to till or not to till

stakeMarch 26, 2014

Hi All:

I have a 15'x30' garden...I have been going through a multi-year process of raising it to a raised bed,,,I have been getting rich top soil from the bottom of my hill (and compost pile) and rototilling it in to amend pretty marginal clay soil...well, was listening to the local PBS guy who said don't till....your garden cause it stirs up dormant seeds...your thoughts?

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We work a garden six times that size by hand. I gave the tiller to a church group years ago, and have never regretted it.

In spring many beds can be prepped using a broadfork. Once the deep holes are made with the broadfork, compost spread over the surface the trickles down into the root zone. After some grooming with a rake, the bed is ready to plant. This technique is not so much about weeds as about aerating the soil without tearing up the soil food web, particularly its fungal component.

Depending on soil, some gardeners can broadfork year after year with good results, but my clay soil needs to be dug and aerated with a digging fork every other year. Otherwise it loses its loft, which the cabbage family seems to like. I try to plant them in beds that haven't been redug for a year.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 8:31AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Do a search here. There are numerous till, no till debates here and it is a hot button topic. They always turn into very long, controversial, and heated arguments that don't need to be repeated yet again.


Here is a link that might be useful: To till or not discussions

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 10:29AM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

Good one Dave!

I do till in some amendments and residue. I chop and mow up crop residues.. It is my garden and I will do what works good for me no matter what Joe guru likes to do.

That said, I have very healthy soil and do like to do some weeding by light tillage and I do like to freshly open up the soil for planting. I have wide raised and amended beds from 7 to 16 feet wide and of course walk on them some to no hurt.

If I felt I needed to loosen things a bit, I would and do use a potato like a small broadfork.

The field adjacent to me is no-till and that works well too. However they spray to kill off weeds rather than hiring 36 hoers.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 12:37PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

To till or not to till, there is the question. But there is no single, simple answer to that.
I personally DO till. Like PLANATUS, I do it manually using a shovel. A broad fork also will do.
I believe tilling does good. The number one advantage is , it aerates and loosens up the compacted soil to provide better drainage. Number 2, when you add amendments (compost, manure) it gets blended in and help the roots to grow better. Roots like fluffy soil better than compacted one.


    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 7:59PM
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Feel free to garden any way that makes you happy. Just remember that people have been producing great gardens for decades using rototillers. Over-tilling is a problem on farms, where they might drag steel through their soil 5-6 times before planting seeds. In a back-yard garden, you'll never use the contraptions farmers do - disk harrows, etc - so it's really not an issue.

Personally, I always go through my plots with a pitchfork each year. To the degree that that's 'tilling,' I find it helps incorporate fertilizer and organic matter. And there is always an endless supply of rocks and broken glass in my back yard to deal with.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 3:28PM
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Thanks to all for your thoughts...I really didn't mean to stir a pot...I have really marginal soil and have been moving 10-20 wheel barrows a yr to amend and raise....its a 5 yr project and I am only beginning on year 3..and every year the weeds are over the top...was just hoping to find a way to get ahead of the curve...again Thanks!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 7:31PM
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grow_life(6A OH)

I find fall tilling helpful to incorporate amendments. If I do till, it's never more than the top two inches. If weeds are such a problem, mulch your beds with shredded leaves, straw, grass clippings, whatever. At season,s end, rake up whatever hasn't broken down and compost it, or turn it under.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 8:00PM
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