As crazy as it sounds, if you want a garden with less maintenance, less weeds and better yields – stop using a rototiller!
Our garden is now going on its 8th year without a rototiller. And I can tell you with 100 percent assurance that every single year our soil gets better, gardening becomes easier, and our harvest grows.
As for those pesky weeds, they have all but been eliminated through the simple process of using mulch and cover crops in place of tilling up the soil.
So, do rototillers have a place? I suppose they do if you are creating your very first garden from an overgrown area. Or perhaps, using it to loosen soil for planting grass in a yard.
But beyond that – they really are a detriment to the health of a garden. And here are 2 big reasons why:
2 Big Reasons Not To Use A Rototiller In The Garden
#1 The Amazing Weed-Planting Ability Of A Rototiller
If you are tired of weeding your garden year after year, and the problem only seems to get worse, then perhaps that rototiller might just be the problem.
Tilling causes more weed issues than it ever helps to eliminate. Every time the soil is tilled, thousands of weed seeds laying on the surface of the soil are replanted. And the vicious cycle of tilling and re-tilling to eliminate the next batch begins.
We did an experiment last year in order to take a few photos for our Raised Row Garden book. We planted two 6′ rows with three tomato plants in each. Then we mulched one row heavily, and with the other, tilled around plants every few weeks with no mulch. We never touched them beyond that.
The difference was astounding! The tilled rows had more and more baby weeds every few week as the growing season progressed. In fact, it looked like a carpet of grass around the tomato plants by the end of the growing season.
The heavy mulch rows had some weeds, but they were but a fraction of the tilled rows. And, even after 12 weeks, we were able to finally pull the weeds in those rows in about 10 minutes. They came up easily through the mulched soil. In addition, the tilled rows dried out much faster, and required watering to keep alive during a dry spell. The un-tilled mulched rows required no additional watering. And the yields per plant were nearly 2 to 1 in favor of the mulched row. See ; How To Eliminate Weeds From Your Garden
#2 Tilling Destroys Soil Structure
In addition to the weeding issues, tilling also plays a part in the demise of soil structure. Healthy plants need healthy soil. And believe it or not, tilling, especially over-tilling, all but destroys great soil. Many think that loose, tiny, fragmented soil left behind after 15 passes with a rototiller is a good thing. In reality, it is quite simply not!
As the tines of a rototiller plow through the soil, the natural state of the soil’s structure is compromised. Undisturbed soil is alive and filled with organic matter. It is loaded with bacteria, nutrients, and millions of microorganisms that are working hard to give life to the soil. In addition, worms and other ground dwellers have created channels as they chew through the soil. Those channels help to bring oxygen and water into the ground below, making it easy for plants to find the nutrients they need to thrive. Left alone, it is full of life.
But as soon as the tines are driven through the soil, that natural harmony is disrupted. Making matters worse, that loose soil left behind compacts easily. As that soil compresses, those channels and air pockets are blocked off. That in turn makes it hard for the roots of your vegetable plants to get the nutrients they need. The result, an under-performing garden.
So How Do I Plant and Maintain A No-Rototiller Garden?
Vegetable gardening really doesn’t have to be difficult. With our raised row garden, we only work the soil we plant in. It allows us to concentrate adding organic matter and cover crops to only that small portion. For the majority of the garden area we walk in, or as we obviously call it, the “walking rows”, we simply use a heavy mulch. It can be whatever is readily and inexpensively available. For us, that happens to be hardwood bark chips.
For our growing rows, we grow a cover crop each fall of annual grass to rejuvenate and protect the soil from weed seeds blowing in. Then, in the spring, as it dies off, we plant right through it. We don’t til the soil or turn it over anymore, we just use a simple post hole digger to make a small hole, plant and mulch. That’s it!
In season, we keep weeds out of growing rows with a layer of organic material such as straw, compost, grass clippings or even shredded leaves. We mulch right over the decaying cover crop, and the weeds simply can’t get started. By fall, we scrape back the mulch, and seed a cover crop again.
This process not only keep the garden looking neat and healthy, but adds more organic material to build the soil every year. Now that is a not-so-vicious cycle that actually works! You can find all of this and more in our new complete book on Raised Row Gardening. It is now available on line at Amazon, and in Barnes and Noble stores around the country.
Happy Gardening! Jim and Mary. To receive our 3 Home, Garden, Recipe and Simple Life articles each week, sign up for our free email list. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram. This article may contain affiliate links