Going on a tilling spree

p>In the spring, I load up a garden cart with well-composted manure and set out to start working the soil in the garden, getting it ready for the first planting of the year. After forking compost into the winter-hardened ground for an hour and enjoying just the first 15 minutes (the last 45 minutes create fireworks of shooting pains in my lower back from my sedentary winter in front of the fireplace), I realize that I am a woman in need of a tiller.


Why till? First of all, it’s the best way to work amendments such as compost, sand, peat moss, leaves, and other organic material into the soil. Tilling our garden also breaks up the crust formed on top of the soil from a hard winter of frost, ice, and snow. A tilled garden is easier to plant—and absorbs water better—because the soil has been aerated.

In the large, flat areas of our garden, I require the battleship of tillers—something wide and powerful that chews up soil, mixes in compost, and spits it out ready for planting. We happen to own just the tiller. It’s heavy and a struggle to move into the garden, but once it’s there, it does the job. When I first power it up, the spinning tines always bring to mind the cartoon character the Tasmanian Devil.

Steering is the hard part, because our rear-tine rotary tiller seems to want to gallop out of my hands and run amok through the fence. The five-horsepower engine (some larger tillers offer even more power) does indeed feel like I’ve harnessed five frisky workhorses. But after some initial wobbling, I get my tiller legs and all goes well. A run-through with this machine transforms the ground from a crusty, dirt-clod-pocked surface to a bouncy trampoline of soft soil. The tiller folds in the compost, mixes it with the topsoil, and leaves a clean wake of fresh soil ready for planting.

Big tillers are best for long stretches of open ground—big vegetable gardens, row crops of cut flowers, and truck gardens. B

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