Roto-tilling is a No-no!
By Marion Owen, Fearless Weeder
for PlanTea, Inc. and
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years ago in a village far, far away, several young soldiers spent the
evening at the village pub. On their way home they spotted a giant wooden
horse outside their walled compound. It was so big, they couldn't see
the top of the horse's back. It must be a gift, they thought. With that,
they pushed it across the bridge and through the gates.
You know the rest of the Trojan Horse story. The lesson
is that you can't always take things at face value. The following, real-life
Trojan horse story doesn't have a gruesome ending, but it taught me a
valuable lesson -- and one you CAN take at face value.
Last August I received an email from a company rep that
sells garden products. A couple days later, the phone rang. "You're a
garden writer who lives in Alaska, right?" the lady with the 20-something
The Trojan Horse tiller arrives
Weeks passed. One day, I returned home after running errands
to find a large, heavy-duty cardboard box blocking the front door.
Why is deep tilling a bad thing?
Before I answer that, deep tilling doesn't apply to hoeing a row or using a pitchfork to turn over the first few inches of soil. Nor does it apply to tilling in, say, prairie sod to establish a new garden. Deep tilling means repeatedly cutting up soil with a roto-tiller.
You see, soil is alive. In fact, it's like the New York City of the plant
world -- a complex mix of fine rock particles, organic matter, water, air,
microorganisms and other small critters. In fact, healthy soil is chock-a-block
FULL of living things such as plant roots, animals, insects, bacteria, fungi
and other organisms. It's a jungle down there.
"Managing your soils to keep this living system thriving can make the difference between gardening success and failure," says Rodale's Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening -- An excellent reference. You can buy inexpensive, used copies through Amazon.com.
What makes good soil? Texture and structure are as important as the foundation
of your home. You need it to enjoy and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Soil is more than dirt!
Soil is more than dirt. In fact, it's 50 percent minerals and 50 percent
water and air. Let that sink in for a moment. Half of soil is minerals,
and the rest is water and air. The spaces between the minerals (made of
tiny rock fragments) are the holding areas for soil water and air, the
super highways by which nutrients travel and connect everything in the
Fluffy and earthy smelling is what you want. To get there,
you can choose from numerous gardening practices that support healthy
soil. For example:
"Roto-tilling destroys the network of fungal hyphae that
gives soil structure," he explained." This includes the mychorrhizal network
that is so important to plants."
According to Lowenfels, whose company Alaska
Humus is all about healthy soil, rototilling is an addiction, like
lawns and coffee. "We till because early American's fell under the spell
of an English country lawyer, Jethro Tull, who thought that roots eat
soil particles and the smaller you pulverize soil, the easier it is for
roots to eat it."
What about breaking up sod?
When it comes to gardening efforts, Lowenfels advocates that less is more. He says there is one time when using a tiller is okay: when breaking up sod-grass. "Just do one pass to break up the sod. One pass only." Jeff then adds "The less energy you can use when planting, the better," he says. "Control weeds with mulches, in the case of annuals and vegetables, green mulches and in the case of perennials, shrubs and trees, brown mulches."
Thanks for visiting and please stop by again. I'll put the coffee on!
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