Plowing vs. Mulching

A common old-fashioned garden plan, 110′ x 200′.

It’s common for garden manuals to advise mulching, but for large gardens, spreading mulch is not realistic.  On farms, old fashioned vegetable gardens are planned by 100-200 ft. rows and are cultivated by tractors.  The garden plan above is taken from a garden manual from the early 1900s, when Americans were living off their farms.

Tractor cultivation includes these steps:

  1. Plowing:  turning the surface growth under to decompose and making 8-9″ of loose soil.  Requires a plow.
  2. Harrowing:  crushing the clods created by plowing and preparing for seeding.  Requires a disc-harrow.
  3. Cultivating:  weeding rows to easily clear most of garden and allow for hoeing of weeds around plants.  Requires a cultivator.
  4. Cutting:  cutting and pressing down all growth after harvest.  Requires a disc-harrow, preferably with teeth.

What people don’t seem to realize is that plowing makes the whole garden a mulch pile.  Old growth is buried every season and decays there in the garden during the off-season.

When we look at the Bible, we find that God, the Creator of the world, assumes that men will be plowing.

“Six days shalt thou work, the seventh day thou shalt cease to plough and reap.” Exodus 34:21

A small garden plan, 50′ x 75′.

So, let’s pump the brakes on all of this modern “mulching” talk and keep it in its context.  What is assumed in the mulching world is that you’re trying to grow vegetables in a tiny garden spot as a hobby rather than to actually produce food for a family, and, therefore, you have to artificially produce some depth fertile soil without plowing.  They recommend digging the garden and turning under wheel-barrows of mulch brought in from a mulch pile.  If you think that you’re doing to do that for any significant garden spot, you’re kidding yourself.

If we plough our gardens, as men always have, we won’t have any soil problems.  The water and sunlight God provides, along with the weed growth which is turned under by cultivation, will constantly be increasing the organic matter in our soil and as long as we don’t do something stupid, like strip the fields bare, there will be no problems.

Plus, the ease of managing the gardens with a tractor will provide more actual benefits than any of the idle, theoretical talk of websites and magazines articles.  Listen to the old, experienced farmers who lived off of their farms for generations, not the modern writers trying to gain an audience by thinking of some “new and improved” way of doing things.  It takes years to develop a fertile garden area and we have to be content with minimal growth until we achieve that.  Trying to spot-treat every area is not realistic and should be avoided.

Bill Michael
Michael Family Farm


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