Life Well Inspired

Million Dollar Question… Is it safe to till my garden?

It made me so sad. Reading through comments on a Facebook post,  I came across someone who was afraid to plant something because they didn’t want to hurt the soil.

As a long-time avid gardener myself and coming from a family legacy of gardening, it made no sense. I had to read it twice to make sure I read it right. As I read through the other comments, I realized there are a lot of misinformed and confused people when it comes to gardening.

 

There’s such confusion around gardening techniques and how to properly prepare, plant, and care for a garden. It feels like I have spent so much time setting the record straight in Facebook groups lately. So I want to address this with a history of farming and gardening and include a glossary of gardening terms.  Hopefully it will clear up misconceptions and ease some fear.

Gardening, like anything, has a pendulum with polarizing sides. There are some very strong opinions on both sides and discussions can get heated.

So first, I want to say that both sides have a place and legitimate reasons for holding their position.

Second, farming is different than gardening although they definitely do overlap.  They are different enough to require different techniques, though.

Crop farming involves mass-producing grain, beans, and vegetables. It generally requires large amounts of land with many acres being farmed. Large heavy equipment are necessary to efficiently plant, fertilize, and harvest. Plowing and tilling are needed to break up the compaction resulting from the heavy equipment.   

Gardening is production on a small scale usually for feeding a family or a small group of families.  Compaction is minimal so machinery and equipment aren’t necessary. If done well, planting areas and beds are not walked on so compaction isn’t much of an issue. People can handle the preparation, planting, fertilizing, care, and harvesting.

Thirdly, the quality of your soil; the region and country you are in; as well as what you are trying to accomplish will all play a huge part in what is right for you. Someone gardening or farming in a drier climate will need to use techniques and methods that help retain and conserve water and while they are crucial to a dry climate are actually harmful in an area that gets enough water or even typically too much water. Techniques will be different in South America versus the Midwest of the US. Even in the US, Midwest farmers/gardeners will have a totally different experience than someone in the Northeast.

 

A Little History

Humans have always gardened. From the time Adam and Eve took their first breath in Eden, gardens have been a central focus of life. It has been mankind’s best survival tool because without growing their food there would be no life. Each people group adapted their own way with their indigenous plants. The Europeans developed crop farming. Native Americans used companion planting and foraged for what nature provided.

As time went on and cultures began to mix here in America, the most common thing became family farms where each family produced what they needed to eat.

When the industrial revolution happened, many family farms were sold and bought by other farms. In time, farmers tended much larger amounts of acres, and farms became businesses. It was unfamiliar territory. As America’s population grew so did the need for greater amounts of food. Larger machines were made to do fieldwork faster and more efficiently. Chemicals were formulated to help manage the weeds. As all this development happened no one had any idea what the long-term effects would be.  The only way to know was through the passage of time.

Today, we know how destructive the advancements were to the ground’s fertility and even our own human health. Scientists and biologists have worked hard to recover sustainable farming and gardening methods to help reverse the damage.  There is a tireless effort to protect the environment and restore health to our world, which is a good thing.  We are called to be good stewards of what God has given us.

Out of that effort has come no-till farming methods, large-scale crop rotations, genetically modified crops.  The organic movement stands in direct opposition to traditional big farms. At times it feels like a stand-off. It can be polarizing and dividing. I see the value and place of both sides and take responsibility for my actions when it comes to stewarding my piece of this earth.  I seek to find the middle of the pendulum swing between both sides.  

This post is not written to start a debate but to bring clarity. I have seen so many heated discussions on Facebook because there are a lot of misconceptions. I’d like to help clear them up. So many people have jumped on the get-the-word-out bandwagon and have inadvertently spread misinformation and fear. So here is a glossary of gardening terms to help you make informed decisions.

 

A Glossary of Gardening Terms

Plowing-
This technique turns the soil over. It goes down about a foot and helps mix up the top layer of soil with the lower soil. This is good when you have been adding compost and organic matter in layers as mulch because you are able to mix the good fertile soil with organic matter bits down deeper. You are in essence feeding the critters who reside deeper in the soil.  You also increase the depth of your healthy, fertile soil.

For big commercial farms, plowing is needed to loosen soil that has been compacted by the large, heavy equipment.

It is not as necessary for the home gardener but is beneficial once every year or so, maybe less, depending on how compacted the soil gets and the condition of the soil.

Plowing will not destroy your soil when done properly but as with anything, there can be too much of a good thing. Implemented properly it will be a beneficial part of your gardening plan.

 

Tilling-
This only loosens about 6-8” of the top layer of soil. This is typically done right before planting so that the seeds and plants can set their roots easily. Tilling is a great way to work compost and soil amendments into a broad area to support the plants.

Like plowing, tilling has its place in your gardening plan.  Again,  it will not destroy your soil when used correctly. This should be done once before planting a crop. In areas of low compaction and good soil, it can take the place of plowing.

 

No-till-
This method began for farmers who were trying to reduce erosion and minimize costs as well as time spent in the field. It was first meant to reduce tilling and disking. Instead, farmers would use a herbicide to kill the growth that plowing and disking would normally take care of. Then the seeds were planted directly into the hard unworked ground with a seed drill.

This actually did more damage to the soil than was anticipated.  Compaction got worse and more chemicals were put into the soil.

This method has since been adopted by homeowners and gardeners although it’s done in a much different way than commercial agriculture. Unfortunately, a great fear of disturbing the soil has developed around this method. However, it can be done organically and with care. You see this a lot with permaculture and raised bed gardening styles.

 

Permaculture-
Encompassing sustainable living, permaculture is the gardening method that utilizes companion planting, mixed beds, and composting. It’s an incredible method of gardening that mimics nature as God created it.  It takes stewardship of the earth very seriously.

 

Mulching-
This is the technique of covering the ground after you plant for weed and moisture control. It is usually done with grass clippings, straw, leaves, or some other type of organic matter.  The soil’s fertility is increased as the mulch breaks down and is mixed back into the soil. 

 

Organic matter-
Anything natural that will decompose is considered organic matter. This is anything you would use in a compost pile. Organic matter can be used as mulch and as ingredients in the compost pile. The beneficial microbes in the soil use organic matter as food in either situation.

 

Compost-
Finished compost is a deep dark brown, soft, soil-like substance. It is formed from organic matter like grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and yard debris.  The soil is enhanced and plants are fed by adding more beneficial bacteria into the garden plot. It takes about a year to make it in a pile but some composters can speed up the process.

 

Planting-
Everyone’s favorite part of gardening is planting!  It’s so much fun to start. Digging a hole and tucking that tiny plant or seed is so much fun. It is important to dig a hole to loosen the soil when planting so that its roots can get established easily.  It is also important to introduce air onto the soil. Loosening the soil will not hurt the microbiome or soil structure in any way.

 

Fertilizing-
This is the adding of extra nutrients to the soil around the plant. It’s kind of like a healthy person taking a multivitamin. Extra vitamins and nutrients enhance health and performance. For plants, this can be done by mixing compost into the soil when you plant or sprinkling some granular fertilizer around the plant. There are many different types of fertilizers and ways to organically and naturally fertilize your plants.

 

Don’t miss out on something amazing!

Honestly, that post comment made me a little mad, too. There are so many people teaching things that are untrue.  They are inadvertently ruining something amazing. Who knows how many people are missing out on something God gave us as a gift just because of someone’s careless opinion.

But now you know.  It’s ok and actually beneficial, even necessary, to work the soil at the proper time as well as in the proper way!

Happy Gardening!