Grow More, Waste Less

What a month it has been! I’ve been travelling all over eastern Kentucky visiting the beautiful gardens of our Grow Appalachia participants. Our gardeners are constantly finding new, innovative ways to grow more and waste less. Here are a couple of their best ideas:

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Why buy costly plastic mulch when you can use cardboard? It blocks out sunlight, is biodegradable, and you probably already have some at home.  Similar to wood mulch, cardboard enriches the topsoil as it decomposes by holding onto nutrients and providing a home for beneficial bacteria.

Many plants need a structure to grow on. While you could use Hortonova or wire trellises, anything that provides a foothold for vines will do! Pictured here is tomato and squash plants climbing up an old bedframe.

Conservation Tillage

When a garden is tilled, its soil is exposed to the forces of wind and rain. Part of the topsoil is lost to erosion each year in a tilled field. After several years of erosion, a garden with friable, fertile soil becomes a garden with hard, infertile soil.

Most growers till their soil several times a year. However, there’s a way to grow crops without compromising soil integrity. This practice is known as conservation tillage.

Conservation tillage is when crops are planted using minimal or no tilling, leaving the soil between rows undisturbed. To implement conservation tillage on a garden-sized scale, till or hoe a narrow band of soil. Plant your crops in that narrow band, leaving the space in between the rows undisturbed. Mow the grass, clover, weeds, etc. that grows in between the rows with a lawn mower or weed-eater so that they don’t compete with the crops for nutrients.

There are several benefits to using conservation tillage in addition to preventing erosion. Undisturbed soil holds onto more water and nutrients than tilled soil. When it does rain, less nutrients run off into rivers and streams. This keeps streams healthy by preventing eutrophication, or the loss of oxygen and subsequent killing of aquatic life in a nutrient-rich stream. By using conservation tillage, you can spend less money on fertilizer and irrigation, prevent erosion, and help keep streams healthy.