The sun is finally out! That bright thing in the sky that hurts our eyes and burns my pasty white shoulders after a long winter of darkness and rain. The first 3-4 day stent of sun in the spring means one very important thing for farmers, time to till the garden! It does take a little while, and is kind of a pain in the butt, but it also means we can finally get going on the family fun, food producing vegetable garden!
I always write these blogs, with kind of the “new farmer’ in mind, or maybe some folks that find the processes and lifestyles interesting but maybe don’t have a life time of knowledge, life lessons, and farming skills that some of us grew up learning from birth. So for those of us who live it every day, it will seem pretty simplistic, and redundant. For those other lovely folks however, Hopefully I can explain things in a simple and basic way that makes sense and kind of gives some insight to the hows and the why’s of farm life. With that being said, let move onto the topic of preparing garden soil.
There are a few basic things you need for a good garden location. First a spot that receives maximum sun exposure throughout the days rotating sun cycle. Once you find a good sunny spot you then need ingredient number 2, just as important, if not more important than the first; Water!
My first year i removed the rocks and boulders, pulled out most of the stumps that were still there from 30 year old logging (still have 1 large one in the middle I still need to dig out and remove), and I tilled up the soild and planted. That first year my garden did terrible, as expected due to lack of nutrients. This was expected, and we knew every year it would get better and better. Every fall the garden is done and all the plants and vines are ripped out (most of which get fed to cows and goats). Once this is done, then I clean out the cattle barn. Manure from 16 head of cattle provides about a 6″ thick layer of steer manure on top of the approx. 80×80 ft garden. During the winter and spring all other manures get thrown on the garden as well from goat sheds, rabbit hutches, chicken and turkey coops, etc. Then comes time like today where it is time to roto-till it all together.
Tilling accomplishes several things at once. First of all it mixes the manure up with the soil. This eliminates manure on the top and just soil on the bottom. it mixes it very well for about 8 inches deep. This also eliminates “hot spots”, or clumps of say chicken manure that may be a little too hot and high in nitrogen levels that would otherwise burn the plants. Tilling also aerates the soil, and loosens it up to a really fine powdery like loam that plant roots thrive in. During the coarse of the winter snows and rains, the soil becomes very hard pack and not idea for root systems. So tilling basically “fluffs’ it back up, easy for little roots to grow through. oxygen levels regain balance in the soil, and makes the soil a lot more ideal for water and moisture absorption and retention. Nice fluffy soil also makes weeding a dream. Ever try to use a hoe in ground that is packed so hard it resembles concrete? You can work your self to death and still have weeds coming back up cause you never got the roots out. When soil is nice and loose a hoe travels underneath weeds easily, and pops the little suckers out with effortless grace.
So in a nut shell, i will finish slurping down my black coffee and go fire up the old tractor (nothing better than the smell of a cold diesel engine puking out black smoke in the morning!), and it is officially tilling day!