Here at St. Clare Heirloom Seeds we have several different large test gardens that we grow out a lot of different varieties of vegetables every year. Weeding gardens can take an enormous amount of time so one of the ways that we get a head-start on dealing with weeds is to shallow till numerous times in the spring, before planting time arrives.
We use a Troy-Bilt Horse Tiller with an 11hp Briggs and Stratton Vanguard Engine (The 11hp Vanguard engine is a custom modification, updated after the original 8HP Briggs engine bit the dust). Rear-tine tillers are definitely the way to go, if you can, so much easier to use and a great asset if you will be doing as much tilling as we suggest in this article.
So, here’s how we do this. About 4 weeks before planting time we begin the process. The first till is about 6″ deep to really get all the organic matter left in the garden from last season tilled in and mixed thoroughly into the soil. Then for the next 3 weeks, we till about 2″ deep every week. This shallow tilling allows us to disturb and kill the young weeds just as they’re starting to grow, while they’re easy to get rid of. Every time you do a deep till you are bringing thousands of weed seeds to the surface. By shallow tilling you only disturb the top two inches killing the weeds each time, and you don’t bring fresh weed seed up to the surface from the deeper soil. After doing this shallow till three times you have significantly reduced the amount of weed seeds that will sprout in your garden at planting time. Your last till should be immediately before you plant, so the weeds don’t have a chance to get a head-start on your veggies and fruits.
There is a lot of debate about tilling your garden, to till or not to till. We believe there are many different ways to garden, each one works in its own way. Each gardener has to decide what is best for their garden and themselves. Shallow tilling is just one of many ways that one can control weeds.