to sort of knock down the worst but it was  full of thistle, bind weed and wild lettuce by mid June.

Tomorrow I’ll show you how to plant once you get the bed prepared




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