To rototill or to compost 

By Meredith MacKeen 

Preparing the soil is the first step for a productive garden. The choices are rototilling, spreading compost or maybe a little of both. Gardeners who compost say that the addition of humus allows for tiny microorganisms living under the top layer of soil to produce nitrogen. Tilling changes the porosity and texture of the soil and disturbs these microorganisms. The compost covering retains moisture in the soil and inhibits weeds. Apart from your own compost, the organic material picked up from the brown bins and baked in the sun is available at no cost from the Eco Centre, 2500 Rang St. Joseph in Cowansville. You must bring your shovel, gloves, buckets or containers, and other necessary equipment to take the quantity of compost you want.

A member of the Brome Lake Garden Club, who has a large vegetable and flower garden says: “We do compost and it takes about two years to mature. It all goes on the vegetable beds where it makes a huge difference to our rather clay-like soil. The ‘pure’ compost is far superior to what you can buy and we never have to use our brown bin.” The downside of composting is that weeds and insect pests may be more prevalent. 

On the flip side, gardeners who recommend rototillers like to clean up the residue of last year’s crops plus fall leaves by chopping them all up and mixing them into the soil. The necessary water, oxygen and nutrients can reach the young roots quickly. As well, tilling exposes the soil to the sunlight and aerates it. This action may stimulate aerobic bacteria and warm the soil. Too much tilling can reduce the particle size and make the soil susceptible to erosion. 

Some gardeners prefer a combination. They rototill areas that have become overrun with weeds and rototill the compost into the soil once a year. Lightweight small rototillers dig into the soil only a few inches and can prepare a vegetable patch. Areas prone to drying out in the summer sun can be composted. 

Duck manure is also a favourite of many gardeners in the area since it is high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and is very beneficial for growing healthy plants and vegetables. 

Happy gardening.