Thursday, April 23, 2009

This is what the new garden space looked like last week, before I tilled. That's two foot tall native grass, that I suspect has never been cultivated. Ever.

I rented a tiller and Widget Man and I took turns going over and over and over this bit of land. We followed the suggestions in Gardening When It Counts for breaking up deep sod: First mow, then 1) run the tiller down the middle of the patch of land, 2) scoot the tiller over about 1 inch, so that it tilts slightly and can dig in a bit deeper, 3) walk the tiller down this new path, one inch over from the old one, 4) move the tiller over an inch, again, 5) repeat, repeat, repeat until you've covered the entire section you plan to plant, one inch at a time, 6) start the whole process over again, this time crossways from the direction you started, 7) re-till the whole area, in one inch wide sections, 8)repeat as necessary

I am not sure if I am able to convey just how slow, noisy, and bone-rattling a process this is. Unbroken sod is tough stuff. I rented the heaviest duty tiller I could find, but our sod was its master. Really, for this tough, grass-matted, deep rooted sod, I needed a team of good strong oxen. About four hours later, we'd managed to break up the sod and dig in four or so inches deep. Our wrists were buzzing with some weird electrical impulse apparently set off by the vibrations of the tiller. Our elbows and shoulders throbbed.

A lot of work, but the soil looked pretty good, and is surprisingly deep for this area. It's a little bit heavy, but compost will help with that. Like most people I know who garden, I usually follow some version of a no-till, square foot, or mulch layer system, in order to avoid disturbing the soil's capillary system, the happy micro-bugs inside the soil, earth worms, and what have you. That is, rather than dig deep into the soil, we just add new nutrients, like compost and mulch, to the top, or dig in shallowly.

So I hope never, ever, to till this plot again. I hope, seriously and prayerfully, that in the future, I'll just be able to add compost, composted manure, and mulch, and dig it in by hand.

After we finished tilling, I built these berms, about four feet wide, by hand, with a shovel. It took the better part of a day to do the whole thing.

This is the first time I've tried gardening directly in the ground in this area. What a pleasure it is to be able to easily kneel right next to the bed, instead of trying to stretch over the bed walls.

With the berms, I've got about two feet of nice, rich, soft soil. Time will tell how well this system works.


  1. Gardening! thats fantastic. way to stick it to factory farms. you should look into ways into which you can conserve water so that there will be enough left in the future to cultivate your garden. anything helps.

    ps. i liked the previous post as well. im glad widget man knew what a brown recluse looked like.

  2. Wow, I admire all the investment of labor you put into that stretch of ground! At present we have no tiller, very little time, and keep layering horse stall cleanings (poo and everything) straight on the hardpan. We planted a few hardy seeds right into it and they have actually come up...but OH the Bermuda grass...eek :)


  3. Hey Chrissay!

    I definitely want to work on water conservation. I'll post soon about what I'm doing in that area -- building swales and berms for the garden, measuring water output, mulch, drip systems. And soon, we'll be adding water catchment. I hope it will be soon, anyway. :)

  4. Hi Robbyn!

    I know what you mean about time! We rented that tiller, and I hope we don't have to do it again soon. I really prefer your approach -- layering and building without tilling. But I needed that extra garden space this season so I was forced into that method. I've been doing a little layering too, hoping that in a season or two, I'll have some more garden space. How long do you find it takes before a layered garden with deadpan becomes workable soil?