There is nothing like the spring air and the planning of where your garden will be. After you have decided on where to plant your garden based on sunlight exposure, size, and access to water, it is time to prepare the soil. If the soil has never been tilled before, you might be in for a surprise at how much work you will do.
A good solid tiller is a must. There are two types of tillers; a tiller with the tiers (blades) in the front, and a tiller with the tiers (blades) in the rear. I find a rear-tier tiller to be more easily managed and easier to get deep in the soil. When tilling virgin soil it is also helpful to get a tiller where the tiers can go in the reverse direction. This really helps to breakup soil. If their tiers only go in the forward direction, this is good for cultivating the soil.
But don’t use the tiller yet! The first step of preparing your garden is to remove the sod. This can be done with equipment such as a blade towed behind a tractor (this method still requires someone to pick up the sod).
If you are lucky enough to have a front-loading tractor you can remove sod with that. You can use the old trail hardened method (and my favorite) a pitchfork and a wheelbarrow. This is hard back-breaking work in most cases, but I do a little bit every day until I get the garden at the size I want. Using a pitchfork allows me to find any rocks that are hidden in the soil and get them out before they break my tiller.
You want to remove the sod from your garden. This is why we do not use the tiller yet. If the sod gets mixed into the soil, you are mixing seeds and weeds into you garden that will strangle your plants and rob them of water. It is best to get all of the weeds out and use the sod to fill spots in your yard.
Next use your pitchfork to remove any rocks in your soil. Some small rocks are fine and will not damage anything. But large rocks will damage your tiller and will hinder your plant’s growth. Remove the rocks and place them somewhere out of the way and use them for stone fences or walkways.
Now it is time to fertilize. If you are going to use 10-10-10 fertilizer or any high nitrogen fertilizer such as chicken manure, it is best to add it now before adding any plants. I find that the high nitrogen level may burn young plants. Also add your humus, compost and soil amendments at this time. If your soil is sandy, add some topsoil and peat moss. Peat moss is extremely dry; do not add it on a windy day! It will blow all across your lawn.
After you have all of these items laying on top of you soon to be garden, now it is time to till it all in. Some people have a set pattern they use to till the soil, for instance starting in the middle and working clockwise. I do not believe it really matters. I till in straight lines then I till again perpendicular to that pattern. With this method I ensure I till every inch of my garden. I then remove any foreign matter I might have tilled up; rocks, old fence posts, whatever I find. It is very interesting what gets tilled up and I am never surprised at what I find.
Tilling is important to add air to the soil, properly mix all of the ingredients to your soil, and irritating any bad guys (cut worms). Properly tilled soil allows the plants roots to grow deeper and wider allowing for stronger, healthier and bigger plants. It is hard work to start a garden, but the rewards are plentiful.