Stillwater News Press


February 22, 2014

In the Garden 02-23-14

My favorite chore is cultivation

I always look forward with great anticipation to a new gardening year. The possibilities are not endless, but plenty of new techniques, gadgets and flower and vegetable varieties exist to excite this gardener for years to come. Looking last week at a plant’s basic needs of good water, air and nutrients; this week is a favorite gardening “chore”— cultivation.

In a nutshell, cultivation is turning the earth to prepare the soil for crops. This can be anything from sitting on the ground with a trowel, scratching and weeding space for a few 6-packs in a flower bed to dragging a cultivator behind a tractor to churn and break wide swaths of farm land. Usually home gardeners fall somewhere between using either a gas-powered rotary tiller to turn larger gardens or simply a shovel and strong back.

Roto-tilling is usually done in early spring when the soil is not so moist it sticks to the tines of the tiller. It is a great tool for a first time garden plot where compaction and time have turned our clay soils into something that resembles earthenware. This type of tilling is also a great way to incorporate organic matter into a large area evenly. Roto-tillers usually dig deeper that a person can by hand, breaking up and mixing the subsoil and topsoil. Depending who one talks to, this could be a positive or negative thing.

Hand tilling — the shovel work — is embraced by those who garden in raised beds. Generally establishing raised beds are the bulk of the work for the bed is protected from foot traffic and compaction making it easy to turn the following year. Raised bed gardening also allows beginners to easily experiment with plant rotation, succession planting and four-season gardening.

Once the soil is plowed or turned, take at least a little time to put on the old tennies and enter in. One of the reasons I love cultivating so much is I have the opportunity to hold and feel the soil. Maybe it’s because I believe I come from dust rather than a primordial slime; be it bagged potting soil or Oklahoma clay, I like to feel the texture of soil. And soil is something you can build!

However one cultivates their soil, building it by turning under cover crops to decompose, adding organic amendments, compost or other soil conditioner — building soil is building the future of your garden. Truly a gardener’s wealth is in the soil; handling the soil each spring and periodically through the seasons allows one to see the fruit of their labor before seed ever hits the ground.

LeeAnn Barton has worked with nurseries for more than 20 years. She digs in the dirt in Stillwater.  Email her at

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