Vegetable Garden Tilling is Crucial
Tilling is not an option. It is fundamentally necessary to till the garden soil…ensuring that our backyard vegetable garden has loose soil. If the soil is too compacted and hard, the plants will not be able to establish a complete root growth network. Those roots have to get down deep into the soil, 6 inches or more, to absorb water and nutrients…which keeps the plants healthy and productive. Thus, I commit to vegetable garden tilling a minimum of twice each year to ensure that the roots have an easy path to their destination.
It also allows the soil to drain easier.
You don’t want mud puddles all over the garden. Excessive water can suffocate the root systems, cause diseases, and possibly kill the plants. We don’t want that now, do we?
The tiller and I spend time together in my backyard garden at least twice every year.
- In the fall, after the last harvest…the organic plant material should be worked into the soil so it can compost over the winter.
- And, in the spring…after getting the soil test and applying fertilizer. This is just before I finish hardening off my seedling transplants. I want loose soil for my transplants to have a comfortable garden home for the growing season.
If the soil has become pretty hard, I may also do a quick tilling before I gather samples to send off for the soil test. It makes gathering samples easier.
Before tilling, make absolutely sure that there are no underground utility wires in the garden area! Most utilities will be buried between 18 inches and 36 inches deep…except for cable and telephone lines, which are normally buried closer to the surface…varying from 2 inches to 6 inches deep.
If the garden area is over 20 feet from the house, there shouldn’t be any wires to worry about. However, if you want to be absolutely sure…call 811 several days before digging for a report of what’s buried around the house and where.
OK…Let’s get to the Meat of the Matter
If the soil is dry enough (crumbles when you squeeze it), start the process. I normally till my garden in two different directions. The first pass is across the width. The second pass is along the length…the same direction I will place my garden rows. The method to my madness is that crisscrossing the tilling patterns will more effectively chop up the large dirt chunks into smaller, loose soil.
Time To Get Out My Trusty Tilling Tool
Now, I am going to wake up my faithful Mantis 7250 tiller/cultivator. Since my tiller has forward rotating tines, the actual tilling occurs while I’m walking backwards. Walking forwards takes me to the next tilling path. I slightly overlap each trip back and forth to ensure complete loosening of the dirt. That is also why I till two different directions…first the width of my garden…then, the length of my garden. By the time I’m done, I’ve got the depth I need and the entire garden is full of loose, soft soil!
Tilling beginners will be surprised that a tiller can jump sideways on very hard soil or when hitting a large root or rock. So, it is essential to be on your guard when tilling close to plants, fences, or trellises you don’t want damaged. I am speaking from experience…it pays to be vigilant! Also, when you encounter large roots or rocks, take the time to pitch them out of the garden.
The problem is…there seems to be an infinite number of rocks and roots in my garden soil. I never seem to reach the end of them. Maybe more are continuously being added by a nefarious garden troll…in the middle of the night. Ya think?
While tilling, I occasionally stop, remove the tines, and clear some of the tougher weeds from it. But, it doesn’t take long. Then, I’m on my way again…doing my backwards “tilling dance” across the garden listening to K.C. and the Sunshine Band! “That’s the way…uh-huh…uh-huh…I like it…uh-huh…uh-huh…”
My Tiller Chops Up Weeds, Too
I also use my tiller for weeding between the rows when the weeds get too crazy or, before I have time to add mulch to the garden. This is why I try to keep a minimum 4 foot or, a more comfortable 5 foot, space between rows. It makes “weed tilling” so much easier.
Better Than It Used To Be
I’ll tell you what…using my tiller in the garden sure does beat the old days…when I was a kid. Then, I only had a shovel for my tilling companion.
My Smart Dad
My dad, a Master Gardener, knew all the best tricks and techniques for growing vegetables in our backyard garden plot.
He would first put on his oldest, grubbiest gardening clothes and a time-worn, wide-brimmed straw hat. After that, he would walk with me into our garden with a shovel in one hand and, a cold drink in the other.
Then, dad would hand me the shovel…and, tell me where to dig…saying,
“Merry Christmas, Jim! Hoe, Hoe, Hoe!”
Can you dig it?