Soil health

Home Forums Food Gardening Soil health

This topic contains 15 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  xtron jones 1 year, 3 months ago.

  • Author
  • #1824


    I want to share something we’ve learned/used this past year. We’ve gone in with a neighbor and bought a used spader. I had never heard of such a thing before and did plenty of research before we committed. We follow low till/no till methods and thought we had fairly decent soil as it was.
    It does the same thing as double back digging and is actually healthy for your soil. They’re pretty popular (and cheaper) in Europe and they used to be here in the U.S. back in the early 1900’s.

    What a huge difference it has made! It is night and day when compared to conventional tilling, to the point where it’s not even in the same ballpark all things considered. It cuts wayyyy down on the weeds, aerates the soil, helps build up organic matter in short order, breaks up hard pan (which turned out to be a big deal for us) and makes working the soil later markedly easier. And again it’s actually healthy for the soil. I was mildly skeptical that it would be all it was cracked up to be.

    I’m happy to report it is all that from our year of experience. Of course our neighbor swears by it and has used a spader for years and I can fully understand why now.
    The downside is they’re relatively expensive, even used and can be hard to find. We had to ship ours in from up North. The one we have is a smaller PTO driven type, so a fair sized tractor is needed. There are walk behind varieties that could do a relatively small garden area. For anything more than probably a 1/4 acre though, PTO driven is more practical I would think.

    We are big believers now and actually can’t imagine why it’s not on every farm (my wife is ecstatic with it). We had a much better bounty this year in both quality and quantity especially for storage crops. This spader is probably the best kept secret (albeit no secret at all) in organic/CNG/all natural farming practices. It take no more resources that conventional tilling equipment, in fact less because you spade once and done, and the results have been dramatic for us. Highly recommended. Oh yah, did I mention it cuts back bigly on weeds…

  • #1857


    @Dimu Borgir

    This is really interesting. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should check out the documentary, Symphony of the Soil.

  • #2170

    Josefina Arenas

    Very interesting…we use a disc harrow for cover crops-cuts down about 10″. How does that differ from the spade?

  • #2171


    Daisy, will do. Looks interesting.

    We’ve learned that soil health is the key component to a successful garden. Who knew and there is so much to it.
    We use a lot of fish fertilizer now and it does makes a big difference for us.
    We also have a local vendor that sells water soluble nutrients that can be put directly into irrigation systems. That has been a huge time saver for us especially for nitrogen. It’s only been a year but so far, so good.
    We seem to be ok on everything except nitrogen. Our soil is always lacking. Our place was neglected for years before we came along. So maybe we just need more time. we’re in the second season of cover cropping so maybe that’ll do the trick.

  • #2172


    JA – discing, rototilling and plowing all turn the soil over. So the good, living stuff underneath the surface gets put on top only to degrade substantially while the poorest part of the soil on top is now underneath. A double whammy.
    Also all three of those methods produce hard pan making for poor water drainage. The water will hit that hard pan and run off.
    It turns out we had severe hard pan in spots. Why only in certain areas, I don’t know. Our first season we had J shaped carrots because of it. Now we have great looking nice sized carrots.
    A spader basically lifts up a piece of ground, breaks it up and sets it right back down leaving the soil structure intact. Very similar to double back digging, which is big with micro, organic type gardening.
    To tell the truth I didn’t know what hard pan was until we got that spader. And in all the extensive research we did well before this venture it was rarely mentioned let alone explained. So much so that I thought it must be some kind of rarity obviously not worth my time. I was wrong, it’s actually a pretty big deal here where we are. Most seasoned farmers are as ignorant of it as I was. The bigger commercial, mechanized farms have it for sure and they know it. That’s part of the reason why they need so many soil supplements and weed killer every season. Maybe you’ve seen those monster chisels pulled by some 250hp behemoth. Those are specifically to break up that hard pan if only temporarily.
    We are still learning a lot and I’m far from an expert. There’s lots of info on the web for sure. I could find some links to get you started if you’d like.

  • #2199

    Josefina Arenas

    DB- thanks so much for your informative reply. I will start researching this and would welcome any links you run across.

  • #2205


    I moved to my New Hampshire vacation house last April and almost immediately had to leave for California. When I got back at the end of May, I set out to put in a garden but soon learned why New Hampshire is called ‘The Granite State.’ The soil in my field isn’t very rich and there is a lot of rock – some of it so big that I’ve needed the tractor to pull it out. My solution to the soil was in the forest. I used the tractor bucket to scrape the grass off an area of the field about 30′ x 20′, then pulled a dozen or so buckets of soil from the woods.

    The forest here is mostly deciduous trees, so the soil is rocky but good, well-composted earth. I dumped it on the ground I’d cleared, then used a spade and a garden claw to churn it into the earth that was already there. My garden ready to go in a couple of days.

    How did it turn out? Mixed results. I was planting from seed, so the tomatoes only bore fruit for about two weeks in September before the cold set in. Same for the green beans, though a bit earlier. The zucchini were great as were the two types of lettuce. The cucumbers were a big disappointment, only bearing a few cukes from the few plants that survived. Next year I’ll try a different kind and, of course, plant them earlier.

    A groundhog decided to put its den near my garden, dining regularly on the lettuce and cucumber seedlings which it extracted from the ground roots and all. I had to shoot it, but did not let it go to waste. Groundhog stew. Yum! (Actually, I didn’t care for it but I’d do it again.)

    This year’s garden wasn’t so much about getting food as it was about learning what works. Next year, I’ll expand it in both size and scope, continuing with the plants that worked and trying something new in place of the ones that didn’t. I want to increase the variety and experiment with planting throughout the season (lettuce every 3 weeks, beans once a month, etc.) so as to create a longer period where they’re bearing fruit. I don’t have a real greenhouse, but I do have several of those little ones, about a cubic yard apiece. I’ll use them next year to jump start the seed germination. Plans to build a greenhouse were found in this forum, and my wife and I are now tentatively planning to build one in next year.

    I ordered Glassine envelopes from Amazon, organizing and labeling seeds from the various plants (not the lettuce or radishes.) Surprisingly, most of the Burpee vegetables I bought ARE heirloom! Tomato seeds and pulp were squeezed into jelly jars now in my freezer. Cherry tomatoes had the same fate, though they went into jars whole. I learned this year that jars aren’t even needed. Whole tomatoes protected by nothing more than seran wrap freeze just fine and stay viable for at least two years. The envelopes with other seeds went into glass jars after I’d dried them for a week. They’re now in my refrigerator. I added some dehydrated milk to these jars to act as a desiccant.

    The forest soil worked well but it was a lot of work to retrieve. It’s an unlimited resource available to me, but I’d rather create compost since it’s easier. To that end, I built a 30 foot corral from tree branches and hillside, and added a few leaves and a lot of cut grass to it over the summer. Now that it’s fall, I hauled 17 trash bins of newly fallen leaves and have been mixing them in. I hope to have a lot of high quality compost next year.

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 3 months ago by  Decomposed.
  • #2212

    Crow Bar

    The livestock come into the barn during the winter. We get winds up here that could kill them.
    I muck out their stalls but will leave some, and cover with waste hay. Builds up a manure pack. And the pack as it decomposes, generates heat. Not a lot, but better than sitting on cold dirt.
    Come spring after the livestock are back out in the fields, muck the stalls out completely and form a manure pile.
    Let it age for 2 years, turning it over or using a pitchfork to aerate it.
    Then I add a few buckets full of it to the raised beds.
    I will add a little wood ash. We give the dogs soup bones once a week. When they are done with the bones, we toss them into the fire and let them turn to ash. Then add those ashes to the manure pile.

  • #2219

    James Mitchner

    Never heard of a spader, and my Grandfather was a life-long farmer! I plow and then till using tractor-drawn equipment. My crops could be better, thats for sure.

    I live near the Blue Ridge Mountains and the soil here is definitely rocky. I’ve pulled tons, it seems, out of my larger garden area. I’ve lots better luck with the raised beds beside our house. I plan on building several more before planting time next spring.

    Late last March I planted tomatoes in one raised bed sheltered in a small portable greenhouse. Didn’t know if they would make it, but they did, and produced much earlier than what is normal here, which is usually sometime in July. We were getting tomatoes in June.

  • #2230


    Never heard of a spader and searches not showing up. Can somebody provide a photo or a description?

  • #2241


    Decomposed – So you’re putting those ‘maters in the freezer for the seeds for next season? That sounds like a fantastic idea.

    And where’s the greenhouse plans posted?

    Spader vs rocks. Another downside to a spader is bigger rocks. Depending on the size of the spader, it’ll handle rocks well up to the size of a big orange, maybe two oranges if your soil is already pretty broken up. Any bigger than that and major damage to the spades/spader is a real risk. And pretty much any farming equipment parts ain’t cheap any more.

    Yes, info can be difficult to find, but once you get started you’ll be able to go as deep as you want to. Here’s some links;

    Tortella Spaders

  • #2244

    James Mitchner

    Thanks, DB. I would have liked to have seen what underneath looked like. Appears to be a bout the same setup I use, but with a rototiller. If I don’t plow first, the rototiller only digs down about four inches. I wouldn’t think that would put the unproductive soil on top, would you?

    In the video it looks like he is spading over previous turned earth. I would have liked to have seen him spade over that vegetation.

  • #2249


    JM – Well…I don’t know about 4″, that almost sounds like it could qualify as thatching depending on the soil conditions. Definitely look for hardpan though. I’d say if you’re happy with the results keep with it.

    Our spader will go through thick, tall cover crop like butter in ground that has been spaded before. In “virgin” ground it might take a couple passes and adjusting the depth of the spades on the second pass.
    Our spader has a max depth of 10″. I can dig my hand down to that depth fairly easily on spaded ground. Even deeper on ground that’s been spaded a couple times now. On un-spaded ground, I’d be lucky to dig my finger in a couple inches. Not really due to hardpan but just soil compaction, which is another by-product of rototillers, discs and plows.

  • #2314


    Thanks D. That’s a nice one. One that would be well suited for starts.
    Speaking of starts, I think I’ll start a greenhouse topic.

  • #2887

    xtron jones

    I’ve been working my 3000 sq foot garden for 10 years now. the spader looks great for larger plots. I have tried several methods and settled one that works for me.
    I plant in 3 foot wide beds, using dense planting, and square foot methods. as soon as the crop is 3-6 inches tall, it gets heavily mulched with grass clippings. this keeps weeds down and encourages earth worms, who do the heavy lifting of keeping the soil friable, even deep down. my front tine tiller would try to dive like a submarine the soil was so soft … every gardeners dream. I had to rear tine.
    between beds I have 2 foot walkways. when a more that a few weeds pop up, I set the tiller at minimum depth and do a quick pass. this keeps seeds form being brought up by deep tilling. after a few weeks, very few weeds pop up. since the walk ways and beds stay in the same place, I am seeing fewer weeds each year. as each bed is finished for the year, it gets deep tilled, and a cover crop, usually oats, is planted. I have just finished a fallow year where I let 1/2 lay fallow, followed by the other half the next year. next year i get to plant the entire plot.

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.

Skip to toolbar