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Till vs. No-Till: 6 Reasons I’ve Decided to Go Back to Tilling My Garden

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Till vs No Till Garden Pros and Cons

Are you a no-till gardener or do you prefer to till?

I’m assuming I might bring on a hefty debate after this post, but that’s okay. About a year ago I shared with you how to start a no-dig garden. I was a firm believer in this method for quite a few years. But then I had an interesting experience in my garden this year that has changed my mind.

I’m going back to tilling my garden next year because of it.

Now, understand, I’m not totally against no-dig gardens. I just found that it isn’t the best option for me.

I have been painfully honest with you all from the start. Which means, I have to share my failures and lessons learned along the way too. So I want to share with you a few reasons that you might want to consider tilling your garden again (and why I failed with my no-dig garden.)

Here they are:

1. Less Work In The Beginning Stages

I’ll come right out of the gate and tell you why my no-dig garden failed me this year:

I lost my wood chip source.We had a guy that helped us get wood chips, and he was wonderful.

We had a guy that helped us get wood chips, and he was wonderful. But we lost contact with him this year, and we struggled like no body’s business trying to find more free wood chips. I guess when the revolution of ‘no-dig’ started, the tree services got smart and decided to charge.

Well, I have a huge garden. It wouldn’t be beneficial for me to pay for wood chips to cover it.

So this year, we tried using a combination of items that we could gather ourselves. But unfortunately, it wasn’t enough, and I had a very difficult year out of my garden. I will discuss that in further detail in a minute.

But right now, if you are getting ready to start a garden and are teeter-tottering between the two, I urge you to lock down your resources before you go with no-dig.

Because otherwise, you could end up like us with no means of building up your soil.

If you decide to till, your garden soil can be ready in a matter of weeks instead of waiting months for your garden soil to be ready to plant in. That is a huge bonus to tilling your garden.

So if you want an option that requires less patience and can be ready faster than tilling your garden is beneficial in this area.

2. Fall Chores Are Easier

Usually, we spend our fall doing all kinds of chores, and one of our biggest chores was securing our wood chips and getting them delivered. Then we would spend a whole day dragging the wood chips to the garden. Then spreading them evenly over the garden with the tractor.

When we decided to go back to tilling, it was refreshing when my husband was able to till up our garden in less than 20 minutes this year. He came home from work, hooked the attachment to the tractor, and went to town on our garden.

I was stunned when he came in minutes later and said, “Okay, the garden is tilled.”

Now, we still have to put compost and chicken manure on the garden (that is actually on my to-do list this week). But that can be easily spread and worked in with the tractor.

So as much as I thought no-dig gardening was saving me work, this method (so far) has saved me a lot of time.

However, I will mention, when we tilled our garden before it was half the size, and we used a tiller. Tillers are great for smaller gardens. If you are like us and have a large garden, you can still use a tiller. However, a tractor with proper attachments will make your gardening experience a lot easier.

So remember, a no-dig garden can save you some work (over time) in the spring. But during the fall, tilling has proven faster for us.

3. You Don’t Have To Spend Time On The Phone

When you have a no-dig garden you spend a lot of time on the phone looking for items you need to cover.

Sure, if you are fortunate enough to have a huge amount of acreage where you cut down and chip your own wood chips then that is awesome. I have wooded areas on my property, but not enough to be my own supplier of wood chips.

You can also use items like cardboard and moldy hay. But truthfully, I try really hard to keep all of my hay dry so I don’t waste it. Nor, do I like storing cardboard because it draws bugs. However, if you have someone that can supply you with a lot of cardboard all at once, then no-dig might still be viable for you.

But for me, this proved to be a large problem.

And honestly, I got sick of spending so much time on Craigslist and making phone calls trying to track down what I needed. It was especially irritating when everyone tried to charge me for what I needed.

I live the homesteading lifestyle to save money, not spend more of it.

Now, I don’t have to worry about it. I can depend on my chickens for chicken manure. Plus, if I want more I live in an area with tons of chicken houses where people are only too happy to get rid of their abundance of chicken manure.

So tilling my garden has proved to save me time and effort in not having to track down the items needed to enrich my soil for the next gardening season.

4. Greater Production (In Our Case)

I’m not stating this as fact. I’m only stating this as my own personal opinion in our particular case.

When we tilled our smaller garden, we got a pretty awesome yield from it.

However, when we began not tilling our garden, we’d have some good years and bad years. I knew it was because the soil hadn’t composted enough which often leaves your shallow rooted plants up for grabs by pests.

But this year, it had nothing to do with the soil or the roots. Our soil was doing great. Apparently, it was doing a little too great.

Because we grew everything! Including weeds. The only conclusion I could come up with is that I didn’t have enough material covering our garden when composting.

But we had weeds like I’ve never seen weeds before.

And I literally worked myself to death in that garden. I would get up every morning as soon as the sun came up (trying to beat the heat) and would pull weeds by hand for 3 hours a day. I had to work 6 days a week to stay on top of the weeds in our garden.

However, eventually, things started happening in my personal life that I didn’t have time to pull weeds every morning for 3 hours a day.

So I had to pull when I could. The next thing I knew, my garden was totally overtaken by weeds. And it killed our production.

And when you are an avid canner that hates shopping at the grocery store, this is demoralizing.

So yes, that my friends, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. And just like that, we decided to go back to tilling.

Now, I have heard over time that people say that they get better production from a no-dig garden than a tilled garden. That just hasn’t been our experience.

And I can’t risk having another year like this past one to find out.

5. Neater Appearance

When we first began having a ‘no-dig’ garden I thought it looked better.

It was so pretty with all of that fresh mulch over it.

But then we began the battle of the weeds. We had weeds in years past, but they were nothing in comparison to what we dealt with this year.

So when I looked out over my garden, I didn’t get to see the pretty lush rows I was accustomed to. I saw plants with weeds in between them. It was a huge letdown. Our garden is positioned where I can look out of the backside of my house and see it from multiple windows. Yes, I love gardening that much!

But it was always so sad when all of those seedlings you worked so hard to grow weren’t the main attraction. Instead, it was weeds.

This upcoming year, I can’t guarantee I won’t have to battle weeds even with till garden. But at least I can use a tiller or a tractor to take them down in one big swoop instead of crawling all over that huge garden for hours a day.

And my beautiful plants will be able to be the center of attention again. Which makes my backyard beautiful and me, a happy homesteader.

6. Better Organization

garden-5

If you’ve read this blog very much then you know how I am a total neat freak. I hate clutter and disorganization. It happens sometimes, but I try really hard to avoid it.

So when I had weeds cluttering up my garden I was not a happy camper. I love making decorative markers for my garden (like these) so I can walk the rows and know exactly what I’m looking it. And let’s be honest, when you have a freshly planted garden (especially a big one) it is hard to remember what you are looking at.

So when my garden is tilled, I love the fact that everything is smoothed out. And my plants stand out. Which makes everything a lot easier for me to keep up with.

And if you keep a homesteading notebook then you might like being able to document the production that you’ve had in your garden by stages.

Well, you have to be able to have an organized garden to keep up with everything.

So that is one huge benefit to me as to why you might want to till your garden. Again, I’m not saying everyone’s ‘no-dig’ garden ends up like mine.

But what I am saying is that apparently, it can happen. So you need to be aware of this.

Really weigh out your pros and cons. Because buying the materials to till your garden is a financial sacrifice. But sacrificing your time to round up what you need for a ‘no-dig’ garden or worse, battling weeds all season, is a huge sacrifice too.

So I hope after sharing my experience as well as the perks I’m enjoying (or looking forward to) when tilling my garden will help you to make a more informed decision.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me your thoughts and experiences between tilling a garden and not tilling a garden. Do you have a preference? Are there benefits to either one that should be shared with those that are still in the deciding stage?

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Comments:

  1. We till our garden we live in Missouri and have a very heavy clay soil it packs very hard. We have added 2 dump truck loads of sand and many pickup loads of compost to our garden. We would like to no till but we are years away from that dream.
    We do not have much of a problem with weeds we have a terrible problem with grass that craby deep rooted grass that is hard to pull out and breaks off easily. We till because our ground is so hard and tilling clears out the grass and weeds from between the rows quickly. We tried to mulch our entire garden one year with a thick layer of wheat straw we got a huge crop of wheat competing with our vegetables. We try to not let any weeds or grass go to seed in the garden and we try to make sure all compost we use has no weed or grass seed in it properly composted. Our grass and weed problem gets a little better every year we are working to make that problem menamal. We hope to keep in proving our soil to the point that we can no till.

    • I have the same problem with the soil I Wyoming. I’d love to be 100% sustainable but sometimes it’s not practical so I broke down and bought landscaping material. It keeps moisture in the soil and stops cartoon weeds (seeds with very long roots) from taking hours of my time.

  2. Hi Gina,
    I tried no-till this year and it was a disaster. I had more weeds than ever. In fact, with the rain then the drought, my garden was a total loss.
    But thats ok, I’m ready to try it again.
    Peace,
    Joe

  3. I gardened one year in Indiana with wood chips. We had some weeds but not many, and what we did have-easy peasy to pull. Then we moved to NM. Try turning very sandy dust into dirt! The first year was bad, I mean really bad. But no weeds! But not much else either! This year was much better except we got some wicked temps for most of June, July, and August. We even put up a 20 x 30 shade shelter for our tomatoes and chiles. Too late I am afraid for some bug that causes curly leaf disease. They don’t like shade but we got it up too late. Took 3/4 of our 120 tomato plants. In the valley they flood irrigate off the Rio Grande. The weeds that come with that are way over what one gets in the Midwest. But we were up 300 ft above the valley floor-they locals called it the Sahara. Even with 8 inches of chips we still had to water daily due to only 7-9% humidity levels and 100 degree temps. It was pretty much a bust and chips that deep are exceedingly hard to work in. Planting seeds was almost impossible. It may be neater than straw-but I would go with straw anyday over chips in NM. We have once again moved back to Indiana and are looking forward to really gardening again. Nice neat rows.

  4. My heart leans toward permaculture; therefore, my organization is in long-term planning of guilds (plants that will permanently sustain each other in their diverse bio-culture). This first year has been a challenge; the soil work immense and the planning of major structure and tree guilds a load to add to a house remodel and employment necessity. But I’m so glad to have resisted the urge to till. The burmuda grass would have been a major issue after chopping its rhizomes into small bits of hellish creepers. And I don’t feel the heavy clay would have developed the wonderful fungal connections that are coming together to welcome increased water retention, abundant soil life and prolific crops had I tilled the soil. Also, my yard will never support the flat, straight rows associated with “neat and tidy” gardens. It is sloped with 40′ oak trees dispersed. I employ the help of Hugelculture mounds and swales to capture and slow the runoff from my neighbor’s acreage. Neither feature is conducive to tilling. So, I commend you Gina for seeing what you have, who you are, analyzing your goals and honestly stating that this is the best and highest plan for your space. . .I 100% agree! It is beautiful and fruitful. And I also know that I made the best decision for my situation. Gardening is like that. . .we all grow as gardeners, or our roots suffocate!

  5. I haven’t done the no-till but I did use a community plot these last two years and the weeds were hellish! What do you think was different for your weeds to grow better in the no till compared to tilling? Were there significantly less weeds in your tilled garden? Did you do anything to help that?

    We are in the process of buying a home with acreage and a garden will be necessary (especially with what we’re going to be paying on mortgage, lol). This last year was a terrible year for all Central Oregon gardeners in terms of weather and freezes. I hope next year is better. I will need to do everything that I can to make it better to ensure that I don’t get completely deflated.

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