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To till or not

 
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New gardener here. We had a small relatively successful raised bed garden last year, but I want to expand into the ground to have more space without the cost of lumber/soil.
I have been looking into no till methods like Ruth Stout or Back to Eden. It seems one of these would do good things to our soil in the long run, but we will be moving next year. I want to be sure I will get some produce this year so I'm wondering if tilling would make it more likely.
We have clay soil with some rocks, but I'm not sure if that matters. We are hoping to grow mainly tomatoes and Peppers (enough to save for the winter) and cucumbers, squash, lettuce, and herbs.
 
gardener
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I think you could succeed with no till for the year, maybe. It depends on how heavy the clay is. If you till you can always mulch thickly to reduce the damage to the soil for future inhabitants. I grew vegetables with lasagna gardening last year in some areas that hadn't been gardened in, and my soil is fairly heavy (though technically a loam). The plants would have probably been more productive with a deeper loosened medium, but they did ok
 
pollinator
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For short-term results, you will want to amend your clay with organic material, like wood chips, and probably some gypsum grit, and yes, till it into the top layers of your soil. No-till is great for maintenance of an established no-till system, but not so good at rapid system establishment.

The organic material is food for bacteria to draw other soil life in, and the gypsum, as well as being a way to add calcium without affecting pH, gives the particles of clay something to stick to besides themselves, making the soil more workable and adding to it's drainage capacity.

If you really wanted to get things kick-started, after the till, treat the whole area with an oxygenated compost extract and fungal slurries, as detailed in Dr. Redhawk's List of Epic Soil Threads. They basically put the soil life you want where you want it to turn your clayey dirt and organic matter into living soil.

But let us know how it goes, and good luck.

-CK
 
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Katie,

Clay can really be difficult stuff to work in at first, and if you are only going to be around for a year, then you may as well till to temporarily loosen the soil and make it easier to till.

You certainly won’t permanently damage the soil by tilling once and no-till takes time.  I have personally committed to no-till, but I have plenty of time, have been working on it for at least 3 years now and I am still not “finished.”

It is great to know that you are thinking about the benefits of no-till, but too bad you don’t have time to realize those benefits.  So I say till and enjoy your garden for a year.  Any chance that at your next home you will be there long enough to be able to go no-till?

Good Luck with your garden!

Eric
 
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I will be renting a large rear-tine tiller soon to till my heavy clay beds... I had tried hand tilling, a small Mantis tiller, growing rye-grass, and adding topsoil/lime with some results, but still very hard to work.  Once I get it tilled up with cover crops established, I can use gypsum and perhaps some compost teas, lime, to get the cover crops going.  Hope lightly till the organic matter in this fall, cover with wood chips (and maybe mushroom slurries), and then perhaps by spring I can transition to no-till.
 
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