Three Different Types of Gardening

Humans have been gardening for a long time. There are tons of different types of gardening methods out there for growing food. I’m going to just touch on three of the most common you see today for organic gardening at home. All three of these methods work great for organic gardening for beginners or even for the most advanced gardener.

Gardening is starting to come back in style, and I hope it never goes out again. Not only does it connect us back to nature, but it is also very healthy for our bodies to be consuming organic, local, and seasonal produce for the majority of our diet.

Let’s dive into the three main ways you can garden: traditional till gardens, raised bed gardens, and no-till gardens. These are the three main ways that most people in North America garden today, and they all have their pros and cons. I personally think the no-till method carries the most benefits, which is why I’ve chosen to garden that way for the last decade. However, the other methods carry their own advantages.

Traditional Gardens

A traditional garden in the ground is the most common backyard garden you will find. This involves picking a spot in your yard or on your small farm with good sun exposure and tilling the soil. Tilling is the process of breaking up and stirring the soil, and it can be done when someone is first putting in a garden spot.

You till up all the grass and expose the soil that is underneath. However, even after you’ve tilled once, you will have to continue to till your soil each spring before planting because when you till the soil and then water it, it compacts and gets hard again. So after a full season of gardening, the soil will be too compact to plant in again the next season.

What You Need

Most people till using a rototiller. This is a gas powered machine that’s easy to walk behind as it tills up your soil. They work great and are good for gardens that are 2000 square feet or less. For people who have larger gardens, they might choose to till or plow their garden with a tractor.

How to Plant in a Tilled Garden

Usually after tilling, the garden is then ready for planting. You plant your seeds and water and wait. The seeds begin to sprout but so do the weeds. So you spend a lot of time weeding a tilled garden. Tilling doesn’t get rid of weeds, it actually can encourage them to grow because it stirs them up and then you water them. Which they love! Another problem with tilling which I mentioned above is compaction. Because the soil now has no covering (the grass or ground cover is gone) when it is watered, it compacts and gets hard. If you’ve ever seen a pasture that has too many animals grazing in it, you know what I mean. They’ve eaten all the grass taking away the soil’s covering, and then when it rains, the soil gets hard and sometimes even has large cracks in it. People choose this gardening method because it’s what they know and because it’s been done for such a long time. But there are some big disadvantages when it comes to watering, weeding, and overall soil health.

The Disadvantages of Tilling

Regeneration International put it perfectly,

Tillage loosens and removes any plant matter covering the soil, leaving it bare. Bare soil, especially soil that is deficient in rich organic matter, is more likely to be eroded by wind and water. Think of it this way: Undisturbed soil resembles a sponge, held together by an intricate structure of different soil particles and channels created by roots and soil organisms. When the soil is disturbed by tilling, its structure becomes less able to absorb and infiltrate water and nutrients.”

Spears, 2018

Raised Bed Gardens

Raised bed gardens are really catching on in the world of backyard gardening. Just type in “raised bed garden” on Pinterest and you’ll see what I mean! Raised bed gardens are very aesthetically pleasing.

There are so many different types of garden designs when you do raised beds. They can be beautiful and often have an artistic flair to them. You can make them out of wood, stone, or tin. Each type has its own architectural style which is fun for homeowners to customize to their own taste. 

Advantages of a Raised Bed

Another advantage of raised beds is their height. You don’t have to bend over much to plant, weed, and harvest in your garden. They are also great if you have a big problem with moles and other tunneling garden pests in your area. You can line the bottom of the raised beds with a mesh wire preventing the tunneling animals from coming up into the beds. They also have less weeds than a tilled garden. Because you are bringing organic soil in, oftentimes the weed seeds have been cooked to death during the composting process so you mainly be fighting those that blow in on the wind.

Disadvantages of a Raised Bed

In spite of all these advantages, there are also several problems with raised beds. Although this isn’t an issue for everyone, if you are on a tight budget, they are the most expensive garden to install. The materials for building, the cost of organic soil, and the possibility of needing an irrigation system can add up. Another issue is water. Just like in the traditional garden, the exposed soil will compact, and it doesn’t hold moisture. I highly recommend placing woodchips on top of the soil to help with this issue. It keeps the soil from compacting and makes it so you have to water less, but you will still need to water more than a no-till method garden.

No-Till Gardens

Last, let’s look at the no-till method. A no-till garden needs more upfront work than a traditional garden because you have to really prepare your garden spot. It also requires planning several months in advance of when you want to start planting. But really, that’s the only downside. 

Understanding How a No-Till Garden Works

You pick a spot just like you would for a traditional garden, but instead of tilling the soil, you cover it with something like butcher paper or contractor’s paper. Many people use cardboard or newspaper, but I’ll explain later why I don’t think that’s a good idea. You then cover the paper with a thick layer of woodchips. This is not mulch that you buy from a landscaping or hardware store. Woodchips come from a chipper truck that you see arborists use when they are pruning or cutting down trees.

Why Leaving the Soil “As Is” Works Best

Utilizing this method lets the soil stay “as is.” You aren’t stirring up any weeds or adding any unnecessary oxygen into the soil. You are also covering it to prevent compaction and help hold in moisture. The woodchips also break down over time to add compost and nutrients to the soil. As they break down, you simply add more on top. You never have to till, and once your garden is in place, other than occasionally adding compost or more woodchips, there is no annual work of tilling. Another pro is that you rarely need to weed and water.

Again, I love the way Regeneration International put it, 

No-till practices allow the soil structure to stay intact and also protect the soil by leaving crop residue on the soil surface. Improved soil structure and soil cover increase the soil’s ability to absorb and infiltrate water, which in turn reduces soil erosion and runoff and prevents pollution from entering nearby water sources.

No-till practices also slow evaporation, which not only means better absorption of rainwater, but it also increases irrigation efficiency, ultimately leading to higher yields, especially during hot and dry weather.

Soil microorganisms, fungi and bacteria, critical to soil health, also benefit from no-till practices. When soil is left undisturbed, beneficial soil organisms can establish their communities and feed off of the soil’s organic matter. A healthy soil biome is important for nutrient cycling and suppressing plant diseases. As soil organic matter improves, so does the soil’s internal structure—increasing the soil’s capacity to grow more nutrient-dense crops.

Spears, 2018

What Does It Cost?

The no-till method is also very cost effective. You will probably need to purchase the paper, but other than that you can usually get the woodchips for free. I will soon be releasing an ebook where I dive into the practical “how to’s” of the no-till method. If this method of gardening is something you are interested in, this book will give you all of the knowledge you need to get started!

Which Method Should You Use

There are many different types of vegetable gardens out there, and each has its pros and cons. I personally love the no-till method. Although it is a lot of work upfront, I think it by far has the most long term benefits. If you are thinking of starting a garden in your backyard, think through the different types and figure out which would be best for you and your family!

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