Why Is Tilling Bad?
Tilling is turning the top 6-10 inches of soil over to plant new crops. It aerates the soil, which is good and pulls up weeds. However, what it also does is disturb millions of beneficial insects and microbes that are essential to healthy soil. It also kills countless earthworms, which aerate the soil naturally, as well as give back nutrients through their droppings.
The tilling process also removes all plant matter on the soil surface. While this is good for growing crops in the short term, it creates a flat, barren soil that becomes highly susceptible to water and wind erosion. Untilled soil, held together by roots, plant material, fungi, and microbes, operates like a sponged. It is naturally able to absorb extra water and hold onto nutrients.
The end result of tilling is bare soil lacking in vital microbes, insects, and earthworms. This type of soil does not grow strong, healthy crops naturally. The lack of established nutrients in the soil results in many farmers resorting to artificial and chemical fertilizers. These fertilizers are problematic because they infiltrate water systems, cause pollution, and kill beneficial insects, bugs, and bird populations.
Beyond all these reasons, though, the primary reason tilling is terrible is that tilled gardens don't produce the best quality crops or as many. Or they have to struggle extremely hard to do so. When the soil is ineffective, it is challenging to grow huge, juicy tomatoes and succulent varieties of corn. Crop yields are almost always less, too. Sure, the tilled ground can grow tomatoes and corn, but more time and money will be spent providing the nutrients the plants need to thrive (fertilizers and pesticides) and produce in abundance.
The Alternative To Tilling
Adopting no-till methods creates a garden that has improved nutrient cycling, resilience, moisture retention, and crop growth potential. The biggest downside is that it might take a little bit longer to plant seeds in the spring, but this is a minor inconvenience compared to the long-term benefits. Plus, there are some excellent tools nowadays that make seed planting easier.
Instead of tilling, adopt these practices to boost soil health and create a fabulous, prospering garden.
- Mulching – Mulching improves moisture retention, cools the soil in the summer heat, prevents weeds, and provides nutrients to the soil as it decomposes. Read more about the benefits of mulching here.
- Cover Crops – Using cover crops is an excellent way to reduce weeding needs as well as add nutrients back into the soil.
- Leave Crop Residue – At the end of the season, leave all the plants to die and decompose back into the earth. This adds countless beneficial nutrients to the soil.
- Crop Rotation – Never plant the same crops in the same garden location year after year. Some crops are nitrogen hogs, while others add nitrogen back into the soil. If you plant corn in the same spot every year, the soil doesn't have enough time to recover enough to give the crop the necessary nutrients. Learn about nitrogen-hogging crops and the importance of crop rotation here.