–Karline Jensen, High Rocks, Hillsboro, WV We will have plenty of May flowers this year. Seems like the April showers started as soon as the snow finished melting at the end of March. I don’t think we’ve had two days in a row without at least a drizzle. So if we want to get all these gardens tilled this spring, we have to be out there whenever conditions allow.
I’m writing this blog to help our gardeners figure out if their dirt is dry enough for tilling or not. It’s amazing how two gardens not far from each other can have dramatically different soil moisture levels. Just because your neighbor’s garden was perfect for tilling yesterday doesn’t mean that yours will be ready today.
Basically we need to make sure that the dirt is dry enough that when the metal implements move through at high speed, it will crumble and break up rather than getting pounded into lumps of solid brick. You can test this out by taking a handful of dirt and squeezing it into a lump. The wetter it is, the easier it will be to form the lump. Drier dirt may not hold together at all. Make sure you take the dirt from as deep as your tiller will go, because it will be wetter deeper down. (Unless it’s raining.) Once your lump seems as solid as it is going to get, try to break it in half and then crumble it up. If this is easy to do and it crumbles right back into pieces with structure and air inside them, you can till.
If it seems more like you are pulling the two halves away from each other and they would rather stretch or roll than crumble, it’s too wet. Tilling when it is this wet would be a mistake, because your machine will turn your garden into a million lumps that don’t want to break up, and worse, once they dry they will harden like clay in a kiln. You will be beating the air out of your soil and destroying its fine structure.
It takes time to build good soil. In a wet year like this it can be easy to get impatient when you haven’t gotten your early spring crops in, but if you are gentle with your soil over the years, its structure will improve and you will be able to work it earlier next time. In the meantime, extra rain will mean our favorite salad weeds will be growing like … well, extra delicious weeds!