Chepachet, RI(Zone 5b)

I know this is not *strictly* tomatoes, but most of what I grow in my garden is tomatoes and I imagine many of you probably have or will eventually run into a similar situation such as mine, so here goes.

My question regards tilling. The upper part of my garden that I've been working and amending for a few years now has beautiful soil--just gorgeous. My problem is now that when I till after a few turns my tines sink right down in and it's just very difficult to move the tiller. I have a little Honda front tiller (the wheels are in the back.) So my question is, what is the best way to manage my soil in this part of my garden from now on in the spring? Should I cover it with black plastic to kill all the weed seeds for a few weeks until planting time? The area is about 50' x 25', so we're talking about an appreciable amount of plastic. In any case--what is your preferred method of soil management when it comes to this? I really can't see myself tilling this area again--the only reason I tilled was for the weeds, the soil is very loose and I don't like the thought of destroying the soil structure every year to be honest.

Any thoughts appreciated--thanks! :D

Durhamville, NY(Zone 5b)

The first thing I'd try is walking backwards with it. I don't know how hard that would be with your particular tiller. That's usually how I use a Mantis. I've crossed the belt on the tiller that goes in back of a garden tractor so that the tines rotate the opposite direction from the travel.

If you try it make sure you have good footing and don't over extend yourself so that it ends up on top of you.

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Several of the top commercial gardeners in DG til their gardens only once, at the very beginning....tilling does destroy a lot of the microculture, and the earthworms!

Chepachet, RI(Zone 5b)

Thanks Doug--I have tried going backwards with it and it is easier, but I worry about damaging the tiller by doing that. However, if I can change the belt they way you describe, then maybe that would work out. Thanks for the suggestion! :D

Gymgirl--You're right, I just would like to know then what they do to prep their soil in the spring. Do they just cover it with black plastic then to get rid of the weeds that have come up?

Durhamville, NY(Zone 5b)

I don't think you'll damage it. The advantage of going backwards is that you essentially turn it into a rear tine tiller. The wheels stay on the untilled ground and provide depth control.

If you reverse the tines, and try to push it, all it is going to do is dig a hole.

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

I have a Troybuilt and have used it for over twenty years but where soil tilth is like yours I don't till. I run a shovel parallel to the ground surface to knock out weeds and ammend the surface soil. I fertilizer individual plants when they are planted and when they flower and band fertilize row crops as needed.

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

I think all you'd need for weeding in soil like that would be a scuffle hoe. That would be real nice - congrats on building up such good garden soil.

Would you like me to send you a shipment of Missouri rocks from my garden, so your tiller won't sink down in the dirt? I've got plenty to spare. lol

Durhamville, NY(Zone 5b)

I've seen a field about 120 miles north of me that you couldn't even mow it with a small push mower because of all the big rocks in ti. They use it for cattle pasture.

Edited to make it read 120 miles and not 1120 miles

This message was edited Jun 13, 2012 11:10 AM

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Niere - I'm wondering if you are pulling weed seeds to the surface when you till.

I don't till my garden and have very few weeds. I use leaves between the raised beds, and finely mulched leaves in the beds. Leaves break down into wonderful free soil and contain no weed seeds.

1) Finely mulched leaves in a large pot
2) Overview from the South end of my garden - you can see the leaves between the raised beds
3) Jimmy Nardello Pepper mulched with leaves
4) Mulched squash

Thumbnail by HoneybeeNC Thumbnail by HoneybeeNC Thumbnail by HoneybeeNC Thumbnail by HoneybeeNC
SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)


I so love it when you talk "Pictures!"

Ozark, MO(Zone 6a)

"I've seen a field about 120 miles north of me that you couldn't even mow it with a small push mower because of all the big rocks in it."

Doug9345 - That's the way most soil is here. From what I've read about your area, that rocky field is probably where a glacier dumped rocks that were scraped from far away. There's a term for a debris field formed by a glacier, I just can't think of it now. We had a different situation here - no glaciers, but the Ozarks are made of limestone from coral that once grew in a shallow sea. They say "we don't have rocky dirt, we have dirty rocks". That's why Niere's situation, having garden soil so soft and rich it sinks a tiller, makes me a little envious.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Glacial moraine?
glacial till?
glacial drift?

I like the theory that Cape Cod is just one big pile of glacial dump.

If your soil has such good tilth that it's hard to use a roto-tiller, then at least you don't need to roto-till!

Maybe use thick mulch instead, like coarse wood chips or bark if that's affordable. Pine needles. Someone used old carpet fragments!

Drag it aside to plant. Maybe drag it into hills in spring to let the soil warm up sooner.

Mulch and not-tilling may reduce your weeds to the pointt where you can hoe them as they emerge, or cover with mulch once the soil is warm. A broadfork will break up any surface crust and re-admit air without turning sopil OVER and exposing new weed seeds.

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

We used a no till method over thirty years ago with deep layers of mulch. Eventually the garden became a beautiful layer of black topsoil and then, several years later, turned into inches of muck that supported enormous colonies of slugs and snails not to mention roaches. There was so much organic breakdown occurring, and the beds stayed so moist, that plants were deprived of nutrients. Learning to "read" the conditions of your soil and how to correct situations comes with time and experience. As for exposing weed seeds, once sprouted they comprise organic matter and, if you are able to keep up with them by hoeing, weeds are a positive thing in the garden. They also act as trap crops. Though I don't let weeds go rampant in my garden some fine old time southern gardens are knee deep in weeds by mid-summer and it's intentional on the part of the farmers.

We are especially adept at rock cultivation being on top of a granite mountain at the beginning of the Appalachian chain. We have bumper crops. I keep buckets stationed around the garden to practice shooting ground hoops with small ones. Others need to be excavated with a fulcrum and tipped into the tractor bucket. They have become steps down to lower banks.

Hornell, NY(Zone 5a)

Honeybee, you have definately got the right idea about leaf mulch for an almost weed free garden. I do hoe out a few, but the mulch certainly helps keep most of them smothered down. I also have a friend that trims trees and uses a chipper machine to cut up waste branches. He is more than willing to deliver chipper mulch for free because it saves him tipping fees at the local landfill site.


Vista, CA


I owned a Honda front tine tiller in Idaho, moved to CA and borrowed my daughter's rear tine tiller, and the front tine was so much more controllable i bought a Husqvarna.

I believe you can do a beneficial job of gently loosening and aerating the good soil in your garden with the front tine tiller. Remove the anchor spike and with it in low speed, only hold it back enough for it to dig gently to the depth you wish. If you walk at the same speed it travels, giving it no resistance, it will not dig at all. So, it is the amount of resistance you, as the operator, or the anchor spike provide, that causes it to dig in too deep.

You just do not have that precise control with the rear tine tillers, but they do have their advantages in other ways.

If this is not clear, DMail me.

If it is the wheels that are holding it back, you can raise or remove them, or lower the handle adjustment and carry enough of the weight on the handles to keep them from holding the tiller back.


This message was edited Jun 13, 2012 7:46 PM

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