Question

I’ve read tilling may be harmful. Is not tilling better for my soil?

Answer
By Monica Mansfield | Last updated: May 26, 2021


Gardener tilling soil

A: The short answer is that either method will work, but tilling does harm your soil over time and will require more inputs over the years to keep your plants healthy.

The reason tilling works well for a while is because when you till the soil you are killing the soil life, which releases a burst of nutrients into the soil and jump starts your garden in the spring. While tilling yields great results in the short term, over time the soil life is destroyed, and the soil eventually dies. When this happens, your garden becomes completely dependent on fertilizers to feed your plants. You can grow a successful garden this way, but it becomes expensive, time consuming, and labor intensive.

(Read also: How to Boost Living Soil with Organic Amendments)

When you don’t till, you allow the soil life to flourish. This underground ecosystem creates healthier soil that requires fewer amendments and fertilizers from you as the years go on. You are basically allowing the soil life to do a large part of your gardening chores for you by working the soil and creating nature’s very own nutrient recycling system.

Beneficial bacteria attach to the plants’ root systems and eat their root exudates. Their waste, in turn, becomes readily available food for your plants. The beneficial fungi break down organic matter and establish an underground network of hyphae, or threadlike filaments, off of the plants’ root systems. Beneficial bacteria can travel further distances along these underground highways and bring nutrients back to their host plant. The earthworms tunnel through the soil, tilling for you, and leave their castings along the way to feed the other soil critters. Beneficial nematodes and arthropods keep harmful pest populations in check. Together, this cast of characters creates rich, living soil that nourishes your plants, reduces harmful pests, and protects against diseases.

(Read also: The Soil Food Web: How to Build Healthy Soil)

When you till, you destroy nature’s system and have to replace it with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. This becomes costly and is nowhere near as effective. When you don’t till, all you need to do is layer some compost and mulch on top of your soil in the fall and let it decompose over the winter months. You’ll need to do this every year for a while, but over time you’ll only need to add compost every other year or every few years for superior results with less work from you.

I don’t till and my garden grows better with each passing year. With the results I get, I’ll never till again.

Hope this helps and happy growing!

Monica Mansfield

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Soil Growing Methods Raised Beds Ask a Grower Grow Media Outdoor Growing

Written by Monica Mansfield | Homesteader, Owner & Writer of The Nature Life Project

Profile Picture of Monica Mansfield

Monica Mansfield is passionate about gardening, sustainable living, and holistic health. After owning an indoor garden store for 5 1/2 years, Monica sold the business and started a 6.5-acre homestead with her husband, Owen. She writes about gardening and health, as well as her homestead adventures on her blog at thenaturelifeproject.com.

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