No, You Do Not Need To Till Your Garden; Do This Instead

Tillers are very popular. DH & I have a little store where we buy and sell all sorts of items. If we have tillers, they are a sure, fast sell. Go here to see our store.  

I haven’t used a tiller on my garden since we put it in.

Tillers can be helpful, especially if you have an enormous plot of land you are going to plant. In fact, a tractor would probably be even better.

If you are like me and have a garden less than 1-2 acres you may not need to till. Tilling your small garden could actually be doing more harm than good.

Tillers have several negatives:

• The first is that they disturb the natural layers of the soil. There are all sorts of things going on under the top soil layer that are good. That brown soil, that red clay soil. They all have benefits and are in a certain order. When a tiller busts through the layers, it throws things out of whack.

• They stir up dormant seeds that were sleeping deep in your soil. (Guess what happens when they wake up?)

• They’re heavy.

• They need gas.

• They have to be started. (Anyone else have trouble with those pull-cords?)

• Even though they loosen the top few inches of soil, tillers actually pack down the soil underneath the top. Using a tiller can create hardpan. Ugh.

• They don’t work very well in raised beds.

There is another way …

I have a tool that no one else has heard of. Well, no one I know has ever heard of it. You guys may all own one.

It’s a broadfork. It’s as big as I am.

It’s a giant, 2-handled tool. There are 5 curved spikes (tines) at the core of its power.

What is a broadfork used for?

• Broadforks lift and separate clumpy soil.
• They loosen settled soil.
• They can even bust through densely packed soil (like hardpan).
• They aerate the soil by creating gaps, space and air in the dirt.
• Broadforks improve drainage.
• They loosen weeds — making them easier to pull.
• Broadforks are especially nifty because they do all this without disturbing the natural layers of your soil.
• They don’t mix up the layers of soil. This preserves the topsoil structure.
• They also won’t bring every dormant seed in your garden up to the surface to germinate and grow.

A broadfork is pretty handy to have around.

Think of it as a way to till your garden without the disadvantages of a tiller.

Since building our raised beds we have not tilled our garden once. I add new organic material from our cows (manure) and our chickens (coop cleaning) and our kitchen (compost) from time to time. But other than that, we don’t do much to our garden soil from year to year. We have designated paths in our garden for walking so the beds don’t get packed down from walking. This keeps our soil loamy and light for the most part.

But …

I have noticed over time, our soil is becoming more compacted. If your beds were heaping with beautiful soil a couple of years ago, but now it looks as if someone stole half your dirt … this could be the reason. No one stole your soil.

It is just sinking.

It’s settling.

It’s becoming more compacted.

If no one is walking on it, why is it getting compacted? There are actually several reasons:

• Gravity
• Rain
• Snow
• Hail
• Plants
• Roots
• Debris
• Mulch
• The soil itself
• Cats
• Dogs
• My children
• and more!

Not walking in my beds has definitely helped the beds become less compacted less quickly, but it hasn’t prevented it entirely. My beds are in good shape, but I can tell the soil has settled. I can tell the dirt is harder to work in. I want my soil to be fluffy, workable and light again.

My beds need a little lift. They need fluffing. They need some space. They need to be aerated.

Bring me a broadfork!

So, today I grabbed my broadfork and got to work loosening my soil.

How Do You Use a Broadfork?

To use a broadfork, the operator (that’s me!) steps up on the crossbar; my body weight is what drives the tines into the ground.

Once the tines are fully immersed in the soil, I step backward, pulling backwards on the handles. This causes the tines to lever upwards through the soil. This action loosens the dirt. It lifts and separates. At the same time, it leaves the soil layers intact rather than inverting or mixing them, keeping my topsoil structure intact.

As I pull the handles back, I can see the soil move and breathe. I give the handles a little wiggle to loosen things up. Then slide the tines out of the soil. The soil will be noticeably higher than the dirt around it.

After working a bed with the broadfork, the weeds come right out. It destroys any hold those roots had. Today, I worked through the beds with the broadfork and my children went behind me and grabbed most of the weeds.

The broadfork is easy to use and does a good job.

My beds are prepped and ready to grow some awesome veggies.

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Happy Gardening!

  • Published on Apr 21, 2016
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