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Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

Posted by NilaJones 7b (My Page) on
Sun, Mar 24, 13 at 20:15

If so, why?

I have been so thrilled with the results of no-till on the clay we have here, and even on an old gravel driveway (!!) that I cannot imagine going back.

But gardening is all about microclimates and microgeology :). Is your experience different from mine?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

I'm with you.. You couldn't pay me to use a rototiller! There's no way I'm tilling my garden! My brother think I'm nuts... But he'll soon see the success this coming season! Just got home from shoveling several yards of compost from the city to add in my raised beds... The nice thing is the city compost is free, the bad thing is you have to manually shovel it! I'm beat like a big bass drum my friend!

Joe


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

Nila, does this mean you're tired of talking about miracle cures and raw food only diets?

Anyway, yes I have for many years had fairly large gardens without using any powered machines, which is apparently what most people mean by "no-till". Recently I bought a two-wheel tractor and rotary plow so that I can manage a much larger area. It's all about scale-per-gardener and time available. It's possible for a person to work an acre with human power only but I don't have that much time available.

It would be possible for humanity to grow its food without fossil fuel power but about 3/4 of the population would have to be working at it much of the time.


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

Hi pnbrown :).

I should have clarified in my OP: I went from turning soil by hand to not turning it ever, and that has been very successful. I am lumping hand tilling in together with rototilling and plowing.

Have you tried the no-dig method?


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

I guess I have never gone to that extreme in any area. Certainly I have had beds that I did not use tools on for a maybe a couple years. I have light soils and my experience has been that they run out "steam" after a few years, no matter how much or what type of mulches are applied (with the possible exception of seaweed, I think if I could get hold of enough seaweed - not eelgrass -permanently-mulched vigorous beds might be possible), so that fertility needs to be re-introduced after a while, and that is best incorporated into the soil.


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

What type soil do you have? Dense red clay does not do well unless it has amendments, IME. Well the clay does well, plants do not thrive in it. I don't think you can say 'it worked for me, it should work for you' as with anything. Do you mulch? With what and how much?
I have to have raised beds because of mole/voles/groundhogs. I think they are a whole different kettle of fish. Mine really seem to do well after I till in compost, new soil, or whatever.


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

Have I tried not turning the soil in any way and just mulching it and top-dressing supplements, and then gone back to turning the soil?

Yes, I went back to using a big turning fork in the raised beds and the rototiller in the in-ground gardens for several reasons, primarily because of a decline in production. It is:

1) Effective pest control for over-wintering soil dwellers that began to over-run my gardens. I mulch the gardens heavily throughout the season and eggs and pupae of weevils, hornworms, squash bugs, grubs, slugs and earwigs all make it through our warm winters in the soil underneath. One good spring turning helps reduce their numbers substantially.

2) I have very alkaline soil and top dressing with leaf mold and other acidifers didn't help. They need to be mixed in down to the root level. I turn in all the previous years mulch, yards of home made compost with all its beneficial bacteria, and any mineral supplements I need at the same time so it is a one-time turning.

3) to aerate and loosen the compacted areas that began to develop over time. I don't want the compacted areas to dictate what I can plant where.

Given the reduction in pest numbers and the markedly increased production I am convinced that, in my gardens, annual early spring tilling has many benefits.

Dave


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

Dave you mentioned turning in compost and other mineral supplements - " I turn in all the previous years mulch, yards of home made compost with all its beneficial bacteria, and any mineral supplements I need at the same time so it is a one-time turning."

What mineral supplements do you use?

Thanks,
Joe


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

Lets' make some distinctions here. If you build a raised bed, and bring in new soil/amendments to fill it, then there's no need for tilling - you've started from scratch, and could do the same over concrete.

Here in New England, the last Ice Age left us with no topsoil, which since then has built up to inches in most places. Then, when basements are excavated to but in foundations, they dump the clay subsoil all over the property and then cover with grass seed. So I start with about four inches of topsoil, filled with rocks. To start a good garden, damn right I till.

Now, once I've invested in amending the soil in my garden plots to where I want it, then I can just mix in amendments with a rake on the surface. Unfortunately, my neighbors have trees and shrubs near the property line, and I get roots that have too be dug out of my outer plots every spring.

Concern about tilling is almost entirely a farming thing, and not relevant to gardening. Once you get your soil into shape, a rototiller really isn't necessary any more. Farmers till their soil to bury the remainders of last year's harvest. Gardeners just pull it up by hand. Farmers prepare seed beds with disk harrows and rotor harrows. Gardeners use a rake. Farmers deal with erosion over acres. Gardeners don't deal with erosion until they get to farm size plots.

All in all, I find this just another one of those bogus gardening controversies that obsessive people get worked up about. There is no one true way to grow vegetables - there are no secrets and no best method. People grew fantastic gardens every year using rototillers back when I was a kid - long ago. People swear by their favored method - even when the different methods go directly against each other. Funny how that works.


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

I see a lot of posts elsewhere by people who seem to have only tried one method or the other.

What I'm most interested by in this thread are people who have tried both, on the same or similar plots of land, and can compare. I'm wondering if people ever find non-theoretical reasons to till :).


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

Jon, we agree on the fact that it is all an issue of scale, I see. BTW, not all of new england is clay, I can attest.


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@pnbrown

>I have light soils and my experience has been that they run out "steam" after a few years, no matter how much or what type of mulches are applied (with the possible exception of seaweed, I think if I could get hold of enough seaweed - not eelgrass -permanently-mulched vigorous beds might be possible), so that fertility needs to be re-introduced after a while, and that is best incorporated into the soil.

Interesting!

Are you making a distinction between mulch and topdressing of nutritious stuff, e.g. compost? And you find that the worms don't mix the topdressing in? I wonder why that would be.

I once had a 70-year-old compacted gravel driveway. If I jumped on the shovel blade I could only get the tip to go in half an inch, in the softest spots. Without tilling or any other prep, put 4 inches of compost on the gravel and planted ornamentals in that. After two years, I was surprised to find that the soil was light and fluffy the whole length of my shovel blade (and farther, I don't know how far).

This accidental experiment led me to question why I was double-digging elsewhere.

I am intrigued by the idea that in some areas worms would NOT do this work for me.

@Dave:

So you, too, have found the worms do not mix in your topdressings? Any theories why this might be?

You also mention a list of pests that, AFAIK, we do not have out west. So I see that's a significant factor.

Compaction is another interesting point. My current garden is mostly half sand / half compost. Just a few days of rain after any digging (not to turn the soil, but incidental to gardening, e.g. weeding, or moving a plant) and it is pretty darn solid. More so than the other areas that are clay/compost/topsoil. The plants grow huge, but it does surprise me that they don't seem to be bothered by the density of the soil. I can imagine that with a greater clay content there would be a problem.


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

What mineral supplements do you use?

We need to keep the discussion on topic, or at least try to. That is a whole other discussion.
__________________

I agree with much of what you say jonfrum except for a question about the first statement

If you build a raised bed, and bring in new soil/amendments to fill it, then there's no need for tilling

Do you mean initially or even in subsequent years? Initially, I agree. Just mix all the ingredients well into the new bed. But in subsequent years I would still advocate forking them well.

I'm old enough to recall when the whole no-till concept first caught on and began to be debated. At that time it was advocated for large agriculture operations. Home gardeners would never even give a thought to it.

Then some 25-30 years ago it began to pop up now and then in some of the early gardening magazines. The mid-70s is about the time I experimentally implemented it in some of my gardens. But we ran a landscaping business back then and even the thought of trying to do commercial/residential landscaping without rototillers was unheard of. Trying to discuss no-till at the Grange meetings or with others in the business just got you cross-eyed looks. The internet has given it a life of its own of course.

Point is, there is a time and a place and a situation for all the forms of soil working and each of us has to decide what works best for us in the given situation. Our choice makes us no better or worse at what we do than anyone else.

Bogus controversy? Maybe. Depends on how it is handled. I think sharing information about the various approaches used can be beneficial. Debating and/or arguing over them, advocating one as "best" or the "only way" as some are determined to do serves no purpose at all IMO.

Dave


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

@harveyhorses:

>What type soil do you have?

I've had pretty-pure clay (my housemate made pots out of it), sand, gravel, and clay-based topsoil.

>Dense red clay does not do well unless it has amendments, IME. Well the clay does well, plants do not thrive in it.

::laughing::

Tilling clay is really problematic in the climate here. If done when it's too wet, it makes rock-hard clods. It doesn't dry out enough to turn or till until it's too late to plant for a summer crop.

>I don't think you can say 'it worked for me, it should work for you' as with anything.

Exactly the point of starting this thread :).

I am interested in the differences. What works in one place but does not work somewhere else? And why is that?

>Do you mulch? With what and how much?

This varies widely, for me. I make a distinction between topdressings whose purpose is to add nutrients, e.g. compost, and mulch whose purpose is to shade the compost and the soil.

I usually use leaves, etc as mulch each spring, and compost every 2-10 years. The raspberries get it every year.

>I have to have raised beds because of mole/voles/groundhogs. I think they are a whole different kettle of fish. Mine really seem to do well after I till in compost, new soil, or whatever.

My garden is mostly raised beds, though I have one area that is ground level. I am not sure what difference you are pointing out, here.

@jonfrum:

So it sounds like you are saying you till at the beginning, to deal with soil issues and not have to wait for the worms, and then you have not found a need to after that first jump-start?


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@digdirt:

>I'm old enough to recall when the whole no-till concept first caught on and began to be debated....The mid-70s is about the time I experimentally implemented it in some of my gardens.

On the other hand, for ornamental gardening, I think no-till has been the norm pretty much forever.

When plants are perennial, tilling and turning is pretty impractical. You develop other methods.

I have a lot of background in ornamentals as well as vegies, and I grow them mixed together in my own garden. Zucchinis in with the poppies and roses. Also, many traditional vegies are perennial in my climate -- most of the brassicas, for example.

And I grow a lot of fruit. Are people really tilling under their raspberries and apple trees? (This is not purely a rhetorical question -- in some climates, cutting back everbering raspberries to force them to make only one crop a year actually gets you more production. Not true where I live, but I learned this in the Fruit forum.)


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

After a year or two, sometimes three I need to add soil to the raised beds.

I use leaves as mulch AND compost. Also some aged manure, some horse, some chicken. The years that is done seem to be more productive, but there are so many variables. Weather, plagues, weather, varmints, weather.
Why some things work better than another for some, see last sentence. Climate, Saturday we had almost 60 degrees, yesterday (Sunday) we had three inches of snow. How should I compare my garden to someone in Texas? I don't think tilling is harmful on the scale I do it. I have a mini tiller, it attaches to my weedeater motor. I would not be able to turn new dirt with it. But for my raised beds it is perfect.
The one year I did not turn anything was my least productive year.


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

It seems to me that ornemental gardening can incorperate a lot of what you would describe as "hand-tilling" traditionally. Double digging beds, lifting and seperating things like iris and other clumping perrenials, forking to loosen soils etc. It is done to increase plant vigor and health. Yes, you can get results without tilling (or more accurately, relying on nature's little tillers), but you can get very good results by taking on an active role at important points. But whether that is the norm I suppose depends on how you learned.

I guess, the question in my mind is why the heck does it have to be an either/or question? Why must one fully embrace one or the other if they both get results?

I feel like tilling is like eating: while it is true that if I stuff my face constantly I will become unhealthy, it is no reason for me to stop eating altogether.

I suppose it might be "theoretical" for me to say that not tilling for weed control would require me to spend more money than I have on mulch to adequately keep the weeds at bay or to decrease the size of my garden so that they can be managed by hand with less mulch. But it's a pretty darn good theory since I know how much money and effort I currently expend and I don't think there is much to be gained for me to prove myself right there. :)

I guess I'm not exactly on thread here, apologies. But I am still thinking about the general subject and this thread seemed a much better choice to discuss this than the other. Forgive me!


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  • Posted by uncle_t Z6 Ontario CAN (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 25, 13 at 17:01

Yes, yes-- all of us waxing philosophically (or perhaps till-osophically); frittering away the seasons and forgetting to plant, because we were too busy pondering whether or not to till. :D

Would you till them in a boat? Would you till them with a goat?

Or shades of Monty Python's "Philosophers' World Cup" sketch?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92vV3QGagck


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

On the other hand, for ornamental gardening, I think no-till has been the norm pretty much forever.

When plants are perennial, tilling and turning is pretty impractical. You develop other methods.

Big differences in ornamental gardening, perennial beds, and permanent fruit plantings. You may grow all those things inter-mixed but most do not. Would I till around my berry bushes or run it through my beds of hostas or the wife's roses? Of course not. She'd take the shotgun to me. But since this is the vegetable gardening forum I am restricting my comments to that - the annual vegetable garden.

The landscaping business isn't "ornamental gardening" either not is it vegetable gardening although we did create many of them. But I do have to disagree that it was ever no-till. Lots of soil turning machinery and equipment used in the process - from picks and shovels to bobcats and backhoes. How the customer wants to treat that ornamental bed after it is created is their business.

Dave


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

@sunibel:

I don't know about others, but I love hearing your thoughts!

I hadn't thought about weed control. That's because the weeds we have here are made much worse by tilling. Our main problems are quackgrass and convolvulus, and they both multiply by root cuttings. I can see how with different weed species it could be extremely helpful though.

And mulch, we need that here for the arid summers. Weed control is sort of a side effect :).

Digging and separating perennials -- yes. It's not something one does every year. I did most of mine for the first time in 8 years, this winter. But between that and removing a couple of large plants, and rooting out the quackgrass rhizomes, I can see that if I think in terms of tilling I realise that bed got a more through mixing than a rototiller would have done :). I added compost in the resulting low areas, though I did not bother to mix it in. It should be good for another 8 years now.

@harveyhorses:

>After a year or two, sometimes three I need to add soil to the raised beds.

I tend to think of it more as 'I can finally fit some compost in here,' but yes :). So, you mix it in rather than adding it on top, under the leaves?

Am I right in thinking that one benefit of tilling has to do with depletion of certain nutrients in specific areas -- like it can substitute for planting the zukes in a new spot each year or two?


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

I had my own garden for the first time in 1959. In those days [in the farm country] I added a bit of manure from the spreader and then spring plowed it and soon after I disked it to a fine bed. then I hurried out there to plant it all [about May 13th]. It was all one large rectangle.

Later I began to fall plow the garden and then rototill where I wanted to plant a row as I wanted to plant something. This was an improvement of technique as there was no great rush to plant it all in a couple days...except for succession sweet corn.

Later I began to amend strips abot 7 to 12 feet wide with local peatmoss, sand, and compost. These were instantly loose, deep, and mellow. Now I till in rotted manure, residues, chopped leaves,and any compost in the fall. Often in the spring there is some cover crop residue to mix in while smoothing up a row for planting.

All methods above have yielded splended crops in my clay loam and silty clay loam soil. The present raised beds that are parallel with narrow paths between fit me well...no wood or blocks.


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

Wayne, could you UPS me about 2 million lbs of that IN loam?


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My garden was basically no till till last year. It got to the point where I tilled or quit gardening. Since my family depends on our garden I had my old tiller repaired.
During the 12 years I gardened here I was convinced that if I tilled the bind weed and other weeds would get worse.Now after ony 2 tillings the bind weed is almost gone and the chick weed has cut back by 75%. My garden needs 50% less water and produces 25% more food.
The Bind weed was growing speggeti like roots under the untilled pathes. I would pull constantly just to have them choke out my veggies during canning season.
I won't go Back to no til, under any circomstance.
THE tiller ripped the bind weed out of the ground and wrapped around the tines. I had to clean them quite a few times the first time I ran the tiller

This post was edited by veggiecanner on Mon, Mar 25, 13 at 22:23


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

@veggiecanner:

>Now after ony 2 tillings the bind weed is almost gone

Wow!

I have read online about zillions of acres of farms (conventional, tilled, non-organic) being abandoned because of bindweed. This was on an extension service website. They said there is no effective means of control.

I wonder, if someone had enough labor to untangle the machinery, if this could work on a larger scale.

What I have done with it is use barriers.


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

Nila- thanks for the kind words! I have a pernicous problem weed here, bermuda grass. My garden is in the middle of a field of the stuff, and it spreads by underground stolons. Tilling has been instrumental in getting rid of it without killing me, but tilling alone would not be enough. Like your bindweed, if I left the cut up root bits in the soil, it would just resprout. But if I don't till, it can be impossible to get to the majority of the roots without expending tremendous physical effort. And by the time you are done it looks like you've tilled anyway, just by hand with your shovel. Dig, kneel, pull, stand, dig, repeat. With tilling, once you've tilled you go back and pull out all of the bits and they come free quite easily. Then during the growing season, any that you have missed also come out of the ground easier because they are only on little 6 inch bits of root instead of ones that go on for yards and yards.


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Oh, I missed a few posts upthread!

@uncle_t:

>Would you till them in a boat? Would you till them with a goat?

I have a cat named Sam I Am :). And he does a certain amount of tilling...


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@sunnibel:

Thanks for the info on tilling stoliniferous grasses! I am trying to think where I could apply it. My existing beds, the ones that still have some quackgrass, have trees or perennial vegies in them.

I have a spot for new bed, where I cut back an enormous privet mass. It's pretty nice soil, though somewhat depleted by the nearby privet I imagine. It is mostly bare, but with enough quackgrass runners visible on the surface that I know it'd be a problem this summer.

I was just going to do my usual: Put down cardboard, then a layer of compost, and plant in the compost. By next year the cardboard will be gone and the grass dead. I could till instead, but I think it still needs compost.. also the remaining privet would not appreciate the root pruning.

My memories of tilling (by machine or by hand) and then picking out the root clumps are that it is a lot of work! Compared to laying down cardboard.

Am I missing a piece of the picture, still? Does it make more sense for you because you are not adding a lot of compost? I could see that.


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

Is this bindweed y'all are talking about the morning-glory relative?


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

  • Posted by uncle_t Z6 Ontario CAN (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 26, 13 at 16:07

@ NilaJones : "I have a cat named Sam I Am :). And he does a certain amount of tilling..."

Ha ha!
Thank goodness he's not into no-till...... ;-)


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

Partly it is a matter of scale. Its a pain in the rear to get 3000 sq ft of cardboard. Or any mulch for that matter, though I am getting some better leads on materials in my new neighborhood now. The till and dig is mainly done the first year, but it cuts way back on subsequent years' work. The thing with the cardboard and compost is that the underground stolons won't be dead, they just won't put up blades in the area that is covered. They will always be there, waiting for some light. But I'm thinking of bermuda grass, I'm not familiar with quackgrass, which might be less aggressive. Anyway, bermuda has come up through a layer of cardboard and compost in my walkways in August, maybe because of the high heat/high humidity in our summers making everything break down fast? But August is not a good time for me to add in laying down new layers of compost and cardboard to the harvesting and canning and dehydrating and mowing and...

But you know, I'm not opposed to doing what you say in the least, since I do it in the spring as part of getting the garden up and running: Till in winter weeds which sprout in the composted manure layer, mark rows and paths, cardboard paths and top with mulch hay. Only till as far as you will plant in the upcoming week. I would call my type of gardening low-till. I understand if you say you are no-till how you would never use a tiller, but as a tiller, I don't feel compelled to use it at the drop of a hat. :)


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Is this bindweed y'all are talking about the morning-glory relative?
Yes it is. But in this area we have 2 types. Mine has a white flower on it.


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@pnbrown:

Yes :(.

@sunnibel:

I'm not opposed to tilling, by any means :). I just asked the question (in the thread title) because I myself have not found a use for it since i learned about other methods. That doesn't mean I never will. And I sure do believe that this is something that varies by climate and circumstance!

3000 sq feet is a lot. For areas that large I have used roadbuilding fabric. It is /mostly/ quackgrass proof (unlike landscaping fabric, which is useless) and 100% bindweed proof, IME. Here, in this soil and climate :).

It's pretty permanent, though. You have to cut holes to plant. Not well suited to small plants like beans or peas.

I am surprised you have trouble getting large quantities of mulch, there in the land of huge deciduous trees. Does you city not deliver? Here they pick up the street tree leaves and dump them in the driveways or gardens of those who want them. Of course, they have some contaminants from the street.

To avoid that, I knock on my neighbors' doors and ask if I can rake up their leaves and take them. Usually the answer is surprised pleasure. I collected maybe 15 cubic yards last fall. I am still using them :). But I think you would need a lot more than that. Maybe a flatbed load of baled straw?


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I tried no-till or light till for 3 years in heavy clay red-brown soil.
Had terrible results.

Went to full till last year and had my first good vegetable garden in this location.

Really depends on the soil you have, half compost and half sand sounds like great soil. Solid reddish clay is not and no matter how many decades you wait with a mulch or cover crop it won't get much better. The open-space fields around here still have heavy clay even after hundreds of years of grass cover cropping and dead grass mulching.

With that said, some friends nearby double & single dug their garden for maybe a decade and now have rich black clay soil (started with same reddish clay). Now they do not till, mulch only, and have a great garden. Hopefully I'll get there someday.

Here is a link that might be useful: Pictures of preparing clay soil


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I see the bindweed around here but it's a minor problem. At my place in florida it becomes a problem when the bahia grass is controlled for a little while, but will be overwhelmed by taller weeds by the end of summer.

Charles Walters in his book on weeds says when bindweed dominates there is problem with the decay cycle in the soil, usually from lack of moisture or overly wet soil.


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:) I don't have a city. My good luck this year is my neighbor is cleaning out her hay barns and offered me the loose hay, though I don't know how much that will amount to. I need at least 2 large round bales of hay to adequately cover my space, preferably that much again. It costs a lot more money than running my tiller. But I like this discussion, because I think it is the sort of thing that someone else might pull up to help them make up their mind about how to tackle their garden. Lots of options here, and our reasons for choosing what we choose.


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I have about 6500 sq ft of vegetables. Several years ago I heard about weed extirpation by avoiding using the roto tiller and therefore not bringing any new weed seeds near the surface every year. My only cultivation was with a hand tiller with a wheel and a blade that would run an inch or so beneath the surface as you pushed it along. I grow a lot of tomatoes, which I planted using a traditional garden spade. After about four years I gave up because the weeds just weren't slowing down. Also, I did notice that my tomatoes did worse and worse every year. I honestly don't remember how my other stuff did.


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

I kind of get the feeling that you need to somehow justify tilling. Well i make no apology.


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Tilling is important first tilling allows fresh air into the soilm second tilling destroys the insect eggs and prevent them ftom hatching


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'The thing with the cardboard and compost is that the underground stolons won't be dead,' This is absolutely true. In my soft fruit area I do not dig. I mulch with cardboard and compost and by the end of the season the currants and raspberries are wreathed in bindweed Calystegia sepium) yet again. I live with it because it doesn't affect the yield too much. But if I really wanted to eliminate bindweed I would have to dig. I had never heard of cardboard mulch before coming to Garden web. It is not widely done here. And I have found that, although it is quick and easy it has not improved the soil in my beds to any significant depth. I find that the cardboard eventually decomposes and the compost is absorbed but it sits in a thin layer on the top while the underlying clay stays just the same as it ever was.

I have no axe to grind regarding till/no till. I use whatever works for me. I barely dig in ornamental areas except to move stuff around but I do stir up the surface a little. I mulch these areas with compost every year but I also live in slug land. You can turn over a leaf and find 6 slugs stuck underneath it. They need disturbing.

I always lightly fork over my vegetable beds by hand, in winter or early spring. This leaves the clods of clay to be broken down by the frost. I don't see how you can produce a fine tilth seedbed without some working of the soil. I spread stacks of compost and manure every year but it does not eliminate cultivation.

And no one has yet mentioned visual pleasure of a well dug vegetable plot. I just like seeing the newly turned earth ready for another round of sowing and planting.

But perhaps I am comparing apples and pears between the UK and the US. Most people here garden the soil they have. We don't tend to go in for raised beds, although the marketers are working on that. Nor do many people buy in any quantity of soil. It's just not necessary. Are we just lucky with our soils or are US gardeners being sold a pup?


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

Flora, I think the raised-bed thing is a fad in north america for the past couple decades. I suspect it's an outshoot of the success of the intensive method, the so-called double-dig, which inarguably works great and inarguably is way to much work for most people (including myself most of the time). By bringing in some kind of good soil (one hopes) and building a box to put it in some of the great effects of double-dig are achieved without nearly the effort.


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

I had not thought of the visual, yes I do love the way the earth looks all freshly fluffed.
I have raised beds for two reasons. The moles/voles/groundhogs here are horrible so I have hardware cloth lining mine, and in the summer we get storms that will drop 4-5 inches and my ground does not drain very well, The raised beds solves both of these problems for me, so I don't see it as a fad.
Also there are so many soil types here, and if you live in a subdivision chances are all the topsoil has been removed, so you start with clay/rock/goodness knows what. They are also easier to maintain IMO.


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

I have been using a false seed bed. Which is where you till , smooth the bed over , water and let a crop of weed seeds sprout. Then I use my shuffle hoe to cut the weeds down. All this is done before planting.
You don't disturb the soil much with the hoe. When the weeds are really bad and I have the time I'll let a second crop of weeds sprout. When it's warm it takes about 2 weeks from tilling to planting if you let the weeds sprout once.
Also I read some where not to let more than a hour pass between cutting the weeds down and seeding or the weeds can cause to much compitition for the seeds.

This post was edited by veggiecanner on Wed, Mar 27, 13 at 13:03


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

@sunnibel: Apologies! I think of the east as so crowded, I forget there ARE rural areas :).

Re: Cardboard:

I have had no quackgrass come up through it at all, for 5 years after cardboard + 4" compost was put down. At that point, I let my tenants have the bed and they allowed the quackgrass to come in from the side.

Quackgrass is incredibly invasive, and I have found its runners in a dense layer 24" down. But it is very sensitive to shading.

I have a bed, just north of my neighbors' two story house, which gets full sun at midsummer but only a couple hours the rest of the year. The amount of quackgrass it has, if it was in a sunny bed and let go, would take over and kill everything else in the bed within a month or two. But that bed, I don't even pull it. It's been at a steady state for 5 or 6 years, and it doesn't bother the potatoes.

There is spearmint and bindweed in that bed, too -- same deal, though I do pull the aboveground growth off the bindweed.

That bed is isolated from the rest of the garden by a driveway. If it wasn't, the quackgrass would use it as a base of operations to invade the rest of the garden (and the world!).

Re: Water:

Sunnibel asked about summer rain. We don't haz it. Lawns here are brown in summer and green in winter.

Controlling water is a significant part of how I control weeds. I water the garden deeply once a month in summer, for established plants. Newer plants and water-lovers like beans and raspberries, every two weeks. This helps a lot :). If the plants I want have deep roots and the weeds don't get a chance to develop them, there is not much competition.

Is this water thing related to why tilling doesn't seem to do much good, here?


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

Nila, You mentioned your soil was half sand half compost. This sounds like very aerated soil, with lots of pore space, especially compared to heavy clay (with little organic content).
This is probably why no-till works well for you.
You can make pottery with my unamended soil.


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

I enjoy reading everyones options, I didn't think of it as justifiying. If someone has a problem with this or that, like moles, they can see what others have done. Not reallly all about til/no till. I especially like the cardboard idea.
I wish I could controll my water! We have a feast or famine, or flood to drought. I have a rain barrel that was used a lot one year, the last two, hardly at all, so weeds get happy too.


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

"Controlling water is a significant part of how I control weeds.... "

Hollow laughter from this side of the Pond. We haven't yet learned to 'control the water' which falls from the sky often and in plenty. I don't actually get many weeds on my allotment, except the dreaded bindweed in the permanent plantings. 20 plus years of cultivation have pretty much used up the seed bank in the soil and regular hoeing and hand weeding keep the remainder under control. The annual forking sorts out any perennial roots which get in via the manure and compost.


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

@emgardener:

>You can make pottery with my unamended soil.

My housemate made pottery with the soil at my old garden, before I moved in and started gardening it :).

I am amazed when people say they till clay. How do you keep it from making globs that, later in the summer, dry into rock-hard clods?

Before I knew there were alternatives, I used to struggle to try to find the day when they clay had the perfect consistency for tilling -- wet enough that it was not hard already, but dry enough not to form the globs. Some years that did not happen until mid-July :(.

@flora:

Yes, I'm not sure if I said it coherently, but I was trying to say that here I have this option, which people in other climates do not. From what I understand, Brits are sometimes lucky to have a summer without hail :/.


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

As a result of this thread, now I almost wish I had some current quackgrass or bindweed problem to experiment on -- till half and use other techniques on the other half! I am feeling awfully curious :).

I am also wondering if a project I did this winter on a bed with quackgrass counts as tilling. I never thought of it that way, but maybe it, like, totally does :).

What we had was a raised bed with huge perennials (rootballs 3 and 4 feet across), and quackgrass that was mostly eradicated... except for inside those root balls.

I got some strong friends and we removed the plants, took them out to the lawn (already full of quackgrass), hosed off their roots and picked out the grass rhizomes, then sifted through the remaining soil in the bed and removed the grass runners.

I guess I think of tilling as having a purpose of chopping up the weed roots, and we were doing the opposite -- keeping them whole so we could get all the bits. It did involve an enormous amount of shoveling, though, and inadvertent but real mixing of soil and disruption of soil layers. Tilling? Not tilling? Accidental tilling?

After replanting I added some compost on top, and covered the whole business with road fabric and then about 6" or more of leaves and other mulchy substances.


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RE: Have you tried no-till and returned to tilling?

Jean, you sent me a message regarding this thread, but your settings don't allow responses to email so I can't reply.


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