Is Tilling A Garden Necessary?

To harvest beautiful vegetables and succulent fruits, every good gardener knows this rule: working the soil is the key! Plants become more vigorous in loose soil rich in organic matter. But today, this is no longer enough! Under the soil live microorganisms that are essential for soil fertilization and that tillage has too often neglected. we answer this question: should we till the soil in the vegetable garden?

Travail du sol : faut-il labourer la terre de son potager ?

What is tilling?

Plowing or “tilling” is one of the tillage techniques used in gardening, market gardening and agriculture. For centuries, plowing has been a quick and easy way to loosen the soil. This practice also allowed the control of weeds that compete with crops by depriving them of some of their water and essential nutrients. In those days, plowing was done with a plow pulled by one or more draft horses or by oxen.

Even today, many parents and grandparents still use this method in late winter to prepare the garden for planting. Nevertheless, at the level of the gardener, the most commonly used plowing tool is the spade or the rototiller for a larger garden area. As for farmers, they have often traded in their animals for the latest generation tractor.

Why shouldn’t I till or plough my vegetable garden anymore?

Ploughing, which consists of turning over a thick layer of soil by digging, gives priority to working the soil to the detriment of the micro-organisms present. However, numerous studies in agroecology have shown that the inversion of the soil layers disturbs these living organisms and harms their proliferation.

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Indeed, under the vegetable garden live all kinds of insects, earthworms, carabids (beetles), fungi and bacteria. Each one develops at a different depth corresponding to its biotope. Some need air and light and remain continuously on the surface of the soil. Others appreciate darkness and a more confined atmosphere.

  • Often neglected, the role of micro-organisms is nevertheless essential:
  • They transform organic matter into humus and thus fertilize the soil;
  • They help to aerate the soil by moving around;
  • They release hormonal growth substances in the roots that promote the development of plants;
  • They purify water and contaminated soil (chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, etc.);
  • They establish a natural balance between the different species of parasites, predators and prey.

By turning over the soil in the garden, the entire biodiversity of the soil is disturbed! Without their usual living conditions, these micro-organisms will then devote their energy to trying to find their original stratum rather than enriching the soil.

Good to know : Contrary to what one might think, plowing the land does not provide an effective weed control solution. In fact, this operation of digging brings to the surface the weed seeds buried in the soil, which contributes to their emergence.

How to loosen the soil in your vegetable garden without plowing?

The living organisms under the soil are therefore useful for the growth of vegetables which become more vigorous and more resistant to parasites and diseases. But then, how to work the soil without tilling it? Quite simply thanks to a tool that has become essential for all permaculture gardeners: the ecological spade (or fork), also known as the “aerial spade”, better known as the grelinette.

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The grelinette is named after its inventor: André Grelin. It is a very simple manual tool! It has a steel base with 3 to 5 teeth connected to 2 wooden handles. To use it, you simply push the grelinette’s teeth into the soil and move back and forth. Unlike a spade or a tiller, the grelinette allows you to split the soil, to aerate it and to decompact it, but without moving material or micro-organisms. Moreover, the operation is carried out while keeping the back straight.

Good to know: To increase crop yields and further fertilize the soil, you should always first amend your garden with a thick layer of manure or compost. The grelinette will mix the soil with organic matter that will continue to decompose. Thus, vegetables and plants in the garden will benefit from the best possible growing conditions.

Conclusion it may not be needed

In short, the we provides a satisfactory answer, because :

  • The digging of the soil is no longer necessary.
  • The cultivation of the plants in the vegetable garden thus fully respects biodiversity.
  • Gardening is made easier, thanks to a more ergonomic work of the ground.


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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