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No Tend Gardening - How DID They Do It?

When I was a kid, in school, we were told about Native Americans who were nomadic, who planted in the spring, foraged across their range in the summer, and came back to gather the harvest in the fall.

Having it drilled into us that nothing will produce if we are not there to snatch every opportunistic weed from the soil around our vulnerable plants, we simply cannot imagine such a careless attitude about growing food!

How DID they do it?

There are four basic requirements if you want to practice No Tend gardening as they did. And meeting these requirements will also help you to reduce the amount of tending in your garden.

  1. Choose plants which naturally do well in the climate and conditions which you have available. We are schooled into an idea of a vegetable garden that must contain certain items, regardless of whether they grow well in our area or not. We must have our tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuces, whether they grow easily or not! The plants must be able to grow well without additional watering, and to repel the pests common to the area. Wild plants do this well - and our vegetables were originally wild plants, and most still have those same capabilities, IF they are paired with the right growing conditions. You have to research YOUR growing conditions, and the requirements of vegetables you like, and see which ones fit best.

  2. Choose plants which are aggressive growers, which can compete well with the weeds. Plants like beans, corn, amaranth, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and many others are very strong growers, and can hold their own against weeds. Give them the right conditions, and they can become weeds themselves.

  3. Choose a location which is suitable for growing plants all year. Low ground that gathers water is good in many places, but in others, it will flood. High traffic areas for wild foragers are not good ones either - and certainly you won't want an area where the buffalo are likely to stampede... Ok, so maybe our concerns are a bit different! But the point is, consider what is going to happen on that spot through the entire season. Whether you are there or not, if you want low maintenance, this is essential.

  4. This last item is optional for US, but was not for them. Native Americans had to plant crops that matured in the fall, at a fairly predictable time. This means they chose shelled beans, dried corn, pumpkins, root crops, winter squash, and other crops which are ready in the fall for harvest, and can stay in the field for a while. Now, in our circumstances, we could harvest early peas, lettuces (which do grow like weeds in some places), green beans, broccoli, and other early and mid-season crops.

Planting was done using a No Till method. Use a sharp stick to make a hole to plant the seed, right in the sod. No more competition in the sod than when left to the opportunistic weeds that grow in tilled soil - and sod possessed more qualities and structure to encourage better growth in the veggies.

While most of us have no real need to do complete No Tend gardening, it might provide a useful method for untended fields where we had the time to plant, but not to tend. If you choose the right crops, and the right location, there is every chance you could bring in an extra crop in the fall - one that didn't mind waiting until you had the time to haul it in.

Especially on a farm where you need more storable crops for animal feed in the winter, such crops could be invaluable. Most of the No Tend crops favored historically were crops which were stored for winter use. This makes them eminently suitable for use for both people, and animals, as additional easy care crops to add to the more intensively cared for fields or gardens.

Whether you choose to give the whole concept a try, or simply use the principles to lessen the work required to produce your own food, it is worth exploring to see what your land and climate might be capable of producing without having to hover and provide every need for the growing plants.

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