How I Started My Intensively Planted, Organic, No-Till Garden on Hard Clay Soil With Weeds (or “Diary-of-Someone-Who- Saves-Tons-of-Money-by-Growing-Their-Own-Food”)


I started by laying cardboard down on top of the grass where I wanted my garden.  Then I threw all kinds of leaves, grass clippings etc. on top.  After a few months, I cut holes in the cardboard, dug a hole and planted a plant with some good compost (spread the poor soil over the compost on the cardboard). The first year I didn’t attempt planting seeds.


(NOTE: You don’t have to PURCHASE a tiller!)


Thereafter I just kept adding leaves, paper, and cardboard to keep the weeds out.  We don’t have trash pickup so all paper products, boxes, etc. go to the garden.  This is a great way to get rid of juWhy put compostables in the landfill? 


My compost pile is constantly moving. When I need space to plant, I shove it over. Or plant in it!  Cover with grass clippings if you don’t want to see carrot peelings and such.  If a weed comes through, I pull it and throw it on top of the compost/mulch.  If it has seed heads, it goes to our free-range chickens.


I use a deep composting method in my chicken coop (all free, I’ll mention that later) so I drop composted chicken manure near the base of the plants for extra fertilizer.


The first year I didn’t garden at all in the winter (I am able to garden nearly year round in our mild climate).  I simply lay cardboard down so it would be easy to plant (no weeds) in the spring. Then I pulled it aside to my paths.  I kept the boxes from blowing around by weighing them down with uncomposted cow manure or chicken manure (whatever you have on hand).  You don’t want to put uncomposted manure on plants, it will “burn” them.


This reminds me why I don’t like raised beds in boxes–it’s a pain to pull the weeds at the outside and inside edges of the boxes.  I can easily put newspaper to the edge of what is growing. Plus, I’m too cheap and lazy to build boxes. And too impatient:)


I started with rows, but have now made wide beds that the middle can be reached from each side easily.  When I plant spinach for instance, I fill the entire bed for a foot or so in the bed, then put something else next to it. You might say my rows look striped. I try to confuse the bugs.  It is far easier for them to traverse a straight row of something they love to eat.  They get confused if they have to jump over garlic, say to get to something they love.


I use all manner of boxes for my paths. Just stick your thumb on the seam of a cereal box and you will split it.  I put the colored side up on the paths–last longer.


I sprinkle egg shells around my tender seedlings to protect them from slugs and cutworms.  I dump my coffee grounds around the base of the plants once they are strong and this fertilizes them and keeps the weeds down at the base where it’s hard to pull weeds.


(NOTE: You don’t have to PURCHASE good fertilizer!)



The first year I started with easy things to grow: beans, squash, garlic.  At the beginning I was not strong enough to dig the holes–I had to rely on my DH!  Now the soil is very workable and almost black.


(NOTE: You don’t have to PURCHASE good soil!)


When planting, I look for a big weed that needs to be pulled.  I just plant in that hole. A twofer!  When you plant intensively, the good plants crowd out the bad weeds.  You don’t want ANY exposed soil.  So plant lettuce between your cabbages and broccoli in the spring.  Until cabbage and broccoli gets big (and it gets too hot for lettuce) your lettuce will be something to eat while keeping that space from getting weedy.  By the time it’s too hot for lettuce, the cabbage and broccoli leaves have filled in the space.


Announcement of soon-to-come-post: You don’t have to purchase seeds! Tune in next time…..




Filed under garden, saving, Uncategorized

3 responses to “How I Started My Intensively Planted, Organic, No-Till Garden on Hard Clay Soil With Weeds (or “Diary-of-Someone-Who- Saves-Tons-of-Money-by-Growing-Their-Own-Food”)

  1. Interesting stuff here! I love the way you use cardboard as mulch and compost – I’ve wondered if that would work!
    I’m blogging about your post. Hope you don’t mind, but you’ve really caught my attention.
    How long have you been working your garden? Did you get a good crop right from the start?
    Do you have any problems with animals getting into it?
    I live in a mild climate too, where a garden could be a tremendous asset after the initial investment if we could just get past a few obstacles. Your post was very encouraging.

  2. prudentclassroom

    Thanks Kim C for mentioning my blog. I’ ll be posting what I do weekly to provide food for my family for nearly zero cost.

    Your questions:How long have you been working your garden? I think that it has been about five years. I noticed that in three seasons there was significant difference and I could plant almost anything, certainly seeds.

    I didn’t begin by planting seeds or crops that were difficult. I started with tomatoes, beans, squash and zucchini.

    I dug a hole (not easy in our then-cement soil) and filled the hole with potting soil and compost. then I put each plant start in that. Then mulched heavily around it with paper to keep the weeds down and keep the moisture in.

    Did you get a good crop right from the start? Vegetables were smaller and more prone to insects at the beginning. The healthier your soil, the better your plants can fight off a little disease or insects without chemicals (which aren’t frugal either).

    I did get enough to make a difference in the grocery bill.

    I should add that I always bought the cheapest seeds (now I save my own and trade)so I could plant enough for the inevitable insects, animals, birds, etc..

    Here is what I posted at your blog:
    Hi! I’m the Lady whose blog you mentioned. I will try to answer some of your questions here and some on my blog (because that’s where you posted them…)

    About varmints: I have a dog who I post out on lookout during the day and many farm cats. Also, I have a double fence on one side that is actually a cattle path. Deer won’t jump two fences!

    About the paper mulch: I use whatever I can get my hands on. I patrol neighborhoods in the fall and pick up bagged leaves to put in my garden as mulch too!

    Someone mentioned worm composting (vermicomposting). That is essentially what is being done here. The worms love to eat the paper and while doing so leave perfect tunnels for the water to get to roots. Plus they leave the perfect PH fertilizer which is free and won’t leave harmful salts like store bought fertilizer will.

    The paper mulch does all that AND keeps the garden moist so I don’t have to water as much and keeps the weeds down so I don’t have to weed as much.

    As I said, I started with hard clay soil. In just a few seasons: spring, winter, spring–I had nice rich black soil. My husband can’t get over the difference. I don’t need a tiller, but I finally have one, but only use it occasionally. I like to let the worms till for me.

    Hope that helps. Come back to visit my blog because I will be blogging year round about what I’m doing in the garden that is frugal and yields NUTRITIOUS food that is almost free.

  3. Beverly

    I have been setting up a large no-till garden using composed manure and composted leaves. However, the compost seems to dry quickly and subseuqently dries out the seedlings. Is the answer to simply water more often? Is this normal? Also, some of my seedling have a yellow color to them–I realize that represents a deficiency….perhaps my manure isn’t not composed well enough. Probably need to add some amendments. If you have any experience or insight into this problem, I would be grateful.


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