Fluff, then compost or till it in?

nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)February 10, 2013

My raised beds have become a bit compacted, and I have a good amount of compost ready to go right now.
I was thinking of borrowing one of those small tillers to just fluff things up.
Should I till in the compost or fluff up the soil and top dress? Ideas? Nancy

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Depends. Tilling is known to harm the Soil Food Web that may be in your soil and compost, but that is a quick way to get the compost mixed into the soil. Tilling, with gasoline or electric powered tools, also uses non renewable resources which also contibute to air pollution.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 6:49AM
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I think either method will work just fine.

You always hear about folks mixing compost in to the top 2" - 6" of their gardens. Since I can't plant anything in my garden (and it's a small garden) right now, I enjoy the physical process of turning my beds by hand (shovel, fork, hoe etc.).

I would suggest doing whatever works best for you considering your time schedule, physical abilities and equiptment.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 11:08AM
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If your soil really is compacted, I'd fork it in for sure. You want to amend the soil where the roots are, not where you can see on the surface. And don't worry about your 'soil food web' - once through with a pitchfork or tiller isn't going to harm organisms so small you can't see them - they just get pushed around. Tilling is only a problem in farming, where they go through the fields multiple times each year. You're talking about doing it once before the growing season.

And just to add: I find it laughable that someone who is using his/her local power plant - and massive internet server farms somewhere - to give you advice is telling you not to take advantage of power tools to do a one per year job that will help your gardening - on a gardening web site. Just sayin.'

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 12:31PM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

raised bed for veggies or permanent perennial bed?

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 11:51AM
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What type of soil is in your raised beds? Soil mix with peat, perlite or vermiculite, & compost or native soil or blend of all? How much organic matter?

Pure compost breaks down & compacts. Top is crusty.

Did you layer on compost in the fall? Do you have a lot of rain that might have compacted the soil? Is it free draining or is it mucky? If wet now don't touch it or you mess with the soil structure. Roots need that structure to breathe.

If you don't want to till just use a garden fork after you've spread your compost. Raised beds usually don't need tilling if you've not stepped in them.

insert fork
rock back & forth
remove fork & insert in another spot

It will look chunky and uneven. Let the rain & worms do the rest of the work.

If you're not planting for a few weeks to a few months should be easy to rake smooth for seeds. Only if you need to plant right away you'd need to rake. Transplants do okay in the chunky as long as you don't smother plants.

Hope that helps,

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 12:23PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Thanks all. The beds all have different soils from different years and different sources.
I usually start with a garden mix (good mix with lots of compost) either from a landscape place, or, recently the landfill (certified organic). I have added a bed or 2 every year or so. I fork down and break up the clay, add HM, ,then landscape cloth and vege mix soil.
I top this with home made compost, usually in late winter and fluff with a weed weasle and rake and all is usually fine.
A couple of the older beds are pretty compacted (no, I don't walk around in them, they are all 4' or less wide) All of the beds have dropped to about 4" below the top of the bins. I like to have them within an inch of the top.
I'm not too concerned about the small amount of electricity I'll be using, cause we just had an energy audit done while looking into putting in a solar system, and were told our wattage use for this size house is extremely low!
I think I'll ask my neighbor about borrowing the little tiller and see how it works. Nancy

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 9:19PM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

How hard is it to dig in the ground. It doesn't sound like the beds are experiencing a lot of compaction. I would get rid of the landscape fabric and add 4 inches or more of mulch.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 10:10PM
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I prefer tilling it in, although I am against tilling (and now I gave it up, with permanent drip in every bed). But I think unfinished compost is what you need for maximum fluff. leaves are fine, even better if mixed with kitchen scraps. Hay, straw, yard waste, spent grapes from wine making, restaurant waste, sawdust, end-of-season dead plants. Remember, you don't really fluff anything, the worms do, and whole soft organic matter is much more nutritious for them than compost.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 11:53PM
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I agree with jonfrum....But...tractors are not ruining the soil, In order for a farm to pay for itself we need the 110 bushels to an acre to make profits , that will not happen if we have weeds and dont spray or fertilizer. USA will not have the cheap food and meat prices compared to the rest of the world if we didnt make 4 passes a year. Kimmers saying that we are ruining the enviroment has taken the UN wealth redistobution scheme and swallowed it hook line and sinker. Im glad that we Canadians like the Russians and Chineese have opted out of the Kyoto accord because we realize this CO2 propoganda is a joke. The earth has been cooling over the past sixteen years and if you want to rock back and forth on your fork or urinate on your organic garden to find some nitrogen have at it...as for me I use a roto tiller peat moss and granular fertilizer and have soil and gardens that I can be proud of.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 12:04PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

I mis spoke and meant the wire underneath rather than fabric. This is NOT an option due to the MANY MANY gophers in our area!
This is why I don't fork in in my raised beds. Too much of a possibility of messing with the wire and letting the dreaded gophers in!
I usually use my weed weasle or whatever you call it ( the thing you insert and twist to break up the dirt?), but a couple of the beds are just too hard to dig that in!
SO! I don't want to start any fight about who digs/plows/tills/poops/composts or whatever!
Thank you for your responses, I've decided to borrow the small tiller from the neighbor and till in some home made compost a few inches deep. I don't think I'll ruin my garden or the environment by doing this every few years. Maybe I'll chop up some worms to make even more! (whoo boy! Now I'm asking for it!)
Happy gardening! Nancy

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 9:26PM
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I think you're right on nancyjane. Enjoy the garden, and may Spring come soon!

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 3:29PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Thanks! We're looking at around 70 for thte weekend, then back to rain. It IS sneaking up on us, though! Nancy

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 8:33PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I live right near you. But, I don't have any gophers. I used to have a mole when I had a lawn. I hope I don't get any gophers. I have dogs and cats, maybe that is why?
I just add compost on top and sometimes I fluff it in the surface, but I don't dig deep unless I am planting a new plant. I have all sand soil. When the soil is hard, it really takes a while to get it soft to the point where one can sort of hand fluff it.

I made an edit so hopefully I can be notified when people reply here. But, I don't think it will work. Nancy if you have any composting questions or if you want to see my set up, you can contact me here.

This post was edited by tropical_thought on Sun, Feb 17, 13 at 10:35

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 8:59AM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Tropical- I'm pretty sure our soils are quite opposite! I have total clay!
I truck in soil from the dump to fill my raised beds and now have 4 compost bins. 2 tumbler and 2 free standing. I tumble for awhile, then dump them into the free standing bins to finish. I usually have enough compost to cover all of the beds once a year. Works for me!

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 11:38AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I am always composting and adding the finished to the surface where there are plants as needed. If the ground begins to feel hard I add the compost and it becomes softer. I don't have to till, I never have tilled.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 5:32PM
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Kim, if you don't beat your laundry against rocks in a stream, you have no right to speak.

Nancy, you're mistaken if you think that chopping up worms increases the population. It's not true. It's like puppies. If you chop the tail off, they'll live. Chop them off at the midsection----dead puppy.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 8:24PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Uh OH! Don't want any dead puppies! Nancy

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 9:30PM
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