April 5, 2014

It All Started with an Earthworm

First, let's all drop to our knees and scream THANK YOU for the sunny day and the chance to get into the garden at long last. And now, since you're  already on your knees, you might as well take an up-close-and-personal look at this little critter in my compost..
Bear with me, because there is a point to this photo, I promise. (Those of you still on your knees should feel free to get up now.)

I have been away from home in Service of Family for five days that seemed like a month. So today was MY day, and I ran right into the garden this morning to prepare the vegetable beds and plant my lettuce, kale, radishes, and bok choy. 

Every spring, I pull out my little red Mantis rototiller and run it through all the beds, until they look soft and inviting and I can no longer walk. Today, before tilling, I pulled back the old straw mulch and oak leaves, yanked out the few weeds that are clearly overachievers, and tossed large rocks that I apparently planted last fall. The soil is rich and crumbly and moved easily beneath the tongs of that um....that little hand tool...you know, the one that looks like an Afro pick...um...ok, Google says its a cultivator!

When I went to the compost bin to load up the wheelbarrow, I noticed all the fat and happy worms. They had just won a free trip to the vegetable beds and when I thought about running my rototiller through the beds...and through the worms...I felt a bit yucky. And that made me wonder. Why exactly do I till, anyway?

And the answer is: I dunno.

To turn the soil upside down, taking the top layer of organic stuff with it?

To get soft, crumbly soil that I always thought made my plants happy?

Maybe. But when it comes right down to it, I have a dirty little secret.
I till because it makes me feel like this.
I love mobilizing my physical strength, especially in this year that I am turning 60. I love feeling my biceps wake up as I plow, the throbbing in my muscles after the day is done. And I love waking up the next morning and finding that the throbbing has become but a gentle ache and I can still perform that daily miracle: getting out of bed and standing (mostly) upright. It makes me feel, well, just more alive. So silly, but so true.

But that little earthworm in my compost and the fact that I was freely turning the soil with a 9 inch hand cultivator made me wonder if rototilling makes sense for my garden at this moment. After all, I have three raised beds that I've been working for years, not 40 acres of overgrown meadow. And if I need to feel strong, I can always lift sacks of dog food. Or my dogs.

So I went online and learned two things. First, "till vs no-till" is a controversy so hot  that debates about gay marriage, abortion rights, and evolution vs intelligent design make you yawn. Like most controversies, you can pretty much find a bulletin, blog, or outright manifesto to tell you anything you want to hear. Second, it is very clear that tilling makes no sense for my garden at this moment.

I'm not going to get into all the reasons, mostly because I read so much that I already barely remember the question. But quite simply, to paraphrase Isaiah, its time to beat my Mantis into pitchfork...
 Julie will not take up Mantis against earthworm, neither will she learn rototilling no more.