the magical fruit without tilling

I’ll admit that I’m skeptical of things that might be trendy or fad-ish. Old geezers get that way. Cranky and obtuse. But I’m not above trying something different in the garden, especially if it seems to make sense.

I’m not sure that no-till gardening qualifies as a fad. It’s been around quite a while, after all. Please don’t crucify me for suggesting the thought!  But I’m set in my ways, and my way is tilling every year and covering things up with mulch again. I like the process, I like the results.

Time to broaden the horizons. I kept a bed of leaf mulch in place over the fall and winter, and this morning the pre-sprouted beans went in.

Marked the row…


Grabbed my beans…


Pulled back the leaves and planted.


Very easy, and I don’t have any doubts that it’ll work fine. One concern I had was that the soil seemed more dense and compacted than I’m used to when making planting holes in tilled soil, not nice and fluffy. I suspect that would change over years of not tilling.

But hey, I’m trying to keep an open mind and find new ways to garden more wisely. That’s something, isn’t it?


21 thoughts on “the magical fruit without tilling

  1. I am a bit like you and have this innate feeling that the more effort you make the better the results! The soil here is heavy and I like to dig not just to get the organic matter in the soil but to loosen it up – I even have a draconian rule that we don’t tread on it if possible, especially after i have dug the raised beds. It will be interesting to see how your beans get on. I am sure they will be fine – they look good at the moment – full of the joys of spring 🙂

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  2. Hey Dan .. good for you. I’m a massive fan of ‘no dig’ gardening. I will give the bed a mini broadfork if I think it needs it, but I like to leave the soil alone. Best of luck, those microorganisms will love you 🙂

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  3. Yeah, Dan!! Another convert. 😉

    I gave away the motorized tiller, but I still work compacted areas with a pitch fork first (a broad fork might be better for your garden size), stepping in and rocking back and forth to loosen lightly before seeding. Organic matter and microbes just do a much better job — no gasoline required.

    Today, the previously Gulf Coast clay gumbo (hard as concrete when dry!!) is now black and rich and soft and moist and super-crumbly, very little supplemental watering required. Even the walking paths around randomly placed 4×4 piles get layered, and occasionally a plant pops up in them where they shouldn’t (Really? An avocado tree a WEED?). Like a forest floor.

    It took a couple of seasons to get all cylinders firing, but it really does work. As for ‘geezers’ the gardening world wouldn’t be complete without us. But I don’t call myself ‘old’ just yet. Ha! Happy Gardening, Dan. 😀

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  4. Hi Dan, I’m interested to see how you get on here. I have one bed on my plot that we grew mustard in last year as a green manure, rather than digging it back in we just left it to die down over winter and have never got around to digging it, but amazingly hardly any weeds have come up. So I’ve decided to plant my tomatoes and a courgette straight in without digging and disturbing the weed seeds. The dried mustard stems are still there as a mulch too. Much less work, got to be good!

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  5. I’m a big fan of no till gardening too. I covered mine with leaf mulch just like you did! I started to take a pitchfork to my beds and found so many earthworms, it just didn’t feel right to disturb them. Tilling might have killed them. That’s when I thought this no till stuff made sense!

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  6. I am semi-no-till, just spading in leaves whenever I have opportunity and ambition. I’m hoping eventually I’ll get to a self-sustaining level of humus that keeps the clay under control enough that I can stop.

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  7. We always tilled before moving here. Now, no petrol on the island, just diesel, so no choice. We make an individual hole per plant where toms, corn, courgettes, etc will grow, put in fertilizer–manure, epsoms, etc, and plant away. Probably couldn’t till without risking hitting the blades off stone often anyway. It honestly has made no difference and I wonder why we were tilling to begin with (that’s what I grew up with). We do fork in the top dressings before we plant, but not with nearly the disturbance of a tiller. The worms are happier I’m sure 🙂

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  8. This is also my first year trying the no till method. I’m definitely watering a lot less. My mulch is the winter cover crop and that’s helping a lot too. We had a second winter with no rain so this dry season is going to be rough! Layering mulch is my only option. Well, that and just paving over the whole lot.

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