Vegetable Garden Tilling BasicsTilling the vegetable garden is the process of breaking up the soil in order to make it easier to work with for planting and sowing. Cultivating the soil in this manner also helps to loosen up the soil which creates a better environment for root development and growth. If starting a new garden from scratch in an area that is covered in thick grass, tilling is necessary most of the time to remove the sod. Sod can be removed by other means, such as removing it with a shovel or laying a tarp over the area to effectively kill the grass. Removing the grass with a shovel can be back-breaking, tedious work, and using a tarp to kill the grass can take several weeks. If you plan to grow your vegetable garden directly in the ground, the quickest and most efficient way to remove sod and prepare the vegetable garden bed is using a garden tiller.
Removing the Grass Using a Garden TillerSo you have an ideal place to start a new vegetable garden in your yard, but it's covered in thick grass. If you want to cultivate the new area using a garden tiller, the first step is to remove the grass from the area. Removing the grass can be the toughest step in preparing a new garden bed. Most grass is very thick and very difficult to remove. The above picture shows an area in my yard that I want to use for part of my vegetable garden. It is a thick patch of grass and weeds and will be difficult to remove by hand, or by using a shovel. I will need to use a garden tiller to break up the grass and prepare the bed. You can buy a garden tiller if you feel you may need it often each year, or you can rent one from a tool and equipment rental business. I only use a garden tiller a couple times a year, so I typically rent one.
Setting The Garden Tiller DepthOnce you have the garden tiller, set the depth adjustment bar (usually located in the rear of the garden tiller) to the highest setting. Setting the depth to the highest setting will cause the garden tiller to just "graze" across the top layer of the grass, dislodging it from the soil. This will make it much easier to remove the grass after the first pass with the garden tiller.
Make The First Pass With The Garden TillerNow you are ready to make the first pass with the garden tiller to remove the grass. Let the garden tiller do the work. Just guide it along, allowing it to chop away at the layer of grass. The above picture shows what it should look like after the first pass with the garden tiller. Notice how the grass is now in large clumps. You don't want to dig down too deeply with the garden tiller at this point. Digging too deeply will cause the grass clumps to mix in with the soil, making it very difficult to separate the soil and grass. Once you have made the first pass, use a garden rake to rake out as much of the grass as you can. It may take several rakings to remove most of the grass. You probably won't be able to get all of the grass out, but that's ok. Just as long as you remove the majority of it.
Dig Just a Bit DeeperOnce you have most of the grass removed, lower the depth adjustment bar a couple more clicks down. This will give you the ability to cultivate the soil a couple of inches deeper. Make two more passes in the garden area with the garden tiller at the lower depth. Once you have cultivated the soil at the deeper setting, the soil will start to become more loose and appear to be light an fluffy. It is now time to form the new garden bed or rows. For this new garden area, I will be planting pole beans so I will form it into a broad bed.
Forming The Vegetable Garden BedTo form the new garden bed I take a steel or aluminum garden rake and begin hilling the soil up on each side. I want the bed to be about three feet wide and six feet long. I continue to rake and hill up the soil until I have a bed that is three foot wide, six foot wide and about six inches tall. I then take straw to use as a mulch to cover the pathways around the bed. Now the new garden bed is ready for planting. You can sow seeds or set out transplants in the new vegetable garden bed. Once the seedlings have grown some, I use the same type of straw to mulch around the plants.
Some Recommendations For Tilling A Vegetable GardenI generally till my vegetable garden once, when first preparing the beds. After the initial tilling (like the one explained in this article) and forming of the beds, I do not till the vegetable garden again. Over-tilling can cause damage to the soil structure and the soil ecosystem. Good garden soil contains beneficial microorganisms and earthworms which are vital to maintaining a high level of healthy soil. Over-tilling exposes these important critters to sunlight which can kill them. The soil will rebuild itself, but it takes time to do that and you do not want your soil to go through that rebuilding process each year. If tilling a new garden space, I will till the area once to break up the soil. I will then form the new bed(s), then never need to till the area again. I just replenish the beds with good compost and other organic matter from there on. So, even though tilling is a great way to remove sod and break up the soil so it is workable, I highly recommend to avoid over-tilling your soil.
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