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April 03, 2009


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Hi Chuck.

I'm about to till a 40' x 40' plot of garden with an electric tiller. The ground is compact, but not overly so. I'll mostly plant greens, beans and a few root crops like carrots.

Is there an optimum tilling depth? Would it be overkill to till even deeper with a shovel? Is there any harm in doing so?


Erik, A lot depends on the nature of your soil (Clay, loam, sand, organic matter ratio). There are many opinions on optimum tilling depth ranging from till as deep as you can to “why are you using a tiller at all”. Tillers do a great job of conditioning the soil for a seed bed but also have deleterious long term impacts on soil structure and worm populations. Shallow tilling will do less of this long term harm and electric tillers are generally designed to do shallow tilling. However, periodically a deep turning of the soil is necessary if you are trying to incorporate organic matter deeper into your soil as is usually the desire of gardeners working the same vegetable garden plot for many years. Greens and beans will do fine with shallower tilling so long as the soil fertility is adequate. Root crops will like the soil to be loosened a bit deeper to facilitate growth of things like carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, etc.

Some garden tool manufacturers sell a product called a Broad Fork. It is not designed for lifting and turning the soil. Rather it is designed to penetrate deep into the soil to loosen and aerate. This is what I use in my garden almost exclusively. I say almost because I do use a tiller on occasion when I am trying to incorporate organic matter in the fall when I am “putting the garden to bed” for the winter but still want the soil microbes to breaking down the OM for next season.

Hope this helps.


Last year I planted a few raspberries. In the fall I cut the dead canes and left the green ones (read somewhere that's what I was supposed to do). Now they're greening up and some new babies are coming up, but the old canes are really, really long. Can/should I cut them back to a more manageable length? I know this is a really basic question, but I'm clueless!

Mary, Sounds like you are on the right track. Raspberries fruit on the canes produced the previous season. The typical management is to prune out dead shoots (the ones that produced fruit that season) in the fall leaving 4-5 canes that were new vegetative shoots during the growing season. These 4-5 canes are often cut off at 4-5 feet tall and tied in a bundle to a support for the winter. In spring when you see signs of new growth cut the string to let the bundle loose. These are the canes that will produce your fruit and new vegetative shoot will grow from the base of the plant. Repeat the cycle.

You may be familiar with “everbearing” raspberries. These are one that typically will produce some fruit even on the current seasons new growth. My experience with them is that you get a flush of berries off the canes that were left over the winter and then some berries off of the new canes from the current season giving you more than just the initial crop of berries. Also, there are red, black and yellow raspberries and for the most part they produce the same way as mentioned above. If you google raspberry production, you will get many websites with helpful information for the specific raspberries that you are growing.

Good luck.


Thank you for the lowdown on tilling. It is exactly what I needed to hear.


Hello! So glad to see this on the NWPR website - organic practices, xeriscaping, holistic gardening - thanks! I'm sending a link to our small seed company: goodseedco.net, please check it out and if you think it appropriate, we'd like to see it on you're "regional organic seeds". We specialize in cold-hardy, open-pollinated, heirloom and homestead seeds. Thank you, Sandy for Good Seed.

I've been told that these


are better for the soil as there is no metal contained. But I am curious if they are strong enough to withstand the roots of the plants. Or is that irrelevant as anything I would plant in one of these is too small to cause any damage? Please help.

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