Friday, May 24, 2013

Zone 5 Gardening: Vicky's Tips on Tilling Your Garden

Vicky's husband plows the garden

Everyone is getting a late start this year whether farmer or gardener.  Its been too wet to do anything and the amount of water has forced people to re-do earlier efforts.  According to Vicky Shaffer, your tiller (or the person who tills for you) is your best friend-period.  The way your garden is tilled will largely dictate the level of difficulty your garden will show you for the year.  Why?

'Dirt is the foundation for everything,' says Vicky.  'The tiller provides soft, moist ground allowing you and easier gardening experience by creating finer soil to plant in, fewer weeds during the season, more room for roots to grow and water to move through.  Before I had my plow and maintenance tiller-I would put my name on a waiting list and pay $45 (this was in the 70's!) for a man to come till my garden.  You didn't know when he was coming-so you were held hostage by his schedule.  This left me with little control of my garden.' 

In order to create a garden that requires minimal weeding and optimal moisture, use the following tips from Vicky:
  • If you're tilling a new plot: take up the turf first. Do NOT just till the grass under.  You are only breeding the ground for more grass and weeds.  You need to remove the grass completely.
  • In a pre-gardened area: be sure to clear the garden of any debris before tilling
  • Let the area dry out a before tilling.  Think: dry cake mix consistency.  If the ground is too wet-the dirt will be clumpy and hard to work ALL YEAR LONG.  The clumps will cause the roots to grow irregularly (if at all) and also, create uneven absorption of water in the ground.
  • Till twice before planting: 1st: with a pull-behind plow (for large gardens).  The plow will turn the soil over, create a better soil base with even nutrient distribution and will check for any roots still lingering below the surface.  2nd: use a finishing tiller to level the ground out, aerate the ground, creating a finer soil making planting incredibly easy. 
  • Keep in mind: if you under-till=extra work all year, over-till=lose moisture in the ground, properly prepare=minimal work all year.  It is better to over-till than under.
  • For optimal results, till about 6 inches into the ground.  It is better to till a little to deep than too shallow.
Since Vicky gardens at a larger scale, she has two tillers, the pull-behind plow and the finishing tiller.  She jokes how she has received them as presents and anniversary gifts over the 40 years shes been married to her husband, Monty.  'He knows he'll get a better reaction with a good tiller than jewelry,' she jokes, 'but I'll take the jewelry too!'

Please feel free to leave any gardening questions for Vicky in the comments section below!

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