Many years ago, when I was digging my first vegetable garden, I rented a
rototiller to remove the lawn and ended up regretting it. The machine
inverted clumps of grass which still had to be overturned by hand in order
shake off the useful soil. If (in a fantasy world), it had NEATLY overturned
them exactly 180 degrees so the grass simply died, that would've been great,
but it was a fairly random mess. I ended up finishing the thing by hand,
which wasn't TOO awful, since I'd just bought a really nice spade & fork.
At my new house, I'm about to create another vegetable garden. Again, I have
excellent tools, but I'm wondering about renting a tiller, since I'm dealing
with a 20x40 foot area. However, I'd like to avoid the same mess. Was the
previous fiasco due to the type of tiller, the way I used it, the position
of the moon, or what? Combination of all factors?
Can you wait until Spring?
And what kind of grass? If it is St Augustine, this will work. If it is
Bermuda, it won't.
I'd weed-eat it down to the dirt, wet it, cover it with 6-8 sheets of
newspaper, cover THAT with 1-2 feet of dead leaves (ergo, do it when the
leaves fall) and keep those moistened. In Spring, St Augustine would be
dead, you'd have an inch of compost between the newspapers and the bottom
leaves, and THEN till it.
Worked for me a few years ago. If you are organic enough to have worms, most
of that paper will be gone by Spring...done (vermi)composted.
I just moved into the house. It's your typical grass: Whatever they sell at
the local home centers as "the right mix for Rochester NY". Considering the
previous owners, I'm sure they didn't go looking for anything different than
I was hoping to do this work over the next couple of weeks so I could work
in a few billion pounds of manure & peat moss, and have it nice & settled in
It's hard to say, but it may have been too wet, and/or you went too fast
for how deep you were going.
The first time you till someplace, you may not be able to have ideal
conditions for tilling. If there's a lot of clay, it may be too hard
unless it's too wet. If it's so dry that the blades are bouncing, you're
not doing the machine much good. On the other hand, if it's so wet that
it clumps on the blades, you're not doing the machine any better. If you
had a generally loamy soil to begin with, tilling when it's too wet
would also destroy the soil structure. Of course if you're dealing with
clay that hasn't been touched for two decades, destroying what little
structure is left is the least of your problems.
Going slower will give you a finer till unless you're in mud. If you're
using a front tine tiller, make sure you have that rudder down. Slow
down by pressing down to dig the rudder in further. Lift up slowly to
move ahead. Don't let the tines work like wheels. They need to dig in.
If you're converting a grassy area to a garden, I'd recommend first
scalping the grass. Then till it once about 4-6" down to loosen most of
the roots. Rake them out before going further. Then till a second time
to go down as deep as you can with the machine you're using. (You did
get the area hot-lined to make sure there are no underground utilities,
If you're doing it this fall, after you've finished tilling, just rake
it out rough. Then use that area as your shredded leaves depository for
the winter. Put a couple of 99-cent bags of composted manure on top to
hold them down. I actually cover my vegetable garden with a tarp after
soaking it down. Turns it into a huge compost bin, and keeps down the
When spring comes, rake off the top of the leaves if they haven't
started to decompose, and till in the remaining leaves. I usually do
this during that "unseasonably warm" week that usually comes in late
winter or early spring. After tilling, I'll take a soil sample to see if
there are any problems that are best fixed before I move the starts into
the garden (in May out here).
A sodcutter makes a real clean grass scalp. Most are adjustable from
1.5" to 3.5". After you removed the turf you could decide on tilling the
bare soil. Something you could do is cover this freshly uncovered soil
with hardwood mulch and let it overwinter. Or start using it immediately
for food production if your needs reqire.
Doug Kanter wrote:
Celestial Habitats by J. Kolenovsky
2003 Honorable Mention Award, Keep Houston Beautiful
A sodcutter makes a real clean grass scalp. Most are adjustable
1.5" to 3.5". After you removed the turf you could decide on
bare soil. Something you could do is cover this freshly uncovered
with hardwood mulch and let it overwinter. Or start using it
for food production if your needs reqire.
Removing the sod also removes most of the weed seeds, resulting
in a more weed-free garden. Tilling is much easier with the sod
All tillers mix the layers of soil and whatever cover is on it. The only thing
that that will turn the soil over 180 degrees is a spade/spading fork or a
large turning plow (16 or 18 inch bottoms)
Tilling is not usually a major problem if you go over the ground several times
to thoroughly incorporate the plant debris.
Maybe that last sentence is the clue here. The first garden was created on
top of what appeared to be a pottery factory which was blown to pieces the
size of dessert plates. I probably just got pissed off and stopped tilling.
An age old argument. Roundup works *only* by absorbtion through plant
leaves and interfering with the life cycle of the plant that absorbed
it. It does *not* reside in the soil and even if it did, cannot be
absorbed through the root system. Ergo, no risk to subsequent planting
If you read application data, there is one rate for grasses and
another rate for hardier plants. If the max rate is not exceeded, it
is not illegal us use as I suggested. And the only reason I suggested
that in the first place was that the OP stated he was under time
I know organic gardeners despise all chemicals. But there are times
when the work required by not using them far exceeds the benefit.
And I keep going back to toxicity. The standard by which all other is
measured is table salt - very high up the toxic chart, yet commonly
Used *as directed*, dangerous residues will be below generally accepted
danger levels. Doubling the application rate, which is illegal, may not
have the same results. That's assuming the generally accepted danger
levels are acceptable to you in the first place. Remember, they aren't
saying that nothing is left behind. Only that the level is an acceptable
risk based on currently known information.
Personally, I feel that we're exposed to enough risks that we cannot
easily minimize. Purposely adding additional risk without gaining a
significant benefit isn't a good way to go about life. Poisoning the
existing vegetation to make room for food crop may be a easier than
mechanically removing the existing vegetation, but not that much easier.
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