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Till vs. No-Till Gardening: Which is Better for Your Soil?

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Over time, the till versus no-till question has been a matter of great concern not just for gardeners but for all stakeholders in the agriculture space. This blog post aims to discuss this issue in-depth and ultimately sheds light on the best method to adopt.

The till technique requires a gardener to plow, dig, and turn the soil over before planting the seeds. The no-till technique, however, goes straight to planting the crops. The former is helpful for weed control, while the latter is adapted to protect the soil and the environment.

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It is important to note that choosing either method has upsides and downsides, not just for the gardener but also for the people around them and the environment.

Tilling – the lowdown

Since the ancient days, gardeners have always tilled their land in preparation for planting new crops.

The turning over of the soil is believed to impact loosening it and improving soil aeration.

Picture of huge tilling machine

This makes it easy for the gardener to plant new seeds. It helps uproot weeds that compete with the crops for nutrients. We all believe that all this is beneficial to crop growth. When land is tilled, carbon, usually trapped beneath, escapes into the atmosphere, causing pollution.

All you need to know about the Till gardening method

Let’s dive deeper into all the details around tilling. What does it entail? What are its advantages and disadvantages? What are the factors that influence gardeners to choose this method? And so much more.

Tilling is an agricultural practice that involves the preparation of land before planting. Tilling is both a human-powered and machine-powered technique.

The tilling gardening process

Human-powered methods involve using a mattock, shovel, rake, or hoe.

The idea with tilling is to dig through the land and turn the soil over.

As an alternative to it, machines are incorporated for plowing and harrowing through the land. Some examples of machines used are tractors, chisels, plows, cultivators, rippers, etc.

Tilling gardening method types

The tillage technique comes in the following types:

Tillage techniqueDescription
Primary TillagePicture this scenario, as a gardener, I have planted my crops and harvested them in phases. After harvesting the last batch, the soil is often soft enough. This is the best time for me to do the primary tilling. This tilling helps to get deep into the soil, aerating it and killing weeds.
Secondary TillageAfter doing primary tilling, what follows is secondary tilling. It helps break the soil further, level the surface and ensure the soil takes in fertilizers.

Tilling may also take other self-explanatory forms like intensive, reduced, conservation, and zone tillage. Read more about the various types of tillage here.

Tilling gardening method advantages

Picture of man harvesting vegetables

Agricultural experts recommend tilling your land at least two times a year. Here are some of the outstanding advantages of tilling:

  • Tilling helps in breaking up the soil. This improves aeration, ensuring water, nutrients, and oxygen circulate and get deep into the roots.
  • It is very effective when it comes to weed prevention. As a gardener, I can remove annoying weeds through tilling.
  • It promotes soil improvement and fertility in that I can add in organic matter such as compost, grass, and dead plants during tilling.

Tilling also kills potential pests that may prey on our crops and reduce harvest. Additionally, tilling will ensure that plant roots can penetrate deeper into the soil, thereby growing more firmly.

Tilling gardening method disadvantages

In as much as tilling is beneficial, it carries the following disadvantages:

Tilling has some adverse effects on the natural soil structure, making it run the risk of compaction.Tilling loosens up the soil; this increases the risk of soil erosion.
It also exposes a bigger soil surface to air and sunlight, reducing its natural moisture.Tilling is capital-intensive and time-consuming.

Let us also look into this method to have complete knowledge of this process.

Considerations for the tilling gardening method

Gardeners often have the following considerations in mind when choosing the till method:

Considerations for the tilling methodDescriptions
The type of crops they intend to plantCertain crops, such as maize, don’t grow well enough if you do not till your land.
Initial investments requiredThis includes the costs in terms of equipment, labor, and time.
The state of the landGardeners often look at soil type, soil fertility, landscape, and the presence of weeds before settling on tilling their land.

In addition, you cannot immediately place or plant in freshly tilled soil. The soil particles that are freshly tilled need to settle down again to support better plant root health. More about this is covered in my recent article on the possibility of planting after tilling.

It covers the benefits of waiting before putting your plants in the tilled soil, the process that happens in the soil after tillage, and tools and considerations for this process.

All you need to know about the No-Till gardening method

Let’s shift our focus to the nitty-gritty details around the no-till method regarding alternatives in gardening. We’ll understand how it works, its benefits, downsides, and the consideration before gardeners can settle on it.

No-till gardening involves planting crops without disturbing the soil through digging, furrowing, or plowing. It promotes the concept of zero or least soil disturbance.

For successful planting, this method often requires some special equipment such as agricultural drills or disc seeders to create furrows, plant seeds immediately, ensure they are firmly placed into the ground, and cover them to start growing.

It also preserves moisture in the soil and protects it against erosion by ensuring the land is left in a compact state.

The two forms of no-till gardening method

Its two forms are as follows:

No-till gardening formsDescriptions
Conventional FormIn this case, gardeners often use herbicides as a management method against weeds before and after planting the seeds.
Organic FormThis method often resorts to managing weeds such as crop rotation, using cover crops, or laying down a weed-suppressing mat.

These two forms have the following advantages, as listed in the next section.

No-till gardening method advantages

Picture of high raised bed garden

The no-till or no-dig gardening method is easier to manage plants due to the lack of movement or mobility.

There are processes where gardeners have entirely shifted to no-dig gardening by creating gardening beds and letting the plants grow organically and wildly in them while practicing no-dig gardening.

To give you an overview of that process and how to accomplish this, you can check my recent article on no-dig gardening and its advantages. It covers a step-by-step guide on doing no-dig gardening successfully, as well as a list of benefits and considerations.

With the step-by-step process in mind, here are the no-till gardening advantages:

Cost savings when doing the no-till gardening method

When we choose the no-till method, we reduce the costs incurred by investing in tilling equipment, fuel, and labor.

The soil benefits connected to the no-till gardening method

This method reduces soil compaction, considering the minimal use of equipment on the soil.

The no-till method prevents soil erosion by allowing the rainwater to seep into the soil, limiting run-offs.

The no-till method also improves the soil structure by helping keep all the soil’s nutrients intact.

Environmental and time management benefits to the no-till gardening method

The no-till method promotes environmental conservation with reduced use of machines and fuel that pollutes the environment. It also reduces the emission of carbon dioxide into the environment. It saves time that would have been spent tilling the land before planting.

The disadvantages of the no-till gardening method

Like with anything, there still are disadvantages to no-till gardening.

This method, in particular, limits the chances a gardener has to control weeds by tilling manually.

They, therefore, resort to other risky alternatives for managing weeds, like the use of pesticides.

No-till gardening method risks crop diseases among plants

Picture of diseases affecting fruit on trees

It poses the risk of transferring crop diseases to the next set of crops because crop residues from the previous planting season are not entirely removed before planting new crops.

Patience is key for the no-till gardening method.

Also, the no-till method takes time before its benefits are realized. It would take a considerable amount of time before the soil can gain its structure, especially if the soil type in your area is not the best to foster plants, to begin with. This method, therefore, requires a lot of patience and persistence.

Considerations with the no-till gardening method

Before resorting to the no-till farming method, here are some of the considerations we as gardeners need to have in mind:

Considerations for the no-till methodDescriptions
The pH of the soilIt is important to first check the pH level of your soil before shifting to the no-till method. If the soil in your farm indicates the need for lime, add it during your last tilling exercise. This way, your soil pH can be maintained over the years as you settle on the no-till method.
Compaction of the soilConsider deep compaction before getting into no-till gardening. In cases of deep compaction, one should bring in deep tillage to break up the soil. And to prevent the formation of new compacts of soil, crop rotation is advised for deep-rooted plants.
The state of the landIt is important to ensure that the surface of the garden is smooth. This will ensure you have an even seed depth, thereby, proper growth.

Timing and experimentation are also key with the no-till gardening method. Start after low-residue crops and slowly diversify to the remaining crops. Carry out tests to determine what works for your soil type and garden.

Final comparisons between the Till vs. the No-till gardening methods

Depending on the size of your garden, the type of soil you have, the crops you intend to plant, and the cost implications involved, deciding to use one method will be more logical than going for the other one.

For instance, tilling will help you quickly prepare your land for planting, resulting in substantial cost implications. On the other hand, not tilling might seem to work very slowly for you but will, over time, improve soil quality and save on costs.

Conclusion on the Till Vs. No-Till Gardening Methods

We have explained the unique benefits, disadvantages, and considerations of the no-till and till methods, and with this, we also consider doing both methods simultaneously. There is a lot of power in experimentation to determine what works best for you.

A gardener can try the till method and monitor the results over time before switching to the no-till method. From this careful analysis, we can make an informed decision on what works best for us. In areas with heavy clay soil, initial tilling may be required to break up the soil before changing to the no-till system.

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