Sometimes I till, and sometimes I don’t. For a while, roughly between early 2006 and some point in 2008, I was fairly certain that no-dig gardening would solve all my problems and that, with enough mulch, I’d reach weedless enlightenment. Eventually I realized that abstaining from soil disturbance and the use of permanent mulches is not without drawbacks, particularly in our cool, wet, sluggy springs. These days, when it comes to digging, I subscribe to multiple contradictory ideologies. At times,I sheet-mulch and avoid all tillage. At times I single-dig, gently working amendments in with a fork. At times I double-dig. Different crops, and different situations, call for different techniques. I believe that understanding this has been one of the most important lessons in my growth as a gardener.
When soil is disturbed, weed seeds are brought to the surface, where they encounter the conditions they require to sprout and grow. Prior to the soil being disturbed, most of these seeds were happy to stay out of trouble lodged within the soil strata, socializing with earthworms and thinking about how good it would feel to germinate. The newly-disturbed garden quickly grows a great crop of weeds. The timely use of a sharp hoe can prevent this from becoming a major disaster, and more complex techniques, like stale seed beds, coupled with timely applications of mulch, can be employed to keep weed problems in check. For now, I hoe, and later I’ll cover cover crops and mulches and the transition between dig and don’t.