Top photo: Organically grown greens of all kinds thriving in a mulched bed in the heat of summer.
No-till mulch gardening for year-round harvest
Famous for their moist, dark, and nutrient-rich castings, earthworms need a moist, dark environment and organic matter to eat in order to thrive and multiply. The best way to provide these conditions is to mulch your whole garden with every imaginable organic material. Some types of mulch are better suited to a certain type of bed or growing condition that others. For example, in open beds, I've found that stacks of baled hay is best. If I have the time, I'd also put wood chips on top of the hay to further keep the moisture in.
For greenhouses, I find that inverted spent wheatgrass mats are best. We grow a rotation of 24 trays of wheatgrass and sunflower sprouts at any given time. By the time the wheatgrass is ready to harvest (at 5" to 7" long), it has created a mass of interconnected root works that it holds itself like a mat, so we call it the wheatgrass mat or carpet. When we've harvested all the wheatgrass, say, from one tray, we give the leftovers to our birds.
The chickens love to pick on the spent wheat berries and in the process eat the bits of grass, too. The ducks and the geese go right for the greens, which they relish. I leave it out for them to work over from morning until I put them in in the evening. The mat is so intertwined that even the chickens who are good at scratching haven't able to dissemble the mat. I then put this mat upside down in the greenhouse and cold frames, and it the woven roots of the wheatgrass become my mulch.
The soil in which the wheatgrass grew is now returned to the earth, touching the soil that was already in the greenhouse or cold frame. The wheatgrass roots become food and bedding for the earthworms over time. It's a beautiful system that solves the headache of trying to mulch in an enclosed space. Hay dries out something terrible under greenhouse conditions and worms won't survive in the dryness. Plus hay is a hindrance to many of our vegetables, like the closely planted baby salads, minutina, and claytonia.
Wood chips are great for growing kale and chard in the greenhouse. We just pile them up 6 inches deep in the beds, then make holes (much easier to do than with hay) in the wood chips and plant our seeds.
Tidbit: PH soil, soil test: every square inch in your garden could be different, as in our garden, so soil test is useless. Unless you have a uniform soil throughout your garden, I'd say skip it.
How I make my worm castings: Per Ruth Stout, we just put fruit peels and vegetable trimmings under the mulch hay. The earthworms love them! Overtime, this adds great fertility to your soil without your having to manage a compost pile and then moving the pile to where you need it. Just compost in place everywhere in your garden where you need it. Soil structure is not disturbed and the worms are happy.
If you read enough gardening books, you no doubt will have heard all about...
Pests and Diseases that afflict plants
There are several pests and diseases that afflict any single plant you can think of, just as there are many diseases that afflict any single organ in the human body. If you keep going in this direction, however, you will be reduced to a quivering hypochondriac in no time. Don't do this or you'll get canker on your roses, do that or you'll get canker on your roses, and so on. Eat this pill or you'll break your bones, don't eat too much of that or you'll break your bones, and so on.
Well, the truth is, if you approach the whole question from the perspective of health, the picture looks very different.
I am no longer afraid of disease or pests in my body or my plants. Reading gardening books on such subjects give me a good healing laugh rather than nightmares of aphids crawling all over my kale. The garden is part of nature, and as with anything that's part of nature, it takes care of itself. It really does. All I do is provide the necessary conditions for earthworms to thrive and the plants and garden take care of themselves. Sure, from time to time I find a slug in leaf or holes in my vegetables, but we have plenty to eat, so what's the problem? Critters need to eat, too, don't they? As long as you have healthy fruits and vegetables to keep you in top shape, there's no harm in sharing the harvest.
Sounds simple? It is. As with anything in life, the simpler the better. Everything aspect of life works best this way. My life-long aim has been to chisel out the extraneous to get to the essence, the simplicity in all things. Reminds me of the story about the fisherman and the millionaire which goes like this:
In the Pacific Northwest, we are blessed with a mild temperate coastal climate that is ideal for winter gardening and harvest of fresh greens throughout the winter months. Hardy plants like kale and chard actively put out new growth sunny and warm winter days which are as common here as the more well-known cloudy, dim, rainy, drizzly winter days. As Eliot Coleman uses his latitude and length of days to his advantage in the more frigid Maine weather, we on the west coast use our relatively mild thermometer readings and long enough day length to grow a whole range of nutritious garden vegetables. Even the tomatoes in our 24-foot tall greenhouse bear until middle of December, with plenty of bright red and green fruits to store for use well into March or April. But greens are perhaps the most important part of our diet next to fruits, so we are grateful for being to obtain fresh organic green leaves from the garden the year round.
A spring salad of many delectable cold-hardy vegetables and flowers offered up by the garden in March
We were totally inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka's book The One-Straw Revolution. It made perfect sense to us, and we were fortunate to have read it before beginning life at our homestead. We never tilled our soil. Then we read Ruth Stout's books and loved them, too. Her books made us even more sure that sloughing is not only unnecessary but is often destructive to soil life. We have very little soil at the site we planted our garden, only gravel and rocks. But per Stout and Fukuoka, we simply laid down loads of baled hay on the the gravelly ground and started planting all manners of vegetables.
What we lack in topsoil is, in our opinion, more than made up for by the abundant sunshine we get with a full-on southern exposure that gives us light from 6 AM to almost 10 PM in the summer months. Even though there's not much water to speak of up at the top of the cliff, most of our plants don't seem to mind. It stands to reason that sunshine and well-drained soil are as important, if not more, than water and other things that plants supposedly require.
We got plenty of food the first year by gardening this way, even more the second year, and more than that the third year. Each year of gardening this way makes the soil more fertile than the year before, thanks to the work of countless earthworms who love to live in the moist, dark environment of the baled hay. They eat the rotting matter and deposit their worm castings everywhere, overtime converting the hay into fine black soil. Plants of course thrive on earthworm castings. It really is such a simple method and totally in tune with nature. In our young forest, we see trees grow on gravel, rock, clay, and all kinds of soil, with leaves as the major source of mulch and fertilizer. The firs, cedars, and arbutuses grown this way grow to towering heights. Why shouldn't our modest little vegetables thrive when such giants of the forest live on even less mulch?
This mulch method of gardening takes very little time, which we have very little of, what with our homestead chores, our many animals, and running Rawganique.com. Whatever time we have free is thankfully not spent on back-breaking work like tilling and digging and double-digging. Instead, we spend the rare free moments actually enjoying being in the garden, breathing fresh air, feeling the sun's rays warming our skin.