Country living: Rototilling the garden

Why have a garden?

There is something satisfying about growing your own food. And there are advantages of a garden versus having chickens or larger animals. First you don’t have to butcher a head of lettuce or remove its feathers. Second, you can leave a garden unattended for a few days. Third, my garden doesn’t make a lot of noise. From a financial point of view you can save some money but if you include your cost of labor you will find it doesn’t pay. But a home-made salad, fresh strawberries, or a meal where most of it came from the garden is satisfying.

Starting the garden

There were two locations on our property where we might put a garden. One had more privacy and as I found out later, better topsoil and drainage. I started looking up how to get going and came across raised beds and decided to dig a few. I ‘double dug’ them which was very labor intensive and did not till the first year, since no-till ‘sounded good’. Fast forward… I now rototill. And I don’t double-dig new raised beds. The Palouse has deep topsoil and our garden has topsoil over 1 foot deep. I rototill it each Spring as soon as it is dry enough.

Rototilling the garden
Rototilling with cord over the shoulder, Palouse wheat field in the background
The rototiller

We already had several combustion engines and there is only so many I want to maintain. I found an electric rototiller on amazon that was highly rated. After three years use it has hit numerous large rocks, some concrete and a few large pieces of metal and it has kept going. It is the Earthwise 11-Inch 8.5-Amp Corded Electric Tiller and Cultivator TC70001, currently $89.20 on Amazon. I actually used it for two years before I realized the wheels are supposed to rotate up while you are tilling :). It actually worked pretty well even with the wheels down. It has plenty of power and I like not having to mess with and listen to a combustion engine. The one challenge is the cord. I destroyed one cord the first year, but have not gotten the cord caught since then. I have a system now where I wrap it over my shoulder and that keeps it away from the moving parts.

Early on, strawberries and garlic. Raised beds contain water and reduce weeding

Podcasts/Audiobooks

I listen to podcasts or audiobooks while rototilling. The electric motor is not so loud so earbuds block enough of the noise that I can hear fine.

Rototilling the Garden
Sunset on the Palouse

2 thoughts on “Country living: Rototilling the garden”

  1. Save your back and time and stop rototilling. Check this out from Jeff Lowenfels, who writes the longest running garden column in the country.

    “According to Lowenfels, whose company Alaska Humus is all about healthy soil, rototilling is an addiction, like lawns and coffee. “We till because early American’s fell under the spell of an English country lawyer, Jethro Tull, who thought that roots eat soil particles and the smaller you pulverize soil, the easier it is for roots to eat it.”

    “And, speaking of soils in the yard, no rototilling unless you are putting in a first-time garden bed. How do you plant seeds? In small holes made with a dowel or finger or in a furrow eked out by drawing a stick down the bed. Plants? Use a trowel. The point is you don’t have to destroy the entire garden’s soil food web by turning over the soil to plant. No one rototilled the Chugach National Forest. How did it grow in all that glacial soil without it?

    And another great article: http://www.newsminer.com/features/sundays/community_features/stop-and-think-before-picking-up-that-rototiller/article_b9174832-f74f-57c1-99e3-2610954da6e4.html

    1. Thanks for the article, I may compare roto and no-till for my potato patch in a future post. I do have a few unique properties in the Palouse. First, the top soil is over 1 foot deep, so there is plenty of nutrition and thus I am not so worried about the food web. Second, mice and pocket gophers are my biggest challenge. Rototilling the soil disrupts their established nests. In fact this Fall I disrupted 3 mice in a nest while roto-tilling. I have no proof but I also think tilling brings up weed roots and exposes them to freezing over the winter, reducing my weeding in the Spring. Looking forward to testing that by comparing.

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