21) Tillage tips (manure, spading, hoeing, weeding etc.)

In this post:

  • A)# Loosing sandy soil. Spading yes or no. Putting manure or compost into the soil
  • B)# Stepping stones
  • C)# Spading with or without turn
  • D)# Hoeing
  • E)# Manure, compost or nothing
  • F)# Wheel barrow

A)# Loosing sandy soil. Spading yes or no. Putting manure or compost into the soil.

In spring soil is prepared for a new garden season. Often this means: spading and putting manure or compost into the soil. Many gardeners can spade well.

But some gardeners find spading a difficult job. For them I put some info in this post.


A1) Loosing soil, no spading.

Plants grow better in loose soil than in treaded aerth. If you don’t want to turn the soil over you can loose the soil with a spade or fork.

  • Put the fork or spade into the soil,
  • Move the handle of it back and forth,
  • Take the fork or spade out of the earth,
  • Put the fork or spade into the soil at another place in the garden, about one feet further.
  • Move the handle of it back and forth,
  • Take the fork or spade out of the earth,
  • etcetera.


  1. Less tiring than spading,
  2. Rather fast way of working.



  1. Hard treaded soil is hard to loose,
  2. It is impossible to bring in manure or compost during this action.
  3. When plants are on the soil (weed, remaining low vegetables, green manure) plants must be removed before this operation.


A2) Loosing soil, with spading.

Many gardeners spade the soil. At places in the garden where “big eaters” will grow, manure or compost is put into the soil during spading. Big eaters are potatoes, cabbage plants, endive, lettuce and leek.

Spading with a furrow is a good method. A furrow is a slot (groove) in the soil. It has about the same dimensions as the spade that is used.  During spading (turning the soil over) you put green plant material and manure in the furrow. Then you fill the furrow with earth and you make a new furrow.


A3) Preparation

A3a) Everywhere in the garden there is much green plant material:

The photos above show some gardens of my colleagues in the allotment garden. Thanks.

When there are many plants all over your garden, you have to make a lane with no plants on it. This is done at the end of the garden or (garden part) that will be spaded.

At the photos above you see how to make a “plant free lane”.  Photo 2: make a cut in the soil using a sharp spade.  Photo 3: loose the green plant material with the spade.  Photo 4: shake off the earth with a fork. Put the green plant material in a bucket or on a heap. At photo 5 you see the plant free lane.

Next step is the making of a furrow at the place where you made the plant free lane. Making the furrow is described somewhat further in this post.


A3b) Few green plants at one edge of the garden:

When there are only few plants at the edge of your garden (photo above), make the “plant free lane” at this position. When making the plant free lane remove the green plant material with a spade and lay it somewhere further on the garden. During spading these plant residues will not bother you.

Next step is the making of a furrow at the place where you made the plant free lane. Making the furrow is described somewhat further in this post.


A3c) No plant material at the edge of the garden:

When there’s no plant material at the edge of the garden (photo above, front) you can make the furrow at that position right away.


A4) Digging

A4a) Making the (first) furrow

  • Put a “carpet” (pieces of plastic foil, empty plastic bags, strong material or something like that) next to the garden that must be spaded. At  photo 1 you see that the garden at the left of the paving stones will be spaded. The carpet is laid on the paving stones and on the soil at the right side of the paving stones.
  • Make a furrow at the beginning of the garden. Photo 2 and 3 shows the making of a furrow near the iron wire.
  • Lay the earth from the furrow on the carpet (photo 4). Use a bucket or a wheel barrow to transport the earth.


A4b) Putting material from the top layer into the furrow:

Scoop (shovel) the material from the top layer next to the furrow. Lay this material upside down in he furrow. Alawys scoop the top material during spading. Also when there is only few plant material on it.

The plant material is laid upside down in the furrow. In this way the plants will decay to manure and will not grow up anymore.


A4c) Putting manure or compost in:

When you want to feed the soil, lay the manure or compost against the slanting side of the furrow. On photo 1 and 2 at the left side of the furrow. Reasons:

  • Air can enter the soil via the compost or manure.
  • This makes the conversion of compost or manure faster.
  • Plants with deep and shallow roots can reach the manure or compost
  • Earth wurms will distribute the fertilizer in the earth.
  • When you bury the compost or manure deep below in the furrow,  conversion takes much longer. Big chance that you’ll find the fertilizer at a spading job next year.


After putting fertilizer into the furrow you’re going to make a new furrow. Again and again put the spade into the soil and lay the earth in the furrow (photo 3). The easiest way is turning the spade with earth aside in the furrow. So not lifting. When you lift the spade with earth “high through the sky” and then lay down the earth you do a lot of unnecessary work and this is very tiring.

Each time you can stick the spade in the earth that has been laid down into the furrow. In this way the soil gets more loose and the earth clods get smaller.

Very often it seems as if you have too much earth during spading. Look at the part of the garden that has been spaded. Strew some soil on low parts. Or transport the earth to the end and lay it on the “carpet”. Most of time there is a shortage of earth at the end of the garden.


A4d) At the end of the garden:

  • At the end of the spading area you’ll end with a furrow (photo 1).
  • Did you make a “plant free lane”, then you can put the plant material into the furrow.
  • Use a spade to move most of the earth from the “carpet” into the furrow (photo 2).
  • Then shift each part of the “carpet” a little over the edge of the furrow (photo 3).
  • Lift each part of the carpet (at the other side) and slide the earth into the furrow (photo 4).


B)# Stepping stones

At some parts of my garden I do not make beds and paths, for example where I’m going to plant potatoes. There I put some stepping stones on the soil. At hoeing I stand on these stones so I can reach all ground without hard treading the soil.

  • Lay extra earth on to make a rise. Remove some soil at the middle of the rise. This forms a small pit (photo 1).
  • Use a fork to lay a paving stone on (photo 2 and 3).
  • Carefully stand on the stone. This makes the stone sink. It will lay more stable in (on) the soil (photo 4).


C)# Spading with or without turning the soil over

C1) Spading with turning over

You can spade in a way that the earth drops aside or upside down on the garden soil.

When you spade “normally”, you turn the spade with earth aside. This makes the soil turn somewhere between aside and upside down. On the photos above you see that the 3 twigs I put in before have disappeared. A small piece is visible in the left middle of the lower photo

When you rise high and turn much during spading, the earth can get completely upside down in the furrow each time.

For the life in the soil (bacteria, fungus etc) spading is shocking. Organisms that live close to the surface can be deep in the earth after spading and vice versa. It will take a long time before the situation is the same as before spading.

It is possible to spade without turning the earth too much.


C2) Spading without a (big) turn

Yes, it is possible to spade without turning or upside down landing of the earth.

When you handle like this during spading there will be small turn of the soil;

  • Put the spade in the soil and loose a part of the earth.
  • Lift the spade with earth carefully while keeping the handle slanting to above.
  • Turn the spade with earth while the handle remains slanting to above. Turn it towards another wind direction (e.g. from west to east).
  • Put the spade with earth in the furrow against the slanting side of the furrow.
  • Carefully pull the spade to above out of the furrow.
  • The block of earth has been turned but the top side is stil (approximately) directed to above.

On the photos above you see how I spaded 3 times without turning much. This way of spading is somewhat more tiring. And you’ll get sooner pain in the back.


D)# Hoeing

After spading it can take some days or weeks before there are vegetables or flowers on the soil.

In the mean time nature “does its work”. When you do nothing after spading, small weed plants will appear on the soil..

Tip: Hoe the ground each 7 days. You’ll see that there will be no or only few weed plants. The soil will get crumbly and the earth clods get smaller. Hoed earth warms up faster in the sunshine. And hoed soil does not dry so fast at dry weather.

In short: hoe, hoe, hoe, hoe……..


E)# Manure, compost or nothing

For growing plants need nutrients.  From carbondioxide in the air, water in the soil and sun light the plants make carbohydrates. These nutritious matters are abundant and cheap.

But plants need other nutrients (elements) to grow such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sulpher, magnesium. Plants get these matters out of the soil using its roots. When harvesting you take these matters away from your garden. By putting manure or compost into the soil you bring these nutricients back in your garden.  Manure or compost feeds the earth of the garden and it improves the structure.

There are some gardeners that harvest withoud adding compost or manure. This is only possible at ground that has (still) nutrients put in by the former gardener or renter.      This way of gardening exhausts the soil.  After a few years the harvest will decrease and the plants will be smaller and smaller. Garden soil is like a money box; if you don’t put in money, you can’t buy big things later.  No manure or compost added, no big harvest.

Sorry, that’s how nature works. Not my fault…..

On the internet you can find info about this topic.


F)# Wheel barrow

Some gardeners remove vegetable material (grass, weeds, branches) from their garden and bring it to the common “green waste” heap. That is a pitty. In this way you remove nutrients. Better spade this material into the soil. Or lay it on a small compost heap on your own garden and use the compost as manure later.

An exception is for roots and stems of cabbage plants, sick plants and blooming or seeding weeds. You better remove this material from your garden and bring it to the common “green waste” pile.


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