Sunday, April 20, 2014

To till or not to till?

My friend (and garden blogger) Megan Cain recently wrote an entry titled "Stop tilling your vegetable garden!"

I was amused that I read her blog the day before I rented a massive rototiller. Megan's point is to not till every year, a premise I completely agree with. There are many good reasons not till every year, and you can read all about them on her blog. However, sometimes to make an omelette, you gotta break an egg. 

During the last 12 months, I have placed our permanent raised beds in a number of locations in our backyard. In good permaculture fashion, I did a lot of observing before finally deciding to locate them at the far back of the yard, where we have the most sun. This area of the yard had been completely compacted over the years, was a fairly weedy mess, and I kind of just wanted to nuke it and start over.

So I rented an 8-hp rear-tine rototiller and a trailer and brought it home. Within an hour Jay and I frothed up the soil so much it was inches taller than the surrounding compacted ground. 

We then spread many wheelbarrows of a wood chip + coffee ground compost I had been making all winter over the tilled soil. We even put down a plank so we wouldn’t compact it. I then tilled in the compost and returned the equipment within my 4-hour rental time. 

I then dug paths, throwing the soil into where the beds would be. Our paths are going to be filled with gravel to help move water throughout the garden that will be collected from a future shed roof.

As I filled the beds in, the soil was really piling up. Once the paths were dug, I measured the beds at least 14 inches above ground level. Now I know that they will settle, but I’m going to build our raised beds 14 inches tall to leave room for lots of mulch and to be able to continue to add compost to the beds.

The three chickens we were taking care of were out the whole day and LOVED digging in the freshly tilled soil (and pooping in it too :)

Since I’m not going to reinforce the beds with walls for a couple of weeks, I covered them with a huge tarp we had leftover from a roofing project years back. Glad too, the rains a few days ago would have set back a lot of the digging and tilling work!

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