The lone voice of horticultural reason

“It’s a good idea to rototill your garden beds every year.”

Wrong. Believe it or not, one gardening device that even the most fanatical, obsessive, anal, and ridiculously addicted gardener can live without owning is a rototiller. Trust me.

It’s not a good idea to rototill your beds every year, not even your vegetable beds. Studies have shown that once soil has been properly prepared, it wants to sit there and do its thing, and needs several years to settle into healthy soil-structure mode. Ripping it up with a rototiller (particularly one of those little 1/4 horse, high-speed Italian sewing machine tillers) every spring or fall disrupts the microorganism activity, to say nothing of how it treats your poor earthworms.

I’ve even read a report stating that vegetable yields are actually better in year two of a new bed, because the soil structure, micro- and macroorganisms have had a chance to settle down to the business of becoming a healthy, living growing medium.

Pictured is a bed I made about five years ago. I took the black topsoil that was there, added a little sand, some peat moss, a lot of compost, some additional pulverized peat soil, and rototilled the hell out of it, raising it for good measure. I planted it with irises, daylilies, and mums.

I haven’t touched it since, and don’t plan to for the next five years. Sure, I do some mildly wise things, such as mulching with compost and adding compost to a hole every time I dig, divide, or plant something, and that’s about all you need to do.

When it’s time to make a new bed, I go out and spend seventy bucks and rent a rototiller for the day. Then I don’t have to store one, maintain it, winterize it, or justify it to my wife.

Besides, nothing handles wicked abuse better than a rental rototiller.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener