rototiller
Rototillers can cause more harm than good to your garden soil.

Most people are completely shocked when they find out we don’t own a rototiller…and never will. The most common misconception about a rototiller is that they save time  – and that you need one in order to have a great garden.  It couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact, you can save a tremendous amount of money, time and garden work by not owning one. That’s not a misprint – in addition to the cash saved by not having to purchase and maintain a tiller – you really can save time and work by not having one at all.  A rototiller can cause a great deal of harm to a garden’s soil structure, which in turn creates more than their share of weed and maintenance problems for the home gardener.

Here are 4 major reasons why NOT to use a rototiller in your garden:

1. They Cause Soil Compaction:

rototiller
Good healthy soil takes on the components of good compost – teeming with all types of microbial life and structure.

Good healthy soil is all about its structure.  Great soil should be teaming with all sorts of organic matter in various stages of decay.   Those little bits and pieces of organic matter allow for water, air and nutrients all to be carried down through the soil to your plants.  Great soil is filled with billions of helpful bacteria, worms and microorganisms that play important roles in bringing nutrients to your plants. Tilling the soil can ruin all of that.

As soil is tilled over and over, that all-important structure is destroyed.  The active life in the soil is disrupted and exposed – and it becomes reduced to lifeless fine grains of sterile dirt. Without structure – the soil also becomes easily compacted around the roots of your plants – keeping out vital nutrients.   That makes it harder for water and air to get through – resulting in under performing plants. Poor structure also makes it difficult for the soil to retain moisture –  also a critical factor in a plant’s growth and success.   And last – whether you have a rear tine tiller, front tine tiller – you still have to walk behind it or beside it – compacting even more of the very soil you are trying to break up.

2. They Create More Weeds

Mulching is the better option than tilling between rows. Here carrots benefit from straw mulch - keeping in moisture and keeping back weeds
Mulching is the better option than tilling between rows. Here carrots benefit from straw mulch – keeping in moisture and keeping back weeds

Rototillers actually cause more weeds than they ever come close to eliminating.  When a tiller is run through the garden rows or walking rows – every time those tines flip that soil, guess what else they are flipping?  That’s right – hundreds if not thousands of tiny weed seeds.  Seeds that have blown in from all over. Seeds that can now be buried  under enough soil to have a chance to germinate – and double if not triple the amount of weeds you had before you ever ran those tines  in the first place.   Thistle and quack grass are a big problem in our area  and we are often asked how are garden seems to stay free of them with little work.  The answer – we don’t own a rototiller.

3. They Create The “Bare Soil” Problem 

Bare soil makes it easy for soil erosion to occur, and for weed seeds to blow in. Cover crops solve both problems.
Barren soil makes it easy for soil erosion to occur, and for weed seeds to blow in. Cover crops solve both problems.

Here is another simple fact – bare soil in your garden is not a good thing:  In fact – in our garden – during all four seasons – we try hard to never have any of our garden soil or the row’s exposed.  Why?  For a couple of reasons.  Exposed, barren soil is primed and ready for two things…fresh weeds seeds to be blown in and become established – and wind and water to wash it away quickly through erosion.  We use large amounts of natural mulch like straw and shredded leaves in the rows and around our plants to keep the soil covered and mulched – keeping weed seeds from becoming established and erosion to a minimum.  In the fall and winter – cover crops then take over and provide protection.  I know that a lot of people think that those nicely tilled rows between the garden are a neat “clean” look – but they really lead to more weeds each season – and a huge loss of topsoil due to wind and water erosion.

4.  They Can Delay Gardening Season

Early season crops like lettuce and radishes can go in the ground earlier in raised row beds
Early season crops like lettuce and radishes can go in the ground earlier in raised row beds

How many times have you heard someone say – “I couldn’t even get my tiller in the soil until late Spring because it was so wet.”  With a no-till approach – your soil structure drains better, can be worked sooner, and leads to earlier harvest times.

Not only that – but tilling at the wrong time can do serious additional damage to your soil structure.  If it’s too wet – it can result in clumpy and muddy soil. If it’s too dry – a rototiller only serves to destroy the little soil structure remaining – making it less likely to hold in moisture and nutrients.  That in turn leads to the need for more watering and probably having to add synthetic fertilizers to the soil to make up for the lack of naturally available nutrients.  It becomes a vicious cycle that only causes more work for the gardener.

Gardening Without A Tiller…

Our low maintenance raised row garden requires about 10 to 15 minutes a day to keep weed free.
Our low maintenance raised row garden requires about 10 to 15 minutes a day to keep weed free.

No matter what type of garden you have – a raised bed, raised row, or traditional garden plot –  the more you can leave your soil alone and undisturbed – the better off your plants are, and the less overall weeds you will have.

We are big proponents of raised beds, or in our case, raised row beds (raised soil without wood or metal sides).   The benefits of raised beds or raised rows are that you only need to work the soil you plant in – and can concentrate adding organic matter and cover crops to that small portion – leaving your walking and maintenance rows for just that…walking in.  There is never a need to till the soil in the walking rows, and you can keep weeds out with thick layers of organic mulching materials such as straw, grass clippings or shredded leaves that keep the garden looking neat and healthy – and require little work.

Most people are shocked when they find out we do not own a rototiller
Most people are shocked when they find out we do not own a rototiller

The soil in our actual planting rows is only about 18″ wide.   This allows us to concentrate all of our soil building work in just that area – and not wasting effort and hard work all over the garden.  Why dig in and use up valuable compost or cover crops in the rows used only to walk in?  Now you can put it exactly where it’s needed – right in the soil where your plants grow!  Even our fall and winter cover crops are only planted in the 18″ wide raised rows – not the entire garden – allowing for maximum replenishment of the garden while conserving our cover crop seed.   With such a small area to work – they are easily turned over with a pitchfork to incorporate back into the soil for great organic matter.  For more on raised row gardening – you can check out our 4 part series on raised row gardening here :  Growing Simple – Raised Row Gardening

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Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary!



89 thoughts on “Why You Don’t Need A Rototiller To Have A Great Garden

  • April 25, 2016 at 9:55 am
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    How do you plant sweet corn in a no-till garden? Leaving 18″ between rows would use up too much space. And how would you rotate the corn crop? Having areas that are designated walking areas for some crops, again, would be too wide to rotate the corn into.

    Reply
  • January 16, 2016 at 1:01 pm
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    How did you start that growing area without the rototiller, specifically removing the grass? I currently have a raised bed but need to expand and wanted to use the ground. I like the raised rows idea but would like info on how you got that started. Thanks!

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  • November 12, 2015 at 3:45 pm
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    We have a hard and deep ground freeze with several feet of snow every winter. Cover crops don’t seem like a viable option over the winter. What would you recommend to do under these circumstances for the winter. Thank you.

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  • September 27, 2015 at 6:41 pm
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    Is there a certain kind of straw to use? The last straw bale I tried using to mulch my trees with kept sprouting like crazy and was work than I imagined.

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  • May 19, 2015 at 12:44 am
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    I was going to buy a tiller but know am rethinking my plans I am going to use the Three sisters or four sisters method of planting

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  • April 23, 2015 at 12:47 am
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    Yes,.. I just wonder that after two months why is my comment is still awaiting for moderation?
    Does anyone can see it or just me?

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    • April 23, 2015 at 6:23 am
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      I just went back and checked – somehow your comment ended up in our spam folders. I have approved it and it is posted now 🙂

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  • April 22, 2015 at 9:06 pm
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    Hi there, I am working with and overgrown raised bed that has not been used in years. The grass, clover, and dandelion roots are such a chore right now to try and remove. I think it may have made the soil more clay-like (might be wrong) but it seems like there are sooo many roots that its made for quite the compact bed now and trying to losen it to get rid of all of these weeds seems impossible. It is very close to the shore of a lake, so I am worried it it pointless trying as it will be too marshy to grow most of the things I want, but thought it worth a try. I have bought more soil to fill it with once it’s weeded, and cedar wood chips to help keep down the weeds going forward. Any advice you have is greatly appreciated!!

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  • April 19, 2015 at 7:45 pm
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    I have never liked rototillers because of the power they have and how dangerous they seem. I have a friend who produces tomatoes and she uses a Valley Oak Tool Broadfork to break up and amend the soil before planting. It seems to work great without all the noise and having to use gasoline.

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  • April 12, 2015 at 11:14 pm
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    Thank you, for sharing your gardening knowledge! I’m so excited since our tiller is an old beast that beats up my husband and I several times a year in spring and fall — especially him since he tends to do the bulk of the plowing — less guilt for me since the garden is more my passion. It also sounds like it will make amending the soil so much easier and less expensive. Luckily I decided to blow all the maple leaves on the garden last fall:)

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  • April 3, 2015 at 11:50 am
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    So we are just starting a garden this spring. Had someone till us a small plot last fall and we covered it with mulched maple leaves over the winter. If we want to avoid tilling the soil again this spring…what do you suggest?

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    • April 3, 2015 at 12:33 pm
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      The maple leaves were a great choice! I would rake the leaves into rows – then use the dirt from tilling last fall and rake it over the tops of the leaf rows to make your raised rows.

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  • March 28, 2015 at 10:33 am
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    I was wondering if cedar wood chips could be a good substitution for straw for the walking rows? pls answer

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  • March 16, 2015 at 10:25 am
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    Music to my ears, eventually the straw covered paths will they be broken down do you think ? just love this blog it really is helpful to me and my garden challenge here in the West of Ireland thank you for sharing your knowledge. Happy Days to you. Kathy.

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  • February 28, 2015 at 11:22 pm
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    When you start to use a virgin land for garden, rotor tiller comes very helpful.
    I use rotor tiller all the time, but not in my garden anymore. At the beginning I used not a rotor tiller but a backhoe. I over turn the soil approx. two feet deep. You can not brake in a virgin ground with bear hand, when that area is totally covered with Bermuda weed for example.
    Later on of course I added so much organic mater and like horse manure, that the soil in my garden became superior. After the third year I didn’t have to use the rotor tiller anymore. The soil became so soft that I spade my garden by hand, section by section. My garden is kinda big relatively speaking. It is about 25′ X 100′.
    Therefore to spade an area like that, is not an afternoon work. I put a lots of horse manure and other soil products every year, so the soil is becoming very very superior. When it is raining and the poor worms try to escape from the water saturated grass area, and they try to go up on the curvature of the pavement road, instead of let the cars run them over, I collect them in a bucket and take them into my garden. You have to burry them though, or the birds will eat them right away,…:-))

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  • January 13, 2015 at 2:06 pm
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    Instead of digging everything up, you can use the Lasagna method. Use layers of newspaper and compost/leaf litter on top of the areas to kill the areas naturally and have it break down on its own with the natural biology of the soil, adding some nutrients back. Lay the newspapers then add a generous amount of compost or leaf litter so the weeds or grass don’t grow. That way you’re not digging everything up. You can do this in the fall if you want it ready by the spring. It’ll save you time. You just dig the areas where you will actually be planting. There’s no need to dig up every square inch of a garden bed. You can do this for a flower bed or any type of bed you need to build.

    To kill weeds naturally you can use different recipes of vinegar (you can find different recipes online) with dish detergent, but it could affect other plants around if they’re close by because it’s effective by getting on the plant leaves. The dish detergent helps the vinegar stick to the leaves.

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  • December 8, 2014 at 1:38 am
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    I am a residential gardener and I have tilled up my lawn. I replanted a smaller area with sod of a variety that won’t require frequent mowing (I haven’t mowed in 6 months). I am wondering if I can use straw in the areas where I still have dirt. I have laid cardboard nearly everywhere to keep the weeds out but two neighbors have big trees that drop leaves all over my yard. Is it OK to let them rot? I am in N. CAL zone9. We don’t freeze and receive about 25 inches of rain. I have avoided compost cause my dog likes to eat it. I have avoided bark mulch cause I rake leaves every week. Can’t do that with bark. Help!!

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  • May 3, 2014 at 11:30 am
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    Sorry for the silly question, but if you don’t till, how do you work the soil, how do you get compost in and the weeds out? are you saying you don’t loosen the soil at all, just dig a hole? or by “no tilling” do you mean you don’t till your entire garden, but only till the area you are planting?

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    • January 10, 2015 at 5:19 pm
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      i started out with trying to do it all by hand and i have to say it was back breaking using tiller once to get it started is easier, but for long term a pitch fork and a shovel do well.Your only turning over the rows and adding things in but your not destroying the structure of the soil that way it’s gentler most weeds i keep out with a layer of new papers and straw and they allow air and water to get through

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  • April 4, 2014 at 3:15 pm
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    If It ai’nt a Good Idea To use a rototiller Then what other way(s) Is There To do It? And also Is raised beds The way farmers should be doing It from now on?

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    • June 21, 2014 at 4:36 pm
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      I really have’nt seen a reply back on This question unless I’m missing somthing but I’m also wondering how else can we Get The weeds out cause pulling em out by hand Is back breaking

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  • February 26, 2014 at 6:43 pm
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    Can hay be used instead of straw?

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    • March 27, 2014 at 4:41 pm
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      Hay will have seeds of whatever it was created from waiting to germinate in it, while straw is sterile containing no seeds. A mixup when I planted my lawn last year resulted in me receiving several bales of hay and not the straw I ordered. Needless to say I was fighting the growth of several grain crops all summer.

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  • February 19, 2014 at 9:07 am
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    Great article.

    I am starting a new garden this season on a spot with grass. I was thinking about a rototiller to get the initial work done of working up the topsoil and removing weeds/grass.

    What do you recommend as an alternative?

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    • February 19, 2014 at 1:09 pm
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      Thank you Scott,

      Actually – that is one thing and one time a rototiller can do well – is prepare the ground the first time for a garden. If you have access to one – I would use it for just that purpose. It will loosen the original soil and let you create your raised beds.

      Jim

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  • January 9, 2014 at 1:19 am
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    I’m totally on board with the no-till gardening method. Saving the soil is the answer to alot of the environmental problems we have created. Machinery is just one of the many ways humans disturb the natural balance of the soil. I worked in gardening and landscaping for a long time and it was always the lazy ones (lazy in mind and body) who get attached-at-the-hip to their toy machines and their chemical sprayers.

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  • January 8, 2014 at 7:41 pm
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    I hate when people present “either – or” arguments. Tillers have their place, and can be used successfully without negatively impacting soil. I’ve been doing it for more than 40 years. They are just another tool that can be used or abused.
    Good on you for finding a way to work around them, but lets not tell tales that aren’t true.

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    • January 8, 2014 at 7:52 pm
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      Charles – you make a valid point, and as we said in the article and comments – they certainly have a place for certain chores. However, I wouldn’t say anything was a tale or isn’t true in the article – the points made that a no-till garden creates less weeds than a rototiller are indeed true, as is that raised row beds can be worked much earlier in the year than tilled beds that need to be dried out, and have far less soil compaction. It really wasn’t meant as an either/or argument – just an article to say that you can have a great garden without a rototiller, with a lot less work and potential damage to the soil. Thanks for the comment and good luck in your garden this year – Jim

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  • July 20, 2013 at 2:20 pm
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    @ Jennifer- My sister has used marsh grass with success. She obtained it from a local source. I guess it works great and has little to no weed seed. …not sure what Jim’s thoughts would be though.

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    • July 22, 2013 at 8:53 am
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      Thanks Vince for answering – I am so unfamiliar with Marsh grass and would hate to answer – but it sounds like it has worked for Vince’s sister!

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  • June 29, 2013 at 9:08 pm
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    Hi! Is there anything you can recommend instead of straw? I am highly allergic. I have it down this year, thought it would be fine being outside instead of in a horse stall, but no. I used cocoa mulch last year (in the country, dogs not an issue).

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    • July 1, 2013 at 8:44 am
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      Jennifer – Shredded leaves work really well too -and if you can stockpile them in the fall it is a great free way to mulch.

      Jim

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  • March 20, 2013 at 5:55 pm
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    Hi, I tried leaving a question yesterday and apparently I messed up, because it’s not here. Oops. We just recently moved into a house where the garden has been so neglected, that it is full of goatheads and sandburrs. My plan had been to get alot of sheep manure, till it, plant then put straw inbetween the rows. I have never had a garden, so needless to say, I am now very confused. What would be your suggestion to start my garden in this weed infested garden? Help!
    Thanks,
    Karrie

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    • March 20, 2013 at 6:22 pm
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      Hi Karrie – I remember your question from yesterday and looked back – it was left on our “contact us” page and I answered it there 🙂 But i copied and pasted here as well – so glad you stopped by the blog and it sounds like you have some great plans for your new garden! One thing that may really help you is a 4 part series we did on raised row gardening that goes through all of the stages of planting and creating a garden. I really like the raised row approach because it keeps the “work area” confined to manageable spaces. The manure is a great idea as is the straw! If you feel you have to till to get the area started -it is the one time I think gardeners can do it to start – what i would do is till as soon as you can and create raised rows from the soil – then follow with a quick green manure crop of annual rye in the planting areas. That will help crowd out new weeds a little. Heavy mulch between the rows will also help to control them this year as well. This fall – I would concentrate on collecting as many leaves as you can and put a heavy mulch of them on your walking rows, and another cover crop on the growing ones. I realize I just said a lot in a short time, but just thinking how I might approach it. The link to the garden series is at the end of this comment and please feel free to email us if you have any questions as you go along. Good luck and happy growing – it has to be exciting starting your first garden!!! Jim http://oldworldgardenfarms.com/raised-row-gardening/

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      • March 22, 2013 at 7:15 am
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        Ok, so at first glance, it looks like you are saying not to use the sheep manure, only the green manure of rye grass. Is that correct? Where do I find rye grass?

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        • March 22, 2013 at 8:07 am
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          Karrie – I’m sorry for the confusion -I would definitely use the sheep manure. Make sure you work it is either aged manure when or if on the fresher side – work into the soil early enough before putting in your crops (at least 4 – 6 weeks) so it has time to break down and not be to strong for your plants. You can find annual rye grass usually at your local feed stores.

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          • March 22, 2013 at 12:00 pm
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            Thank you so much for all of your help. 2 more small things, should I add the rye grass at the time of planting, or as soon as I have made the rows? And, I was thinking of having raspberries and blackberries in another area, should I fertilize and till that area also, or can I just dig up spots for the plants? Sorry, I am truly a novice at this.

          • March 22, 2013 at 12:38 pm
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            No need to apologize – it’s great to see people get involved in gardening. I honestly would incorporate the manure into your rows and bed space now – and maybe hold off until this fall for a cover crop in your vegetable garden area. It might be a lot to get all of that in, in time before planting this year. As for your raspberries and blackberries – I would dig your hole about twice the size of the root ball going in, and incorporate some good compost in the hole and plant right into those holes. Hope that helps and good luck! You will do great!

  • March 19, 2013 at 11:16 pm
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    Thanks for making me feel great about not having a tiller! Question about grass clippings: doesn’t that add weed seeds, too? And is compost too hot to mulch with? Thanks 🙂

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    • March 20, 2013 at 7:11 am
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      No problem at all – we find it much quicker to garden without one, let alone all of the benefits of leaving the soil undisturbed. As for the grass clipping question. Most lawn that are mowed regularly and have not gone to seed will not bring weeds seeds into the garden. I wouldn’t add clippings that were taken from an overgrown lawn, but regular cuttings where you are just collecting the blades and no seed heads are fine. As for the compost question – we use finished compost for mulching – the active hot piles would indeed burn the plants. Hope that helps and Happy Gardening!!!! Jim and Mary

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  • February 18, 2013 at 11:00 pm
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    I could not agree more! K-ster and I go round and round every year about tilling and he just thinks that will be the clean answer to everything. The first reason I stopped tilling was because I had perennial herbs and a bunch of kale one year that I wintered over. I didn’t want someone to go in and turn it under by mistake. Over time, I’ve read a lot about the compacting and ruining of the soil structure. And, it saves so much money, not renting one! I was never pleased with what it did anyway. I always imagined nice, deep furrows of freshly plowed earth, but it was always helter skelter and so much more work than I thought it should have!

    I dont’ use hay or straw in my garden but I’d never thought about potential pesticdes on it! Yet another reason not to! I want to use horse manure but I’ve read the ingredients on the grains fed at the barn where I ride and they are full of extra vitamins and I’m not sure they get absorbed in the horse. I don’t think I want that in my compost for my organic garden!

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  • February 18, 2013 at 1:48 pm
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    I have decided to do a few raised garden beds this year. Have read a few articles of starting the bed by not tilling and using the lasagna method. First lay cardboard on the bottom, right over the ground to stop weeds and then a layer of twigs, and straw, newspaper and continue adding different layers. This is the method I am going to try since the twigs will compost down . Any suggestions of different layers besides organic soil. Love the article about not roto tilling – makes common sense.

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    • February 18, 2013 at 11:01 pm
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      You do know that cardboard isn’t really safe for food plants, right? There are chemicals in them, not sure which ones, but I think maybe formeldahyde?

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    • February 19, 2013 at 5:51 am
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      It really is a great way to garden without having to work so hard tilling up the ground. As for suggestions – I am a big proponent of natural materials – straw, grass clippings and leaves work best in addition to soil and compost of course. I have heard of using cardboard and newspaper – but just avoided them for the possibility of the inks and glues used in the making of them. Good luck with the garden – you will have to let us know how it turns out! Jim

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  • February 16, 2013 at 7:44 pm
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    OK help me out here lol. We havn’t had a garden in several years because of the time involved and the tractor neds a part. Please help me by spelling out steps for starting from grass and nit using a tiller. Or if you use one the first year what to add to undo the damage you just did. Also with raised beds should you till or dig under them undated of using barrier cloth?

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  • February 14, 2013 at 5:39 am
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    You’ve convinced me through reading the posts about your raised rows that it’s the way to go. Thanks for sharing such valuable information. It especially helps those of us with big garden plans and not much experience. Continued blessings…

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    • February 16, 2013 at 7:50 pm
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      Thanks so much Daisy! Wishing you a wonderful gardening season this year!

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  • February 12, 2013 at 10:19 pm
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    to start the raised rows should i rake dirt from the rows or just keep building them up with compost and organics like a lasagna garden. thanks tweeds+olie wi.

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    • February 13, 2013 at 5:41 am
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      You can actually use a combination of both. Our first years we actually put down about 4 to 6″ of straw and organic material – and then raked over the dirt. You can then continue to build it up over time with additional organic material. Jim

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  • February 12, 2013 at 7:39 pm
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    Happy to see this. I’m new to this house and property. I’ve never had a big garden before (of even really a small one), and we’re planning for a big one this spring. I was worried about not having a tiller, or wondering exactly what to do with the beds I’m planning. I’m glad to know that I don’t really have to worry about tilling. Cheers. =)

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    • February 13, 2013 at 5:39 am
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      Sounds like you have an exciting year ahead in the new house and land. Good luck in your garden this year! Jim and Mary

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  • February 12, 2013 at 3:30 pm
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    I’ve been wanting to do this for some time…thanks for the post! Will try to do to our garden this year. 🙂

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    • February 12, 2013 at 4:20 pm
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      Thanks Nancy – you will have to let us know how it works out for you. Jim

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  • February 12, 2013 at 3:01 pm
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    Hey wait a minute!!! I spent quite a bit of money last year to get my tiller up and running and now your telling me I don’t need one!!?? If I don’t use a tiller this year I expect to get my biggest harvest ever so I hope this no-tiller idea pays off. Anyway, some good reasons for NOT using the tiller this spring.
    Carly

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    • February 12, 2013 at 4:19 pm
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      Hi Carly! I promise you will get a big harvest! I also have some annual rye seed for you if you want to get an early “green manure” crop planted in the planting rows. Glad you enjoyed the article – I had a funny feeling I would be hearing about your tiller! :):)

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  • February 12, 2013 at 2:58 pm
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    i plant annual rye grass strips in between my rows and mow them down for mulch

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    • February 12, 2013 at 4:17 pm
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      Lauren – I love that idea and am so glad to hear of someone doing that! It is something we have thought about doing here. I love the fact that you can get the clippings of the rye for extra mulch. Thanks for sharing! Jim

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  • February 12, 2013 at 12:37 pm
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    What about adding sand? Does it help? I have a large amount that needs to be used.

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    • February 12, 2013 at 12:54 pm
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      Mary – That is a tough question without knowing some variables – but I will try to give you some guidelines. It really would depend on your existing soil structure, what you will be growing and what type of sand. If you have clay soil – then sand is a good addition in moderation. If your soil is already loose in structure – then adding more sand could make it even less likely to hold in moisture. As for what you grow – root crops like carrots like soil that is easier to push through. As for the type of sand – some sands are better to add than others based on their structure. Hope that helps! Jim

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  • February 12, 2013 at 12:10 pm
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    Good article, one other thing I have always heard about is that rototillers cause a plow-pan at the bottom of there tines….. I am a raised bed double dug kind of guy….

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    • February 12, 2013 at 12:13 pm
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      Thank you Tom – and that is a great point – it can certainly cause the plow-pan effect. The double dug raised bed method is a great method too – and allows for deep roots to develop. Thanks for the comment and for stopping by! Jim

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  • February 12, 2013 at 11:27 am
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    Ruth Stout would be proud.

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  • February 12, 2013 at 11:01 am
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    I need to learn more about how NOT to have weeds without tilling. I have a 60′ x 90′ space and the weeds take over! 🙁

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    • February 12, 2013 at 12:10 pm
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      You will get there! Heavy mulch is the answer in those walkways. We use a combination of a lot of straw, shredded leaves and grass clippings. It takes a couple of years to come to full fruition but it will! Thanks for stopping by today!

      Reply
  • February 12, 2013 at 10:50 am
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    I started a new garden this past fall where there has never been anything but hard packed lawn in the middle of suburbia. I tilled in all the sod and as many of the fallen maple leaves as I could find to loosen up the soil and add some organic material. Would establishing a new garden be the exception to the reasons not to till? If not is there a way to remedy this?

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    • February 12, 2013 at 12:05 pm
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      We really rely on mulching. We use lots of saved leaves – old straw and grass clippings in the walking rows and around our plants. The raised row style also means you only have to concentrate on a small area to weed. You will get there!! 🙂 Thanks for the comment – Jim

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    • February 12, 2013 at 3:42 pm
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      I have this same question. I’m about to tear out a 2 patches of bemuda grass; one patch has been compacted, patchy (frequently mossy) and muddy since we moved in 14 years ago. The other patch did okay off and on but frequently suffered from too much sun and lack of water during summer. I’m planning on tilling both patches and adding in copious amounts of well rotted compost before building a raised bed in the back and planting blueberries in the front. Will a tiller be a good idea in this situation? I can’t see anything else working in less then a year or two otherwise. Thanks for the other helpful tips! 🙂

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      • February 12, 2013 at 4:14 pm
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        Hi Tracey, and yes – absolutely! That is a perfect time to use it! It will help to build in the nutrients you will be adding and make quick work of the grass that is there now. Glad you like the hints and tips – Happy Gardening!

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    • February 12, 2013 at 12:08 pm
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      Thanks so much for the re-blog – and it really is a great way to garden! Jim

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      • February 12, 2013 at 12:10 pm
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        I’m looking forward to the results! It also means our plot holders can put permanent structures on their plots, such as raised beds. Thanks for the info.

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    • February 12, 2013 at 12:07 pm
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      Thank you! And hope things are well in Romania! How neat to have a comment from so far away! Jim

      Reply
  • February 12, 2013 at 10:17 am
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    So happy to read this! Tilling is hard work!

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    • February 12, 2013 at 12:08 pm
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      It is isn’t it! I know it sounds foreign to some people – but using a tiller is much harder on the body than this method! Thanks for the comment! Jim

      Reply
  • February 12, 2013 at 9:54 am
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    Have you ever tried minimizing the path and maximizing the raised row space by making the beds 2 arms lengths wide? My mentor from the Guelph Urban and Organic Farm does this and many of the same things you are talking about here.

    Really cool! Thanks for sharing 🙂

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    • February 12, 2013 at 12:06 pm
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      That is a great thought! We have tried several different sizes of rows and this seemed to work out best for us – but that may be something to try! What is the old saying – “never stop trying something new!” Thanks for stopping by! Jim

      Reply
  • February 12, 2013 at 9:07 am
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    Great info. As an organic gardener, I was already aware of the problems with over-tilling, but I learned a lot from your post!

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    • February 12, 2013 at 12:04 pm
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      Fresh : Thanks so much for the compliment on the post! The more the soil can be left alone – the less likely to have weeds and other problems! Jim

      Reply
  • February 12, 2013 at 8:56 am
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    We’ve been trying to incorporate more no-till mulching and less tilling into our growing areas … but, let’s be honest, there’s a cost to buying multiple bales of straw, particularly for folks who are planting substantial amounts. Straw bales go for $10 ea around here, and if we were to mulch everything all season, we’d need at least 25-30 of them each year. And if you’re an organic grower, as we are, that straw may contain pesticides that we don’t want added into our soil. It’s a system that seems better suited to the small backyard gardener.

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    • February 12, 2013 at 12:15 pm
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      You make some great points about the straw. It can be expensive although thankfully we don’t pay that much – it’s about $3.00 a bale here. One thing we do is use a lot of shredded leaves we collect and save in the fall and also grass clippings – they are free and can be found in abundance. It is important if you are trying to be 100% organic to know where those sources come from. Great points! Thanks – Jim

      Reply
    • February 12, 2013 at 6:32 pm
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      The Back To Eden Garden uses wood mulch. You can usually get a truckload pretty cheap. Try asking some of your local tree services, sometimes they have a lot they need to get rid of. Another way to get mulch is to talk to the city where you live. They usually do tree trimming and will gladly drop it off the excess in your yard for free.

      Reply

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