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Tough tilling

That’s young turnips in the raised bed.

It’s amazing how fast that half an inch of rain that fell Wednesday dried out when the 90-degree heat returned. When I started tilling in the garden area Friday morning, the moisture was barely noticeable. The new tiller is very aggressive, though, so in spite of the sticks and rocks I made a pretty good first pass over the garden area.

It’s good to know something about the history of one’s soil. Two and a half years ago, my garden area was the floor of a one-acre area covered with mature pine trees. The trees and stumps were removed in the early spring of 2008. Then everything having to do with the garden went on hold for the next year and a half while all my time went into building the house. To make matters even worse in the garden area, that’s where the loggers put the heavy machine that stripped the limbs off the trees and loaded them onto a truck parked out of the road. The garden area was packed by the heavy machinery, and there were sticks and bark everywhere. Much of that has rotted in the last two years, though.

The pine trees that I took down in 2008 had been there since about 1965. Before that, my acre of land that is open to the sun was a farmer’s field, worked mostly with a mule. My land is too sloped and too irregularly shaped to be easily worked with a tractor. Maybe the mule died, or something, and someone decided to give it up and plant trees in the field.

The good news from my morning of heavy tilling is that the garden soil is in better shape than I thought. There is more humus and less clay than I was expecting. My task this fall is to work as much compost and organic fertilizers into the soil as possible, then plant winter rye as a cover crop. I’m hoping that I’ll have fairly decent soil by spring. And of course I’ll do everything possible to improve the soil each year.

I’m planning to be strictly organic in the garden area. I don’t mind using fertilizer on my grass, and I used fertilizer in my straw-bale experiment, but I don’t use herbicides and insecticides anywhere. I take that back. I used a bit of poison-ivy killer a couple of years ago.

The tiller, by the way, is not a large tiller, but it is one of the fancier models with counter-rotating rear tines. This type of tiller does a better job, and it’s easier to use. The front wheels are driven by the engine and pull the tiller forward. The tines try to pull the tiller backward as they churn. But somehow the machinery is made such that the tiller creeps slowly forward as it grinds up the soil inside the hooded area that covers the tines. Generally one hand is enough to manage the thing.

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