Creating garden beds my No-Till way!
For those who have a bit of lawn – treasure it. Lawns are our hedge from the tilling machines that destroy our soils.
When it is desired to convert some areas in lawn to grow vegetables it is of course necessary to first kill the grass, which commonly takes a long time (an entire season). But I have found a way that requires only a month or so to ready the soil for planting. It is similar to the Lasagna garden of permaculture lore, except simpler.
To get some roots of the grass to die immediately mow the grass as short as possible to remove most of the photosynthesizing leaves. Use the clippings obtained as mulch by spreading them on the new garden bed, which will further activate the decomposing organisms.
On top of this mulch I use three foot wide heavy duty kraft paper which defines the bed as well as restricting light. On top of the kraft paper I put another layer of grass clipping mulch, about 3 inches thick, and let it dry for a day or two, subsequently adding another 3 inches of fresh mulch before adding another sheet of kraft paper over that mulch, adding another 3 inches of mulch over this sheet – or more if coarse mulch is used. This second sheet of kraft paper, being farther from the soil, does not decompose as fast as the first sheet. This last mulch is better, if it is not too nitrogen rich, as it will provide a longer lasting mulch, unless you are prepared to add more mulch as the plants grow.
At this point, and with the sheet mulch wetted, I excavate the path alongside, approximately 3 inches, putting the soil on top of the mulch. The excavated path I fill with wood chips. The wood chips provide drainage for the beds, suppress weeds and gradually provide nutrients to the adjacent plants as it slowly decomposes. In a month or so I can plant most vegetables (legumes particularly are good). With certain vegetables some initial foliar feeding might be necessary, or wait three months before planting and no foliar feeding would likely be needed. On top of the seed I add mulch at appropriate thickness. This bed will need more frequent watering as capillary watering (from below) will not occur.
The soil in these garden beds will remain permanently fertile as under previous grass, since the carefully structured and organized microclimate will have remained intact. Of particular significance to keep intact is the mycorrhizae fungi that exists in all lawns feeding plants hard to absorb phosphorus, as well as other nutrients. Incidentally the kraft paper light barriers could be eliminated if the grass involved is a bunch, rather than a creeping grass. In that case, however, the fresh grass clippings would need to dry somewhat between layering to obtain sufficient depth.
Happy Gardening the No-Till Way!