[permaculture] manual tools for tilling?

Stephen Sherman spsherm at msn.com
Mon Apr 5 15:36:37 EDT 2010

There are a bunch of variables which will effect the answer (and how 
hard you will be working by hand), such as the extent of the grass's 
roots, how rocky and deep the soil is, how wet/dry it is, etc. However a 
few thoughts:

Wheel hoes, and the like which are human powered are not a good choice 
for breaking sod. There is a reason people have used horses/oxen/etc to 
pull a plow for centuries. Breaking soil/sod by hand can be done, but it 
is going to take a shovel/turning fork or the like, one shovel/fork full 
at a time. If you want to go the motorized route (gas powered 
roto-tiller) then you might consider hiring it out, as it is still alot 
of work to break sod with one of those. A good discussion of preparing 
new ground can be found in Steve Solomon's book "Gardening when it 
counts." Solomon contends it is almost as much work keeping a 
roto-tilling going through new ground as it is digging by hand. Of 
course if you are not the person behind the tiller, then that may not 
matter to you.

Probably the best/easiest way to prepare new sod is to cover it in mulch 
for a year before you plant. Of course not much use if you want to plant 
this year. But if you cover the grass with the standard sheet composting 
layers (or even just a weed/grass proof barrier and some mulch stuff on 
top) for a year, all the grass and roots will be gone and you can easily 
prepare your garden the next year. It also allows you to add fertility 
to the garden area and build soil ahead of time. Perhaps something to 
consider for the future.

However if you need to move ahead with the garden area now, if your 
terrain allows, getting a neighbor with a small tractor and roto-tiller 
attachment (or plow and disks) to come and work the ground might be the 
fastest/easiest alternative. Regardless of who/how the soil prep is 
done, be sure that the soil is at the right moisture level for working, 
otherwise considerable harm can be done to the soil.

On 4/3/2010 8:51 AM, Marjory wrote:
> Hello everyone,
> I am about to start a good sized plot for a three sisters garden - about
> 60'x40'.  The soil is a loose sand with a bit of loam.  It currently has
> a good cover of annual rye grass.  As my husband runs off to find a
> motorized tiller to prepare the ground I am wondering if there is a low
> tech version of a tool that could do the job?  I've heard about the
> Glazer wheel hoe being able to do some light cultivation with a plow
> attachment.  I am wondering if anyone has any experience with this, or
> any suggestions?  what tools would work to cultivate a plot this size?
> I could do it with a shovel... but that would take a bit longer than I
> am hoping to get it done in.
> Thanks,
> Marjory
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