It is early Spring, the ground can finally be worked, and all across the northern hemisphere people are getting ready to rototill their gardens. What they don't know is they are actually decreasing the quality of the soil with all that hard work. Rototilling might be the best option when trying to break ground on a new garden plot, but if you're continuing to rototill the same dirt over and over again you are actually doing more harm than good. Here's why:
Soil is artificially loosened
We used to rototill all the time. When you are done it really looks great seeing all that aerated loose soil looking like a black fluffy pillow waiting for your plant's roots to stretch out in. The problem is it doesn't stay that way. That fluffy soil is being propped up by air pockets created when you blasted the ground with your rotating blades, and as the season goes on it will compact back down to the point it was before or worse. So it's almost like the more you till the soil, the more you have to.
By not rototilling the worms and other soil dwelling organisms are able to aerate the soil naturally. These nooks and crannies were dug out over time and are much more stable and less likely to compact as the season goes on. This gives your roots spaces to spread out and channels for water to flow down to them. When rototilled soil settles, those channels are closed off.
You're compacting the subsoil
The blades of the rototiller can only reach down do far, so as you are tearing through the top layer of the soil you are just compacting the bottom layer of the soil at the point where the blades hit their maximum depth. This creates a barrier where roots and water find it difficult to penetrate. By leaving things alone the top and bottom layers of the soil remain connected giving the worms and roots plenty of room to go as deep as possible.
You're killing beneficial organisms
Worms are torn to shreds and contrary to popular belief they do not grow into multiple new worms - they die. The ones who escape that gruesome scene are likely to get the hell out of dodge. Bacteria and micro-organisms who were perfectly happy at a particular soil depth are tossed around and flipped up into the light of day. And the irony here is all of these things would have tilled the soil for you if you just left it alone. Having a healthy earthworm population is one of the most important factors in maintaining a successful garden, so doing something once or twice a year that kills half of them and scares the others away is not the best way to go about it.
Wow... now I feel stupid
Don't! Like I said before, we used to do it too. We're all just doing the best we can with the information we have been given, and anyone who knows anything about gardening tells you to rototill the soil in the spring and/or fall. They rent them out at garden centers and landscaping companies advertise services to come out and do it for you. But one day we came across the information above and it all juts made so much sense. The rototiller now lives in the corner of the garage with the skis we once took out of someone's trash and we're not likely to get much use out of either of those items anytime soon.
And let's just say you don't buy any of what we're saying here. Well, we can tell you that we haven't used a rototiller in over 5 years and our garden has gotten better and better every year since. So at the very least, not rototilling hasn't hurt us. If not for any of the other reasons above, stop rototilling out of pure laziness. Save yourself some money and the trouble of lugging a heavy machine out to your yard on a hot Saturday. Have a few drinks by the pool instead and let the worms do the heavy lifting for you.