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tilling raised beds. to turn or not to turn?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 60
Location: Northern California
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I get a lot of the 'no till' ideas for in-ground gardening that are promoted here.    In ground is not an option here, for a number of reasons.  We've been doing raised beds and big containers for a while.  

I grew up with a victory garden mom from the Great Plains and we lived in a solid clay river valley, so annual spring tilling was a standard thing.   So I was continuing the tradition.

My raised beds are filled with 100% 'man-made' soil  -  years of my hand-turned hot compost piles added over the years.   I also now side dress with worm leechate.  I'm thinking I'm doing pretty well...

but now I'm hearing about how it's actually WORSE for my soil to hand till it, and instead I should leave it be, and just add compost on top?  

I have the potential for invasive roots coming up into the beds, which is another justification for tilling and fluffing.  but I'm open to input.    thoughts?

Tys
 
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I was using a small tiller/cultivator.  Purchased a Broad Fork and haven't looked back.  I usually put leaves on top of the beds for cover over the winter and they breakdown over the cold months and mulch in during the spring.  Adding extra oxygen is great for the biology of the soil.  Its somewhat labor intensive at first if the ground is a new area or have not been tilled previously.  As for the invasive roots I do not have any ideas there.  I think that is something that will probably you would have to deal with.  I think the benefits of the increased micro and macro organisms is where it is at for great soil health. 
As for the tilling question.  I would not "till" the ground with a machine.  Using a broad fork to aerate the soil has worked well in my case. 
 
Tys Sniffen
Posts: 60
Location: Northern California
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I should be more specific:

this is for RAISED BEDS, in a mild climate (northern CA, where it barely freezes and we do winter crops [greens]) 

my question is not HOW to till, as I can easily turn stuff with a shovel or broad-forked pitch fork.   My question is whether to do it at all.  Some would argue to NOT DISTURB the soil PERIOD. and just add compost on top. I'm trying to figure out if that's a good idea... I can do some side by side experiments, but I'd like to hear about others' experience.

Tys
 
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Some folks will say tilling kills the worms and greatly affects the soil biology (tiny critters that need to be near the surface are suddenly 5" deep and die).  I tend to believe this.

Some folks will say shallow tilling for weed control is ok (1" or so deep).  I also tend to believe this.

Some folks will say till it all up and don't worry.  I wouldn't do this myself except for breaking new ground.

I have a big garden in a Northern climate with unconstrained raised beds and I do no-till.  I'm still building my soil so I don't want to slow down the microbial population growth that is hopefully occurring.  I do cover the soil with leaves and compost and use a broad fork in the spring to create some aeration and break up the hard pan from my initial ground breaking tillage three years ago.  I just work the fork in and pivot it 45 degrees, I don't turn the soil.

I guess the only way you'll really know is to do an experiment.  Half of your beds one way, half another.
 
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Hi Mike-

I have raised beds also, and full of a similar "man made" soil. Before I read books on soil management, I would mix in organic matter with a shovel. I now just apply organic matter to the surface doing nothing to disturb what's below. In our raised beds, no-tilling will achieve the healthiest soil. Tilling does kill worms and does affect the soil biology and not in a good way, and high speed rototillers are the worst offenders. A worm chopped in half doesn't make two worms. It makes two dead halves. I think your broad fork technique was well done to break up a pan. Just keep adding your compost on top. If you're starting from scratch with new ground or ground that has had years of abuse, yeah till in organic matter once and then never do it again, applying to the surface. Adding microbes like Effective Microorganisms or a bacillus inoculant will do no harm and improve your soil.
 
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