till under or take off top layer?

Discussion in 'Gardening & Plant Propagation' started by leigha, Feb 25, 2004.

  1. leigha

    leigha Well-Known Member

    May 5, 2003
    This will be our first vegetable garden. Right now, the weeds, grass, whatever is at our shoulders. Do we bushhog it down and till all the top layer under or bushhog it down and use a shovel to cut off the top layer of sod? Thanks.
  2. Bluecreekrog

    Bluecreekrog Well-Known Member

    Jun 21, 2002
    S Oh.
    It will till better if its bushhoged first, If it hasn't been turned in a few years, you may want to consider having it ploughed and disced. much easer on your back and shoulders. It will be real weedy this year, but next year it will be great.

  3. gobug

    gobug Well-Known Member Supporter

    Dec 9, 2003
    bush hog the tall stuff and save it for your compost pile
    make one if you don't have one.

    slice under the sod with a flat shovel blade and remove it
    it won't help in the garden or compost

    rototil in several inches of compost
    buy it if you don't have it

    Eliot Coleman, "Four-Season Harvest", says after your initial garden where you have rototilled in some compost you can just add compost on top, like in nature, and scratch it into the top layer of soil. He says double digging results in diminished results and does not do as good a job of aeration as perennial roots that you damage when you double dig. He suggests using a broadfork or pitch fork and just lightly lifting the soil - not turning it.

    I have boxes and have always double dug. It's easy to dig down 15" since I don't walk in the boxes. This year I will try some of Eliot's suggestions.
  4. owhn

    owhn Well-Known Member

    Oct 29, 2003
    I am reading that this will be for a garden, not a huge area for farming row crops. To me the level of attention to a garden's conditions are greater the smaller the area that is cultivated.

    Certainly you want to mow/remove, etc. the above surface materials. As to the rest of the question, I would think the answer is it depends ... mostly on the size of the garden, and the machinery you have available.

    For a first home garden, the advice generally given is make it small, managable and productive; expand later. And in this consideration, do you need this specific garden area to be productive this year?

    If you do not, then repeated tilling and planting of green manure would work well. This would have the benefit of using up the exisiting weed seeds as well as providing a compeitive covering growth that will rot and provide improved tilth. Soil testing and amendments, etc. could be done as well. (I am only attending to the choices you asked about, not say, wholesale plastic sheeting, chemical defoliants, massive in-soil composting, chicken tractors, what-have-you, etc.)

    If you do need this garden to be productive this year, then you have to be realistic on the amount of area you can manage. Shoveling the top layer is HARD manual work. If the surface materal is turf/lawn, it is VERY hard. To make your garden a garden, you need to remove the vegetative competion. Here shoveling the top layer and setting it aside (perhaps upside down) to smother in piles can work well. There are more ways to deal with this, perhaps a later discussion .... )

    You are left with less than great soil (the best will unfortuately, be with the plant growth you just cut off), but no competion from the above materials..) Assuming you did the removal by hand (not by some industrial manner like a dozer grading the entire surface away), you should have residual biological entities there ready for your garden. At this point, your soil can be rototilled, plowed. double dug whatever; amendments added as required, to provide a loosened soil ready to hide those precious seeds/sink in those seedlings and soak up the moisture from the spring rains, etc.

    I am not against rototilling ... there are those that feel there is a shelf of compacted soil (below the soil tilled) that is created by tilling ... I have not experienced that in my conditions .... yet I do believe that hand digging certain crops is a good idea (say mounds for pumpkins/squash) and my modest experiments with raised beds is also encouraging.

    The alternate, tilling the whole mess and then purposed seeding is really a test of survival of the fittest .... competition coming in part from some surface vegetation seeds but more seriously perhaps sliced vegetative growth reincoporated into the soil from weed species .... The relatively easy initial effort is easliy overcome by the resulting dissapointmen in the mid/end season. Weed control becomes an enormous battle throughout the summer ...

    my thoughts,

  5. ed/IL

    ed/IL Well-Known Member

    May 11, 2002
    You might try putting a layer of plastic down to kill it. Another possibility is to put some carpet down and cut a hole in it for each plant. Weave some old garden hose and drill small hole at each plant for slow watering. After the season trash the carpet and till in compost. Try a few different methods and see what works best.
  6. Dchall_San_Anto

    Dchall_San_Anto Active Member

    Feb 17, 2004
    If anyone is looking for someone who is anti-tilling, here I am :D

    You probably have perfect soil under your weeds right now. Tall weeds soften soil and bring up nutrients from very deep in the soil. If you mow those weeds down and use them as green manure (also called mulch) now you can recapture those formerly deep nutrients at the surface.

    I need to make a list of short reasons why not to till. I may as well start it now. I could write an essay on each of these reasons, but I'll spare us all the verbiage. I'm sure I have a few more reasons filed away somewhere but these come to mind immediately.

    1. Tilling disintegrates the soil crumbs prepared by beneficial bacterial microbes and turns them to powdery dust.
    2. Tilling kills the beneficial fungi that aerate the soil for you.
    3. Tilling closes the soil's pores and holes formed by the fungi and worms.
    4. Tilling promotes bacterial bloom that blows the carbon (dioxide) out of the soil.
    5. Tilling scatters the stratified microbes all through the soil. Some microbes only can survive at the surface and some can only survive a few inches down.
    6. Tilling exposes old weed seeds to the sun to germinate.
    7. If Mother Nature wanted us to till, she would till herself. Instead of filling the Great Plains, veldts, steppes, and tundra with millions upon millions of plowing hogs, she filled it with grazing bovine, elk, deer, antelope, sheep, equine, and goats. These animals don't even "scratch it in." They walk on it.
    7. Tilling is hard and requires expensive equipment (a personal note ;) ).

    So how are you supposed to soften your garden soil? By using compost or mulch on the surface of the soil. I don't lightly scratch it in. I gently place it on top of the soil surface and dampen it. By putting it on the surface you form a layer that will keep the soil temperature more constant and help slow the loss of moisture in the soil. When the soil is kept at one temp and moisture level, the beneficial microbes in the soil can really take off. Plus when it does rain, the rain will hit the mulch and not the soil. When rain hits something to slow it down before it hits the soil, mechanical erosion is lessened.

    If you wanted to do something to intensify the soil softening effect, put down an organic fertilizer to feed the soil microbes before you mow down the weeds.

    A few more things about weeds: are you sure you have to eliminate them? Are they just ugly or are they sucking valuable moisture and nutrients from your crops? Or are they bringing up moisture and nutrients with their deep roots. Or are they capturing nitrogen from the air and delivering it to the soil (like clover and other "leguminous weeds")? Or are they conferring a sort of immunity to disease and pests to your garden? Or are they bringing in beneficial insects, birds, lizards, and toads to the garden? Or are they providing photosynthetic sugars to the beneficial soil microbes? Or are they providing a home for mychorhizal fungi? Or are they grabbing soil with their roots and slowing rain impact with their canopies so that hard rains are absorbed instead of washing soil away?

    Some citrus producers are finding that leaving the nutgrass in their orchards does no harm; saves time, money, and labor to try and eradicate it; and keeps the soil intact during thunderstorms. Furthermore they are wondering about the damage to the trees from all the herbicide they've tried. All in all, just changing their mindset about nutgrass has greatly improved their bottom line and their stress factor.