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.
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
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?