In spite of popular belief, you can and will have a better garden without ever owning or using a rototiller. In fact, in the long run, you will save time, have less weeds, better soil, and, well, the list can go on and on!
It’s sort of a running joke among my family and friends about my lack of love for the rototiller. It’s not that I have anything personal against the machine.
A rototiller is actually great for certain tasks. It’s perfect for creating smooth soil for planting grass. And yes, it can certainly be helpful in creating your first garden space from a grass covered lot.
But beyond that, a rototiller truly does more harm than good in a garden. And hopefully today’s article can shed some light on exactly how and why.
But even more, it can show how gardening without one can make more than half of your typical garden work disappear.
We have been “no-rototiller” gardening (See : Creating A No-Till Garden With Ease) for going on 11 years now. And the advantages, beyond the obvious less weeds and work, are simply mind blowing. So let’s take a look now at exactly why that rototiller needs to stay out of your garden!
3 Great Reasons To Never Use A Rototiller In Your Garden
#1 Saving Time Without A Rototiller – Why To Never Use A Rototiller In The Garden
The most common misconception about a rototiller is that it saves time. That simply 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. Whenever I see a large bare-soil plot of tilled garden space, all I can think of is how much work went in to tilling that entire area.
Tilling it up, re-tilling it. Then, tilling it again to get the soil chunks out so that you can rake it and then hoe it up to plant. And that is, of course, if you can get that done between the rains. Or, if the soil is even dry enough to till.
Many gardens that are tilled get delayed in the spring due to the soil being too wet too work. And if you do make the mistake of tilling it wet, those big chunks of soil can spell disaster.
The Rototiller Example
But the real issue comes with tilling that large space over and over. I’ll use our garden here at the farm as an example. Our actual garden plot size is 40′ x 60’, which would be a typical mid to larger size garden for most.
If we were to till our entire garden a few times to get smooth soil, even with a large tiller, it would take several hours. And we would still need to rake it, and then carve our rows for spacing and planting. It would be a long, exhausting all-day event, if not a two-day event!
Then once the garden is planted, the work continues. For a conventionally tilled garden, this means running the tiller once every week or two (even more for some) between all of the rows to keep weeds at bay. And then of course, hoeing anything you can’t get with the tiller.
It’s a lot of work, and it also never seems to end! But in a no-till garden using mulch, you never need to work the whole garden. The walking areas are simply mulched heavily forever. It instantly reduces the space you work by 75%. (See : How To Use Garden Mulch To Stop Weeds Forever)
Our planting and root zone spaces take up less that 25% of our garden, with the rest being for walking rows between plants. Better yet, the space is always workable, even after heavy spring rains. And there is never a need to till in season. It is really how Raised Row Gardening all began, and does it ever save time!
But when it comes to really saving time, it’s all goes to the next point – eliminating weeds by NEVER using that rototiller!
#2 The Rototiller, A Weed Planting Machine – Why To Never Use A Rototiller In The Garden
If you are tired of weeding your garden year after year, and the problem only seems to get worse, perhaps that rototiller might just be the problem.
Tilling causes more weed issues than it ever helps to eliminate. Every time tilling occurs in the soil, thousands of weed seeds laying on the surface of the soil are driven into the soil.
And the vicious cycle of tilling and re-tilling to eliminate the next batch begins. By simply not using that rototiller, and not disturbing the soil, you will eliminate nearly all of your weeding issues over time.
That’s right, by working less, you can have even less weeds! By simply using mulch instead of tilling, the weeds seeds never have a chance to go into the ground.
And with every year that follows, the weeds and work become even less of an issue with no-till gardening. It’s hard to believe, but we now spend less than 15 minutes a week in our 40 x 60 garden worrying about weeds or weeding. And it continues to become less and less with each passing year.
Now on to point #3 – why tilling actually hurts your soil.
#3 Tilling Destroys Your Soil Structure – Why To Never Use A Rototiller In The Garden
In addition to causing all of those weeds, 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 detrimental to your soil, and, the long-term health and productivity of your plants.
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.
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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 go through the soil, that natural harmony is broken apart. Making matters worse, that loose soil left behind compacts easily, and can suffocate roots as it does.
The Issue With Compressed Soil
And as the soil compresses, the channels and air pockets disappear. In turn, it makes it hard for the roots of your vegetable plants to get the nutrients they need. The result is an under-performing garden with soil that can’t hold or deliver nutrients.
And all of that walking behind the tiller causes it’s own issues as well for your garden. As you walk, you compact the just-tilled soil, smashing down the ground even tighter around the roots of your vegetable plants. Just one more reason to leave that tiller in the garage!
Here is to the ease and productivity of no-till gardening! Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary.
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