Having Fun Doing Things Differently

Let’s face it….most of us are creatures of habit.  Whether it is how we like our eggs cooked, how we do our weekly shopping or what books we like to read – we do not often change routines once we get them nicely established.  And that’s a shame…

I have recently decided that it’s okay to throw convention to the wind.  Do something new (like learning to play a ukelele, in my case).  Change up your menu ideas at home (we’ve been experimenting with Thai cuisine).  Try gardening from a new perspective (that’s my recent project!).

40 ('81)

Our family garden in 1981. Look at that fluffy soil…and not a weed in sight! There were four of us kids to help with the weeding.

Growing up, we always had huge vegetable gardens.  My father would have a local farmer bring manure each fall, which he would work into the garden.  Then, in the spring, once the soil was dry enough, he would till and till and till, until the soil was fluffy, with no lumps, and not a weed to be found.  Naturally, because this was how I was taught from my young years, this is also how I approached vegetable gardening once I married and could have my own garden.  I remember Ralph rolling his eyes as I asked him to do “just one more pass” with the rototiller, to make a “better” seed bed.  He often told me that his corn and wheat and beans grew just fine in the fields without working the soil that much.  But he is a good man, and did as I asked.

My gardens always yielded good crops, and when the children were growing up, I often had help, weeding and picking.  Now, I do most of the work myself again, and maybe that’s why I have had this epiphany: I am working the soil WAY too much!

There are many reasons to NOT over-cultivate your soil.  One of the main ones is that you are destroying the soil structure.  All those tiny pockets in your soil are holding areas and travelways for air and water.  Turning the top few inches with a pitchfork or hoe is fine, but if you are continually digging up the top 6 or 8 inches of soil, you are wrecking that structure.  As well, you are harming all the beneficial mychorrhizal organisms that form a beneficial relationship with your plants’ roots.  Then there are all the amazing little critters that help fertilize and aerate your soil – spiders, worms, and other insects.

Soil that is “pretty” and smooth may look nice, but it’s not necessarily the best for growing.  One of my favourite reasons for not tilling is that I can reduce my weeding workload.  Every time you till and work the soil, you are bringing up weed seeds to the surface, where they will germinate.  Let’s face it, even the best gardeners have weeds that go to seed on their property!  Mulching with straw canscufflehoe be a real timesaver because it will cut down on the number of weeds that will grow, and it makes it easier to pull them.  If you find straw mulch looks “unsightly” , try to hoe just the top inch of the soil.

Next to my stainless steel spade and fork, my favourite garden tool is my Scuffle Hoe (sometimes called a “stirrup” hoe). With it, I can zip around the whole garden in no time, nipping weeds while they’re still small, and I only work the top layer of shallow.  It calls for a very simple back and forth motion, and I much prefer it to the standard garden hoe that I grew up with.

This year, I’m going to give the rototiller a break.  Once the garden has been cultivated one time,  I am only going to use my pitchfork, when necessary, to turn over soil between crops ( ie. multiple sowings of lettuce or radishes).  I will be using more straw to mulch between rows of beets and beans.  An added benefit to reduced tillage is moisture retention.  Working the soil less means your soil will not dry out as quickly.  Using mulches will help retain that moisture even more.

So are you ready to try something new?  Ready to give up that uber-manicured garden for one that has a different look, but will be easier to maintain, and possibly be a better growing space?  Just think of what you can do with all your extra time!  My hammock may be getting the workout instead of the tiller this summer!



2 responses to this post.

  1. it’s harder to rototill raised beds, but after reading your post, I may be a little too aggressive with my annual turning of my beds (using a shovel).


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