Everyone has been taught that fluffy, thoroughly cultivated soil is the very best stuff for your plants. As it turns out, that's not true. Instead, cultivating soil destroys its texture, along with the elegant network of mycorrhizal fungi and other beneficial organisms that are essential to the well-being of your plants. Tilled soil can become clumpy or powdery, and the effects are worse if the soil is wet when tilled. Tilling also turns up weed seeds and can undo years of patient weeding in a single, pollution-spewing pass.
Yes, tillers suck up dinosaur juice (also known as fossil fuels) and spit out smog and noise just like all other power equipment. Tsk, tsk. Not sustainable. Not sustainable at all.
Tilling the soil to grow plants is like tearing the roof off your house to let a little fresh air in. The sustainable way is to practice no-till or low-till growing. For the home gardener, this ancient practice involves covering your vegetable garden with an organic mulch, which keeps weeds down, reduces water use, and returns nutrients to the soil. Place plants in small, hand-dug holes
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within the mulch, never again turning the soil over. Mulch may not be as sexy as a big plot of fragrant, fluffy black earth, but it's a whole lot better for the environment, your plants, and you. (Find out much about mulch in Chapter 16.)
At times, you have to do grading during the course of constructing your new landscape, and you may be tempted to soften the soil with a rototiller. Resist — the same soil damage will occur. Instead, water if necessary to bring soil to proper physical condition; then grade by hand (or with minimal use of heavy equipment in large areas).
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