What is tilling?
Tilling is the process of preparing and cultivating the soil in preparation for crops. Seems legit. But, this can be both good and bad. Let’s take a closer look.
Soil is really a delicate substance, and it’s quite literally alive! Every square inch of soil has millions upon millions of active microbes. This is important because, in nutshell, these microorganisms break down organic matter into substances that plants can thrive on, hence increasing soil fertility. They also help to control pests and disease.
Soil must be respected, and maintained
Amending the soil is not something that is one and done, it is a continual process. In most cases, it is done at the beginning and end of every growing season. There are several ways to keep soil healthy;
- Utilizing cover crops
- Adding organic material and compost
- Crop rotation
- Protection from erosion and compaction
It’s important to never walk in or on your garden beds or rows. This act compacts the soil, making it harder for the soil to hold water and oxygen. As a result, damaging the living microbial structure of the soil.
From what I understand, soil has microbial “webs” and these “webs” work in tandem with plant roots. Essentially, they extend the reach of the plant so that it can obtain necessary nutrients to do what nature intended. Grow! Tilling disrupts this process every time the ground is worked.
“Conventional” agriculture seems to use this technique of constantly turning over the soil. Unfortunately, this causes the depletion of the soils fertility. In turn, this system then requires large amounts of chemical fertilizers to amend the soils nutrient content, crucial for the crops survival. Also, they tend to let fields and soil sit exposed to the elements, leading to the erosion of the top soil. Seems counter productive, but..that’s just my opinion.
Alternatively, more sustainable methods do exist. There seems to be more agriculture professionals waking up to this “alternative” of cover cropping and composting to amend the soil fertility, as oppose to the chemical options.
What we did
So, we’ve established that tilling is a widely debatable topic, and it is totally understandable! My husband and I generally come from the school of thought of not to till. However, starting out in this new, overgrown space, and given the extremely compacted clay soil…it really was the easiest and fastest way to start our garden right away. Also, we were gifted an amazing tiller as a housewarming gift. So, why not! To be frank, it was the easy way out, as well as instant gratification.
With that said, we know have an established plot, approximately 40′ by 30′. We definitely don’t plan on tilling again except when establishing a new plot.
What’s your school of thought, to till or not to till? Why?