How To Till A Garden
How to Till a Garden
You’ll need to learn if you want to give your plants the best possible start before planting them!
Tilling the soil before planting flowers or vegetables
not only softens the soil so it is ready for planting, but it stirs up
the nutrients in the soil forcing more of the “good stuff” to the top
where it can be available to your newly planted babies.
BUT WAIT! Did you know that over-tilling your soil can actually harm your plants, and create a soil bed that suffocates young roots?
Here’s the deal…when you till the soil, the soil particles themselves become smaller. This makes them seem light and fluffy, and may lure you into believing that the soil will STAY light and fluffy.
The smaller the soil particles become, the more tightly they can bind together, and the more easily they can suffocate a plant’s root system.
Think of grains of sand. Very fine sand is soft and smooth to play with when it’s dry in the sun, but when it becomes wet, it hardens off quite a bit, and creates a firm mat to walk on.
You don’t want your soil particles becoming this fine, you want them to have organic material embedded throughout, and you want the nutrients and water to flow easily through so that your plants get what they need.
Tilling with a roto-tiller should be done no more than once a year, and probably not even that frequently. If you’re establishing a brand new garden bed, then it is acceptable to till the area, but if this is an established garden bed, you should hand till.
Let’s talk about with regular ‘ol archaic lawn and garden tools like a shovel and garden rake, or with the sophisticated help of a garden tiller.
How to till a garden with a tiller: Step 1
Depending on the area that you are tilling, you may need to sterilize the soil when you are finished. This is a process that organically removes the grass and weeds from the area that you have just finished tilling.
It is a slow process and should be done in the heat of summer for best results. It will be necessary if you are working with a good deal of weeds and grass into the soil. Refer to this link for info on how to go about that process.
An even better idea is to prepare a year in advance for the area that you’d like to till and plant a cover crop. A cover crop is a crop that is often grown for only one season, and serves to smother out any current growth weed growth in the area, add nutrients to the soil and improve soil aeration. The following year it is worked into the soil and actually improves the condition of the soil in that area.
You can also smother out the grass and weeds by laying several sheets of black and white newspaper down and piling compost, mulch, or fresh top soil over it. The grass will die out in a month or two, and can then be turned under more easily.
Which type of tiller will you use?.
If you are starting with a plot of land that is largely just vacant soil, you will be able to use a garden tiller that does not have spiky tines. These machines do a good job of grabbing the soil and mixing it up.
The tines look like small bars that come pounding down on the soil, stirring it with every pass.
Be sure to remove any weeds that have crept into the area before you till. Tilling weeds into the soil will probably cause more weeds, as weed seeds will be spread throughout.
If you are starting with a plot of land that is covered with grass, you will need to do something to get rid of the grass.
OR…you can till the grass under, as long as you have some plan to smother it out, because grass will come back with a vengeance otherwise.
You can, however, use a garden tiller with spine like tines that cut through the thick thatch of lawn in order to stir an area up. Trying to use the other tiller will be very difficult for this purpose as the bars will just come pounding down on top of the lawn, and will not easily tear through it.
How to till a garden with a tiller: Step 2
Till away! If you don’t have a garden tiller,
you have a couple of options – you can either rent one (I found one for
like $16 an hour at the hardware store around the corner) or you can do it old school with the easy, but somewhat labor intensive steps that follow.
Run your tiller over the entire garden
until you have turned the soil to a depth of about 6-8 inches. That
will give you plenty of depth to plant your veggies, and should
sufficiently stir up the nutrients in the soil.
How to till a garden with a tiller: Step 3
Use a garden rake to smooth out the soil that you’ve just tilled, and
you’re ready to go! Lay out your plants, and get those babies in the
ground while the soil is nice and soft.
How to till a garden manually: Step 1
Follow the same info as listed above in Step 1.
How to till a garden manually: Step 2
Once you’ve removed any weeds, you’ll need to take a garden shovel or garden rake and turn over the soil shovel by shovel until you make your way across the entire surface of the garden.
This is a step that you should actually do at the END of the garden season
before the cold weather hits.
This steps helps the soil to naturally
break down and regenerate itself throughout the winter months so it’s
ready to be worked in spring. If
you failed to do this at the close of last season (which unfortunately
applies to me this year) it is sufficient to do it now.
How to till a garden manually: Step 3
Once you’ve turned over all that soil, you’ll probably be left with large “clumps” of soil throughout the garden.
You’ll need to soften that soil so it can be raked smooth when you’re
done. This can be a bit tricky depending on how hard the soil is.
can try and use a device like the Garden Weasel that actually
turns the soil manually, although if the soils is particularly hard,
that won’t work. The other thing that you can do is to take your garden rake and turn the soil chunk by chunk until it breaks down.
I’ve also used the flat side of my garden rake to help break up these chunks bit by bit.
If you are gardening regularly, these tools should work fine, however if your soil is hard, quite frankly I would recommend renting a garden tiller. It’s relatively cheap and makes the work so much easier.
Personally, I don’t recommend buying a garden tiller as it is not a tool that most people use frequently, and with the ownership of any garden equipment, comes the time and expense of maintaining it.
How to till a garden manually: Step 4
Same as Step 3 above – rake the area until it’s nice and smooth, and plant your plants immediately.
That’s about it! Not a difficult thing to do, but something that will have an amazing impact on your garden
Planting in soil that is hard and compact will not allow room
for the new root system to develop. Stirring the soil makes the soil
more easy to penetrate, and therefore gives the root system a way to
Good luck to you in your garden adventure!
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