How to Till a Garden Without a Tiller

how to till a garden without a tillerSo, how to till a garden without a tiller. For ease, a gas-powered, earth-ripping tool does fast work in rough soil. But, as we subscribe to the square-foot gardening technique, our soil is fairly friable to begin with. A tiller would make the task of tilling simpler, but we'd rather save a little clean air than shave some effort off our low maintenance garden care habits. 

Now, to be honest, it's fairly impractical for us as a modern, off the grid homesteading family to be completely independent. We still use the grocery store, put gas in our trucks and buy clothes and shoes and such from the outside world. However, we can make conscious decisions to do little things to improve our impact on the environment regardless, and I'll bet you are in the same position. Today, we look at how to till a garden without a tiller, saving a bit of fossil fuel pollution from entering our environment.

How to Till a Garden Without a Tiller

how to till a garden without a tiller
Now, we do keep a limited amount of gas and oil on the homestead, mostly for garden care purposes. We have an industrial-strength weed whacker/brush hog that makes short work of everything from bramble to saplings. And I'll say this, if you don't have one, try and do so before spring. These things are a workhorse that pay for themselves in a week. No kidding.

We use an electric mower for our little side yard, but the Mahindra tractor needs it's diesel, so we always have some on hand. Then there's the tiller we don't have. We used to, but found that it didn't perform up to expectation other than saving a little time and that doing it ourselves gave better results. Now, we'll get into how to till a garden without a tiller.

Garden Maintenance: Double Digging


garden maintenanceThe first step to the double-digging technique of hand tilling is to clear your garden space of weeds, rocks, and other obstructions. You know you should be doing this on a regular basis as part of your garden maintenance mantra anyways, but now is just as good a time as any. Next, spread a thick layer of compost over your garden space. This compost will then be worked into the soil as you till. In fact, as a general rule, add a little compost when you do anything to your garden.


In this method of hand-tilling, you will be working from one end of the garden to the other. After you've spread the compost, dig a ditch along the entire edge of one side of the garden. The ditch should be about 10”-12” deep. You will need a good, broad, shovel for this with a sharp blade. I like to y=use a spade shovel, but any will do in a pinch. 

Garden Care


garden care
Then, right next to the first ditch, dig another 10” ditch. As you dig, scoop the dirt from the 2nd ditch into the first. Break the soil up a little for aeration and drainage at the same time. For me, I find having one of the kids focused on this aspect of garden care is a good way to get the job done successfully.

After you've completed back-filling the 2nd ditch, start a third. Move the dirt from the 3rd ditch into the 2nd and then continue on like this until you've dug across the entire garden. Always move the dirt from the new ditch into the previous one, transferring the soil from one to the other.

There is an optional step you can do to loosen the soil even more. Whether you need this depends on the compactness of the soil in your garden. If you have particularly dense or compact soil, you should incorporate this step with each row.

Low Maintenance Garden


low maintenance gardenAfter you prepare each row, use a garden fork to dig into the soil of the dug row. Push the tines down into the hole as far as they will comfortably go and then rock the handle of the garden fork back and forth. This will further loosen the soil. Repeat this down the entire length of the row.

For the final ditch, fill it with the soil you dug up from the first one. There should not be any empty ditches left. If there are, you have found a way to subvert the laws of physics by reaching the nirvana of a truly low maintenance garden. Good for you!


Lastly, rake over the soil until it is smooth. Your garden is now ready to be planted. You compost is in, the soil is broken up and aerated and you saved a little more fossil fuel pollution from entering the air and your water supply.

How To Till A Garden Without A Tiller

how to till a garden without a tiller
I'm getting older, while Wendie is still the young woman who fist caught my eye. Between us, we have a small parcel of kids who can help with these back-testing homestead chores and so we're able to make this system work for us. But, it's obviously not for everyone. 

If you have back problems, I don't recommend this solution. Either hire yourself a young gardener for the grunt work or find a way to offset the use of tiller gas some other way. Sacrificing your back's health isn't worth it.

We love sharing our experiences with you all, and really enjoy hearing your perspectives. Did you know how to till a garden without a tiller before this? How do you get your garden maintenance accomplished with limited fossil fuel consumption? Do you have tips on low maintenance garden care that would help us out? Let us know in the comments below by joining the conversation, and don't forget to subscribe for daily articles emailed straight to your inbox!

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