By Kim Judd –

No weeding, no watering, no pests, no till, no dig. No way! It’s all about ground cover and building healthy soil. Skeptical? Well, no doubt. But ask yourself this: is my soil truly alive? How can healthy and nutritious fruits and vegetables grow to their ultimate potential otherwise? What are some recognizable characteristics of healthy soil? The answer to this question will lead us to the answer of how you can start building a garden or flower bed that looks after itself. All you will require once it’s established is a rake and seeds. This method comes full circle again to building compost, which is essential to give back nutrients that plants are using each year.

It all begins and ends with ground cover, free local resources that you can collect throughout the year. Mulching can be done with straw, leaves, grass clippings, chop and drop, cardboard, newspaper, and wood chips. To be specific, the type of wood chips we are talking about here are ramial, which means small branches and leaves are also included in the mix.

Mulched herb garden. Photo: Whitney Claire/
Mulched herb garden. Photo: MyNeChimKi

If creating a garden, sounds like too much work, you are working too hard in your garden. Believe it or not, building soil begins in the fall. Consider this as an approach. All summer long trees are pulling up nutrients and storing them in their leaves. Fall arrives, cool weather greets us, and leaves fall to the ground. In the forest, they stay where they lay and begin to break down with help thanks to bacteria, fungi, insects, and vermiculture, feeding the tree for spring to start the process all over again.Here are the steps to building a garden without breaking your back or your wallet. Let’s say you want to build a brand new garden in a space previously lawn. In the fall, lay down cardboard. This will choke out the grasses growing there. You’ll want to leave the roots, as this will be used to aerate the soil and begin the break down as food in this microbial environment. You can then lay with compost, leaves, coffee ground, crushed egg shells, and finally approximately four inches of wood chips. Allow this the settle and break down over winter. Once spring arrives and the weather has warmed enough to plant seeds, rake back the wood chips and sow the seeds. Water to germinate. Once plants have germinated, then rake back the wood chips. Voila, garden. Eventually the wood chips will break down to help build your soil. Yearly maintenance includes building compost from your yard waste and occasionally laying more wood chips as they break down. This process can be started in the spring; it will just require you to be sourcing compost and wood chips before you begin, and allowing it to condition.

Let’s trouble shoot. In the scenario you build a Back to Eden garden and you begin to see weeds growing through the mulch, there is an easy solution. Rake back the wood chips and lay newspaper or cardboard and cover with wood chips again. Or, cover with thicker wood chips. Many gardeners have had layered wood chips up to 16 inches.

No watering. If it’s an extremely dry year, you may find yourself watering. But really let’s ask, what are you growing that requires constant watering? Is it sustainable in the area or designed to be growing in a different climate? There are a lot of wild edibles that are native to this area and no one is out in the forest with a watering can.

No pests. If you find your garden is being overrun with pests, ask yourself, is my garden planted in such a monoculture way that pests are attracted to this area because it just row upon row of the same plant? If so, mix it up a bit and build a food forest. Another consideration is, are the plants in distress? A number of things will cause stress in plants: being transplanted, temperature, disease, and poor soil.

Essentially, a healthy soil is the most beneficial way to can protect your plants as pests are attracted to plants that are suffering—an attack on the weak mentality. You know the saying, “happy wife, happy life”? Well, the same applies to your garden: “Healthy soil, healthy plants.”

No till, no dig. How many times have I heard someone tell me a story of rototilling their garden and within days and weeks the crack grass, thistles, mustard, and milk weeds are right back up again choking out anything that managed to germinate. These weeds love it when you rototill, bringing weed seeds to the surface, breaking up grass and weed rhizomes underground. And so till again, again, and again, until eventually it doesn’t seem worth it. Well, it’s not, really. Actually tilling your garden breaks up all the beneficial organisms growing there. If you want that fluffy light soil that doesn’t compact when you step on it, consider adding soil amendments such as compost. Then protect it with mulch. It’s essential that you leave the roots of the plants in the ground that fall. Just cut the stalks and compost them; the roots will assist in building healthy soil. Allow nature to do the work for you. Building a rich healthy soil doesn’t happen overnight, but keep nurturing it and you will be rewarded.

In recognition of YouTube videos by Paul Gouchi of Back to Eden Garden, Starry Hilder of Off Grid Homestead, Dan of Plant Abundance, and Patrick of One Yard Revolution.

At the age of three, Kim moved to Williams Lake from Ottawa, Ontario. She has lived here the majority of her life. Since early childhood, Kim attributes her love of gardening, art, and movement from her parents.


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