I really don’t know what I am doing. I spend a lot of time at it and things grow, but most of what we do on our little farm is done after we do a little research on the Internet and then we find that our situation is different. Then we wing it.
The last several days, I have spent a lot of time prepping the rows in the garden. They start covered in weeds (figuring out cover crops is on my todo list, but didn’t happen last year). I use a broadfork too lift the soil and break apart the weeds and clumps of dirt. Then I go through with a garden claw (a tool that is designed to twist weeds out of the ground) and I break apart the big clods using a twisting motion. Then I go through and pick out all (well, not all, but hopefully enough so we have a bit of control over weeds this year) of the roots and stuff the I think could grow into a weed. Sometimes I need to use the claw to twisty again. Then I apply lime and other organic fertilizers that our soil test said that we need to add. Then I go through and use the claw to do some surface tilling to mix in the additives. I don’t ever do a row start to finish, but I suspect that each row takes 8 or more hours.
My approach this year is much different than what we did last year. Last year we used a rototiller and it was too wet when I did it, so it became a clumpy mess of dirt clods. With the broadfork, I was able to start working the soil earlier than I could have with a tiller. And I really like how the soil turns out. When I am done, it is really nice to work with.
People keep telling me I am nuts for doing it by hand, and sometimes while I’m out in the field starting a new row, I think I am nuts too. And when I see that I have only finished about 6 of 32 rows, I feel like a different way may be better.
‘Conventional’ farming would say that I am doing it all wrong. In fact, I know a lot of organic farmers who use lots of power equipment, it is not against any rules of organic farming. Organic farmers may say that I am doing it wrong. In the end, I don’t really know that I am doing it right.
I like the results of what I am doing. For starters, the soil is nicer to work with than it ever has been in the past (although that could be a result of time too). Additionally, I am in better shape than I have ever been in. Twelve hours a day of constant physical labor has greatly improved my fitness, and my upper body and core are much stronger than they ever have been.
Maybe I am just being stubborn. Maybe the tiller would give me better results than what I am doing. But for now I am going to continue to experiment and see if I can go with minimal tilling this year.