Disadvantages of Using a Spade Tool in Garden Soil

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Disadvantages of Using a Spade Tool in Garden Soil

Gardening is an exciting activity, and a range of tools can help gardeners achieve their goals. However, not all tools are equally beneficial. The traditional spade, which we often use for digging, is not as helpful as we might think. According to Dr. Stuart Farrimond, a medical and science writer, spades can even damage the soil.

In his piece on gardening myths for Science Focus, Dr. Farrimond explains that digging with a spade can cause more harm than good. Although we may think that digging can remove weeds, reduce soil compaction, and improve drainage and soil fertility, research has shown that the opposite is true. Each slice with a spade severs countless fungal threads that provide plants with nutrients and water, collapses the tunnels made by earthworms, and unearths dormant plant-digesting microbes. This process stimulates these microbes to feed and release greenhouse gases into the air, further damaging the soil.

It is fascinating to note that even a small sample of soil can contain over 500 fungal species and more than 31 miles worth of fungal mycelium or root systems, as reported by Farmer’s Weekly. Tilling the soil with a spade can thus severely impact entire ecosystems.

Adopt a no-tilling philosophy

Person watering a garden

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Tilling with a spade is not the only way, or often even the most helpful way, to keep soil in a garden healthy. As handy as a spade might be, proper planning may serve you and your garden a lot better. Many gardeners swear by the no-till method, which includes activities like composting to increase the well-being of the soil.

“The concept of no-till has been around for a couple of decades, but research has been very focused on field crops like wheat and corn, things largely grown in the Midwest,” said Oregon State University Extension Service horticulturist Erica Chernoh. “There’s not much on vegetable production or fruit. There’s a lot to learn, and research is ongoing.” She was speaking on the rising popularity of a no-till garden among home gardeners.

Not only will a no-till gardening lifestyle save your soil, it will also save a lot of time. When you’re able to transition right to planting, you don’t have to putz around with a spade. The beautification of a garden starts with a healthy soil base that simply doesn’t need to be dug up and turned over.

Mulch up the garden

A person mulching their garden

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One way to make a no-till garden is to let Mother Nature take its course. Decomposing organic material provides necessary nutrients to the soil, which will help keep it healthy — something tilling doesn’t do as it disrupts the natural environment. Compost is a terrific way to feed the soil, cultivating a nutritious home for your plants to thrive. In time, your soil color will tell you how healthy it is.

Don’t get us wrong: This method is not a one-and-done scenario. Like with the traditional tilling method, mulching takes time and patience, too. Your composted material will rot away in time, so it needs to be replaced. Each iteration of this soil-nurturing will continue the natural cycle of decomposition into nutrients for your garden.

Those who don’t want to make their own compost or mulch piles can use nutrient-dense pre-made soils. These provide similar nourishing qualities to your garden bed without waiting around for mulch material to mature.

Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.