It is that time of year when gardeners of all shapes and sizes return to the great outdoors and prepare for another season of hopeful harvest.  Spring always starts out with such dreams and ambitions.  It is a time when weeds are low and visions are high.  Before the seeds are planted, garden preparation is one of the important considerations to look at.  Within the arena of proper garden readiness comes one of the conflicts in the agriculture world.  Should one roto-till the garden or not.

Tilling is a basically a means of cultivating soil, or getting it ready for planting.  This is an important chore in getting the season started.  Typically after winter, the soil has become hard or crusted. Softer more workable soil is preferred for growing.  So to get the soil ready for planting, you have to till it.

This softer, more workable soil is one of the arguments for tilling the garden each year.  For one, nothing beats the look of a freshly tilled garden.  The dirt is fresh and finely broken down.  It makes for great presentation, while those seeds are germinating, and helps you easily pull weeds as they start to come.  As seeds start to grow, the tilled soil can soak in water better, and aid in positive plant growth.  If you are working with fertilizer, applying it before tilling makes it easier to work it into the soil.  If you have natural fertilizer, a.k.a manure, then being able to mix that in with a roto-tiller adds great benefit.  As it mixes in to the dirt, it breaks down faster than it would on the surface.  By breaking down faster it is more readily available to the plants.  It should be noted that when dealing with animal manure one should be aware of the acidity content.  For instance, poultry fertilizer is high and can burn seedlings if added into the soil at the time of planting.  A good option for this is to add it over your garden at the end of the planting season.  In the spring, it will be pretty well broken down and can be turned into the soil.  Basically tilling is a one step method that eradicates growing weeds, mixes the soil for even consistency, and ensures that it is loose enough for plant growth.

Opponents of tilling state that the process throws off the natural balance of the earth.  Essentially, there are creatures and micro-organisms at different layers of the soil.  All work with a function and have effectiveness where they are.  The very act of tilling throws this natural balance into chaos, thus affecting the beneficial plant growth.  A claim that does not have merit is tilling kills earthworms from the trauma of the tilling mechanism.  There is no verifiable proof to this.  While tilling a garden can eliminate weed issues in the present, it does present potential for worse problems later.  The weed seed that is now turned up in the dirt is more readily exposed to sun and water, therefore creating prime weed real estate.  Another disadvatage to tilling is something referred to as “soil compaction.”  This is the effect of hardened soil just below where the blades reach.  As the blades turn up the soil within their reach, they are scraping down and pressing the soil under them.  This has effect on root penetration into deeper levels of soil. 

In the end, it is possible that both sides have their place in the gardening world.  Seeds and small transplants may like the ease of freshly tilled soil to push through, while bigger transplants might do well with the natural layer of mulch or fertilizer on the surface.  So, while benefits and disadvantages are pointed out, it remains the choice of home gardeners to see what works  best.  Much like the debate of ketchup versus mustard, everyone has their preferred way of topping a hot dog.