John James Audubon wrote, “A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.”
Kevin Brown, agriculture resource specialist at the Bradford County Conservation District (BCCD) wanted to communicate with people who have gardens on a smaller scale than the large farms. He felt that the backyard gardeners need to be concerned about conservation of soil and erosion prevention, just as much as the farmers. According to Brown, some people don’t realize the power of water, even a single raindrop.
“The impact of the raindrop is like a small bomb going off when it hits the soil,” explained Brown. “So you want to protect the soil. When you fertilize your garden the nutrients are in the top layer – a few inches – and if water hits it and it runs off, you are losing your best soil.”
Brown feels it is best to mulch plants in a garden.
“When rain hits mulch, it disperses its energy and doesn’t dislodge the soil particles underneath the mulch,” said Brown, who explained that this concept is important for the backyard gardeners to be aware of along with the farmers.
The large-scale farmer plants a cover crop that acts like mulch. Rain hits the cover crop instead of the soil directly. That takes the energy out of the raindrop. In addition, the living roots are preventing erosion.
Working out of the BCCD office, across from the Wysox Fire Company, Brown has begun to teach gardeners about the no-till mulch method of gardening. No-till means just that. You don’t till or turn under the soil. This keeps the soil firmer. It keeps it “glued together” better. It’s not loose; therefore it loses fewer nutrients.
He had started with no-till agriculture on a large scale, but saw the benefit of bringing it to the scale of the backyard gardener.
Brown contacted someone he knew in the area who did the no-till mulch method in his garden, who had learned it from Ruth Stout, a world-renowned gardener who used this method. Nicknamed the “Mulch Queen,” Stout discovered that the traditional methods of gardening – digging, weeding, watering, plowing and hoeing could be replaced with mulching. She used hay.
After Brown learned the method, he brought it to the BCCD office. Concerned about soil erosion and flooding, the BCCD soon realized that every little bit helps and are promoting the no-till mulch method of gardening.
In 2018, he had a few workshops for the public to show how the method works. According to Brown it works because it prevents erosion; no rototiller or plow is needed; no rock picking is necessary and very little weeding needs to be done.
“Weeds can only germinate three to five times the thickness of the seed itself,” explained Brown. “The larger the seed, the deeper it goes. By putting a thick layer of mulch on the garden, you are preventing the weed seeds from sprouting. When it’s time to plant your garden, just pull the mulch aside and plant your seeds. It works the same way when planting plants.”
In 2019 he started a no-till mulch garden at the Stoll Building where the BCCD offices are located. He measured out an area for the garden and mowed the lawn in that space. Then he put manure on top of the mowed area, adding a thick layer of hay on top of that. By June he put in plants, donated by Greener Pastures and John Sullivan donated the hay.
At the 2019 Troy Fair, Brown was at the Agsporation Station demonstrating soil health, including the no-till mulch method of gardening.
According to Brown, hay is not the only material that can be used for mulch. Leaves and grass clippings also make good mulch.
For the backyard home gardeners, this no-till mulch method seems like the way to go. They can prevent soil erosion and flooding, and at the same time use a much easier gardening method. For more information, contact Kevin Brown at (570) 265-5539, extension 3105.
Now that the leaves have fallen, it’s a good time to put them to good use instead of sending them off to the landfill or burning them. Sweeping them up with grass clippings and putting them on the garden in the fall is a good way to put your garden to bed for the winter. It will be ready to plant in the spring.
“With the no-till mulch method, perhaps more people will garden,” said Kevin Brown. “It’s so easy. What little work it takes, now is the time of year to do it.”
It’s time to put your garden to bed.