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Spring and fall are those times of the year that we start thinking about turning the soil in our gardens. Both of these season bring with them certain requirements for our gardens that must be done if we are to keep are gardens productive and healthy. What many gardeners don't know, is rototilling the garden is a little more involved than they may think.

There are several very important things to know before you drag out the rototiller and begin working your way through the garden. Listed below is information to help you prepare your garden.

The Basics:
Never Rototill your garden when the ground is wet. It should be moist enough to squeeze into a ball but still crumble with very light pressure. If the ground is to wet, you will compact the ground as you walk on it, forcing valuable air from the soil. Unless you find the idea of sweating in the hot sun with airborne dirt covering your body appealing, pick a day with little or no wind to do your rototilling.

A good rule of thumb for rototilling is to only turn soil if it is really necessary. Many little creatures are busy working the soil for you and turning it over does upset this process. Areas that do not require seeding, such as flower beds, can easily be worked gently with a spade, hoes and other garden tools.

Vegetable gardens are different, most gardeners start from seed and a fine soil structure is preferred for this purpose. In addition, compost and aged manure is generally added 2 to 3 weeks before planting. Till only as deep as you need to - Lettuce and other leaf vegetables do not require deep tilling, many root vegetables can be grown in raised hills/rows (some actually do better this way). I personally till between 6 to 8 inches in depth for root vegetables and 4 to 6 inches for leaf vegetables.

Rototilling in the Fall:
Fall is the time of year to add soil balancers like lime and other stronger additives. To strong for spring time - it would be detrimental, or even fatal to seeds and young plants. If soil test require the addition of such items, add them with the minimum amount of rototilling possible. You can add compost and manure now instead of in the spring, allowing microorganisms, insects etc to get a head start for spring.

If you do this now, a light rototilling in the spring is all that is required. If your garden is on a steep slope, it is not recommended to loosen soil until after winter snows have disappeared - since loose soil is left exposed all winter, subject to erosion with spring runoff and spring rains.

Spring Rototilling:
Ideally, you will want to rototill your garden about 2 to 3 weeks prior to planting, adding your compost and manure at this time. This will allow the microorganisms, insects etc to re-establish (tilling upsets this balance temporarily) and begin their handy work prior to planting your seeds and transplants. I like to do the majority of my rototilling prior to the addition of manure and compost. I then add these and do a final pass or two with the rototiller - this helps prevent pushing valuable compost and manure to deep into the ground be of any good in the garden.

For information on manure and compost, check out the "Breaking Ground" section on our menu.


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