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Is Rototilling Bad For My Soil?

by Rick
(United States)

I understand it’s not good to rototil the soil. How do I start a garden site without disturbing life under foot? Thanks for your great website Dave!

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Apr 13, 2012
Rototilling Will Harm Your Soil but…
by: Dave

Hey Rick,

I thought I’d do something a little different tonight, so I recorded an audio reply to your question as well as provided some text below for those who don’t want to listen to my sexy voice…

Listen Now

If this audio clip gets cut off, try cutting and pasting the link ( into a different web browser. I was having issues with Firefox, but it worked fine in Explorer.

Some of the facts are as follows:
  • tillage disrupts the life in your soil
  • tillage increases the oxygen levels in your soil (at least temporarily)
  • tillage produces a quick flush of plant-available nutrients
  • repetitive tillage without replacing your humus and nutrients, will eventually result in significant microbiology reduction, soil compaction, less water holding capacity, less humus, and nutrient leaching…yeah?

Sheet mulching (or lasagna gardening) is an alternative to tillage when breaking new ground. One thing I didn’t mention in the audio was this…sheet mulching is great when done approximately 6 months prior to planting season, however, since we’re in the spring and you want to plant asap, I’d go against Mother Nature for a moment and give your garden area a once over with the rototiller. I can already hear the backlash coming from other Tribe members…

A few recommendations about tilling:
  • do as few passes as possible with the tiller
  • as soon as you’re done tilling, apply a compost tea, and repeat each week for a least a month
  • if you’re not a tea brewing kind of guy, make sure you apply some form of simple sugar (white sugar works) in water along with a source of nitrogen (e.g. fish hydrolysate) to your soils once a week for at least the next month – this will help to meet the demands of the flourishing microbe populations
  • you may want to also add some Effective Microorganisms (EMTM) to your soil surface
  • spread a thin layer (1/2″-1″) of compost on top of your soil after tilling
  • cover your soils with a mulch (e.g. leaves, straw, hay, etc.) as you “grow” forward

I hope this gets you started and stimulates some new ways of thinking about your soils…

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