Nothing gets a gardener’s blood tingling quite like having that “special time” approach. If you enjoy growing things, you know what time it is—planting time! Unfortunately, the thrill of putting seeds or transplants into the ground is too often followed by dread. Of tilling.
Tilling—the” Necessary Evil”?
But we can’t enjoy everything, right? You have to dig before you plant, so at least once a year, we must till our soil. That’s the way it has been for generations. That is the way a good garden works. But hold on a second.
What if tilling wasn’t a necessary evil, and you could have the garden of your dreams without the tilling of your nightmares?
No, I’m not kidding.
I decided to toss tilling years ago, and I’ve been very happy with the results. There have been good things happening since I dumped the pre-plant dig. And I’m not just whistling in the wind. I learned this from an expert on no-dig gardening, Charlie Nardozzi.
(Before I go any further, I want you to know that links in this article may contain affiliate links. That just means if you click through, then decide to buy an item, we will earn a commission. The commission won’t tack on any extra cost.)
I especially enjoyed my recent talk with Charlie because he knows how to communicate so well. What could have been rather confusing was laid out in easy-to-understand pieces.
The podcast will be at the end of the article, if you would like to watch it.
First, the big surprise…
WHAT IS IN THAT TEASPOON?
It MUST be good for soil, to till it. After all, gardeners have been doing it for ages. Many of us still do. But before you till this year, take an old spoon outside and dig up some dirt. It’s fun to be able to dig up the dirt for a good cause. You won’t need much, a teaspoon will do.
Now look at your teaspoon of soil. Inside that tiny bit, there are more than 4,000,000,000 microbes. These living things help soil hold onto nutrients, and help convert things into nutrients for the plants you grow. Four billion little helpers alive in a teaspoon of dirt! Amazed? So was I!
Now dump that teaspoon. Run a harsh blade, such as a tiller, through the soil where you intend to plant, and you have destroyed a great number of the microbes. There are actual networks, often referred to as fungal networks, living there.
Fungal networks help the roots of plants with accessibility to nutrients. Tilling tears these networks up. They must rebuild, and it is a slow process.
Tilling Introduces Oxygen into the Soil
We’ve all heard how tilling brings oxygen to the soil. That would seem to be a good thing. It would be for us, anyway, right? The dirt gets turned over, matter that is in the dirt and is organic gets quickly broken down, and you have an explosion of nutrition.
Sure seems as if this would be a great thing to have happen to your soil. Unfortunately, it’s a bit like drinking an extra cup of coffee when you will need extra energy. You will feel like nothing can stop you—for a while. Then, later in the day, the wilt will set in.
Well, this way of oxygenating your soil burns organic matter more quickly. Later in the season, when your plant is trying to grow leaves, put out blooms or set fruit, the wilt sets in.
WILL YOUR GARDEN BE HAPPIER IF YOU TOSS THE TILLER?
To tell the truth, I don’t know whether your garden will be happier. I haven’t spoken to your garden lately. But I know some good things happened when I stopped tilling my garden.
Garden in Less Space
Do you have one of those yards the size of a postage stamp? Maybe you live in an apartment. When you allow your soil to have the things in it that it needs to help get nutrients to your plants, then you can grow things closer together.
Save Money on Fertilizer
You’ve heard of “rich soil”. Well, now you will have it. Rather than killing off the good stuff, requiring the cycle to begin again every year, there can be a build up of life-giving nutrients in your soil.
Make an Important Environmental Change
A phrase we don’t hear often enough is “carbon sequestration”. When we allow the soil to be fed naturally, by plants living, then dying, then nourishing the earth, we are encouraging carbon sequestration. This can help—a lot—in the fight against global warming.
And What I Absolutely Love About No-Dig Gardening
I’m not doing the work of the pre-plant dig!
HOW TO MAKE YOUR GARDEN A NO PRE-PLANT DIG GARDEN
I like to do things the easy way when I garden, so I can get to the fun stuff—putting my plants in! One of the easiest changes you can make to your garden is to use compost. Make your own or buy some good-quality compost, adding to it. Then…
Compost in Autumn
Spread compost around in Fall, let it break down over Winter, then plant in Spring. There will be lots of nutrients for your plants, and you can start earlier in Spring because a bit of dampness isn’t a problem for compost. Also, we come back to the chorus of my favorite song—less work!
WHAT IF I WISH TO CHANGE MY LAWN TO A GARDEN WITHOUT TILLING?
Do it! Use this four-step process:
> Spread newspapers all around on the grass. Regular newspaper. Nothing glossy like magazine pages. You will want at least four layers of paper.
> Wet the newspaper down.
> Next, spread straw or leaves on the wet paper. You’ll need 6 to 8 inches, and the leaves will work best if they are torn up or shredded.
> Then, 4-8 inches of compost.
Different Seasons Have Different Effects
Do it in Fall, and you can plant in Spring.
Do this in Spring, and you need to be sure the compost is at least 4 inches thick, as well as choosing rather shallow-rooted plants for the first season.
To Keep Your Garden Happy
The easiest way is chop/drop when you prune. You won’t want to leave all flowers in dirt, but wood and leaves are wonderful fertilizers.
OTHER TYPES OF NO DIGS
Whichever type you choose, I believe you won’t be disappointed!