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Old 11-28-2010, 08:10 AM
 
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Late November in Missouri and I want to try gardening next year to see if I can work my way up to nearly sustaining my vegetable needs. Ambitious, I know.

So, I've been reading and many of the gardening books are telling me that tilling the soil destroys the earthworms and their tunnels and ability to tunnel.

I don't know exactly what to do now so that the soil can be readied to begin planting early Spring crops next year because I cannot get past the question of: to till or not to till.

Suggestions?
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Old 11-28-2010, 09:11 AM
 
Location: Out there somewhere...
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Till the soil, add plenty of compost, and you'll get hundreds of worms. Worms love that warm composty soil.
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Old 11-28-2010, 09:22 AM
 
Location: oregon
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I agree with nitram
till and add lots of compost and other other soil additives.
consult with your local master gardner/ag extension office and they can best
advise you on what types of composting and soil builders to use for you given area.
Good luck..
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Old 11-28-2010, 09:45 AM
 
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Ok. I'd like to plant about 1/2 acre to start and then rotate my beds year to year. Any suggestion on what size tiller? Brand? If possible I'd like to find a used on for my "first" until I get a handle on what I am doing. 45 yr. old female here so I need to be able to handle it...average strength.

Lots of leaves and cow manure to be had for compost. Actually have lots of woods with inches of richer soil. I thought about collecting and transfering some to till into the intended garden soil. The soil is not teribbly compacted, lots of moles/voles have kept it loose over the years but it is not especially rich and dark.
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Old 11-28-2010, 09:46 AM
 
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Much depends upon the nature of the dirt you've got. Is it compacted? What is it's nutrient/pH balance now? Salts? N/P/K availability? Is it just dirt or is it really a nutrient rich biologically active soil? What's growing there now? Native pests? Old residues or naturally occuring contaminants?

Much depends upon what you're planning on planting. Are you looking at root vegetables? or ?

Are you on well water? Have you had your water tested? For example, there may be problems like high metals/salts content, or other pollutants which you need to know about in your garden.

A visit with your local county extension office will give you some local guidelines, and sources for soil testing. I wouldn't do any gardening without having the soil tested so I would know what amendments, if any, are needed for the vegetables I planned on growing. Since you are starting now, it gives you a lot of options to prepare your site for next spring.

There's way too many variables at stake to make a blanket statement that "tilling is bad". It may be the best option you have given your circumstances to create a productive garden. It may even be something you'll have to do every year to prepare your site, and it may also be desirable to till in the residues of the plants at the end of the season each year for the green manure it represents to your soil bed. Don't worry about the worms ... even the ones that get cut in half regenerate and don't die. As far as their tunnels, they create their own and shed their casts into them ... it's not like your site is honeycombed with open tunnels that the worms depend upon.

With a 1/2 acre site, I'd be looking for a used "wheel horse" roto-tiller. These were a heavy duty rear tine (4-speed) tiller, and many of them were used professionally for years. Probably the sturdiest and most durable tiller around, and they came with a variety of 5-6-7 horsepower motors. The one I like best has the Kohler industrial 7 HP motor, because the rig was a commercial duty set-up, built to roto-till all day for professionals ... but don't be put off by one with a B&S 5 HP motor, it'll do just fine for 1/2 acre, too. They were a little less expensive to buy new with the B&S motor. You may find a newer one that looks cleaner, and the latest ones are being built new by MTD (who bought the company and design). While the new ones aren't built as heavily as the old ones, they're a good piece of equipment, too. Mine's a Kohler powered unit that looks like it's been beat up for 25 years of heavy work ... because it was a gardening service commercial unit for most of it's life. Not pretty, but it still out performs everybody else's roto-tiller around here, including new $1,200 (and up!) rigs. It's as easy to use as any, and it works very well ... parts are readily available. All it's ever needed is some new rear axle seals and some tines ... spent about $45 to get those and it took an hour to install them. But this is truly a unit that you line up on a row and can stand next to it, guiding it to where you want it to track. We do a larger garden area than you, and have hard high clay content soil ... the first year, it took about 6 passes with the unit to get it tilled. Now, with all the composting and years of tilling, it takes me 1 pass and the rear tine unit sinks into the ground to it's maximum depth ... and I can do this with the machine at it's slowest forward speed to give me the best control of it. I don't know what the pricing will be in your area, but around here ... they're all over the place at around $300; some folks will ask a lot more, but I'm not paying that kind of money for one. FWIW, the old ad campaign used to picture a woman in heels doing an acre garden plot with one of these units ... literally, if you can pull on the starter rope to get it started (and mine starts on the first pull), you can put it into gear and stand next to it as you set the motor speed and it pulls itself along with the powered wheels while you guide it. It's a bigger machine than most, but it's not about muscling it around, it's about using it with finesse. In an open space, you can guide it around and you don't have to make perfect corners or turns with it ... just get the area of the garden covered with it. My wife uses a 3 1/2 HP old Sears rear-tine roto tiller for some of the smaller areas inside our greenhouses, and she can handle it just fine ... but it's a B&S powered unit and doesn't start as easily as the Kohler, so she lets me start it for her and then does the work with it.

Don't even bother with any front tine roto-tiller; they will not be easy to work with or effective when you're doing 1/2 acre.

As an alternative, consider just renting a commercial duty roto-tiller each year as needed. There's a couple of industrial duty models out now that have replaced the wheel horse in the rental trade that can do as good a job. They retail for $5-6,000, so aren't a good deal to buy for your needs, but if you only spend $1-200 a year with it, you can come out pretty good with this approach.

Whatever machine you use, exercise common sense with eye/ear/hand and foot protection. Gloves, solid footwear, long sleeve clothing, hearing and eye protection is a must.

Also, there may be a yard service company in your area that does roto-tilling. Consider getting a quote from them for your place, especially for the first time tilling it. The money spent to hire this work done may be money very well spent, and it may not be as expensive to do as you think given the cost of rental or acquisition of a suitable tiller. Another alternative would be a small tractor with a disc, which may be available as a service or a rental ... not something you'd buy for only 1/2 acre.

Last edited by sunsprit; 11-28-2010 at 10:21 AM..
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Old 11-28-2010, 09:53 AM
 
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Good advise about the extension office and master gardener. I know of a master gardener who writes a column in the local rural paper. Perhaps I can hire her to give me a consult and help with a garden plan. Being a novice I'm a bit embarrassed about having no idea where/how to start. I think the state university agricultural division will process soil samples for a minimal fee.

Sunsprit, thanks for easing my mind about the worms. Some of these organic gardening books make it sound like a mortal sin to till.
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Old 11-28-2010, 07:22 PM
 
Location: NC, USA
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nitram View Post
Till the soil, add plenty of compost, and you'll get hundreds of worms. Worms love that warm composty soil.
I agree, AND.....cut an earthworm in half and you get two earthworms, tilling just makes them multiply. I till my garden in the fall and continue to add grass clippings, dead leaves, compostable whenever possible and, because of this, my garden in an overachiever.
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Old 11-28-2010, 08:34 PM
 
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Think twice about using soil from the woods. All those leaves piled up every year can make a very acid soil. Have your garden site tested first.
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Old 11-28-2010, 10:16 PM
 
Location: oregon
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Oh, I wish your could see the veg garden I volunteer at ..It would give you so many ideas on what you can do with that much space and still have it manageable..we have square foot bed, raised beds, mounded long rows and more..Its a demo garden to show what we as oregon gardeners can do in our gardens big or small..
we rotate the crops, we have two places for a compost bin and we rotate them, we have a cutting garden and more..the whole area is about an acre and this is just veg part of 80 acres of flowers,
orchards and ponds..its neat..
I go out there once a week rain or shin but not in the snow..
Keep us posted on this project...
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Old 11-29-2010, 02:24 AM
 
29,988 posts, read 35,878,489 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Padgett2 View Post
Think twice about using soil from the woods. All those leaves piled up every year can make a very acid soil. Have your garden site tested first.
Thanks, I didn't know that. Guess I should not only have the soil in the areas I want to garden tested but soil from the woods as well? I know some of the berry bushes like blueberry and cranberry require acidic soil so maybe this is a god amendment for those areas.

So, if soil naturally composted on the ground in wooded areas is acidic does that also make compost comprised mostly of leaves acidic as well?

Quote:
Originally Posted by mamh View Post
Oh, I wish your could see the veg garden I volunteer at ..It would give you so many ideas on what you can do with that much space and still have it manageable..we have square foot bed, raised beds, mounded long rows and more..Its a demo garden to show what we as oregon gardeners can do in our gardens big or small..
we rotate the crops, we have two places for a compost bin and we rotate them, we have a cutting garden and more..the whole area is about an acre and this is just veg part of 80 acres of flowers,
orchards and ponds..its neat..
I go out there once a week rain or shin but not in the snow..
Keep us posted on this project...
Your garden sounds lovely and something I would like to morph mine into one day, albeit on a smaller scale. I wondered about mixing raised beds in with mounded rows and if such practices were "acceptable". Perhaps raised beds for the "kitchen" garden and general cultivated/mounded rows for root vegetables.

As for the flowers, I'll work up to a cutting garden slowly with some of my favorites as far as roses, peonies, fall bulbs and flowering shrubs; but am making a concerted effort to attempt to "grow native" for the benifits of drawing in more bird and butterfly species.

Last edited by lifelongMOgal; 11-29-2010 at 02:32 AM..
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