Begin When the Soil Tells You

Depending on your region, the time to work the soil could be early or late spring.

You can work the soil when it is moist but not so wet that it clumps.

You have been waiting all winter. You have reviewed your notes from last year. You have planned where each vegetable and herb will go this year. The birds have begun to chirp, the days have been getting warmer and the rain has been falling. Frost and freezing weather look as if they have finally gone for the year. Is it time? Can you finally get out there and till your rows and work the soil? Hold on just a minute longer.

The soil is the precious life-blood for any and all things you plant this year. Before you start digging away, there are a few things you should know. The purpose of tilling is to mix organic matter into your soil, help control weeds, break up crusted soil, or loosen up a small area for planting. You do not need to till or break up the soil very deep; less than 12 inches is better.

Tilling too often or deep can do more damage than good to your soil. Enthusiastic rototilling done too early in the season can result in the earth’s becoming hard and unable to retain moisture. Any heavy tilling when the soil is wet is also destructive to soil structure. The soil will become terribly compacted and dry out too fast.

So when is the best time to begin working the soil? Take a handful and squeeze it into a ball. Then press your finger slightly against the ball. If the ball crumbles, it is time. Even if you have clay in your soil, this test is the best to use.

What is the best way to till your soil? If your garden is medium- or small-sized, a shovel or spading fork is the best way. But if you want to use that rototiller, just remember, not too deep and only when the soil is ready.

When the time is right to work the soil, your gardening year will have truly begun.