Tilling By Hand: How To Till Soil By Hand With Double Digging

Woman Shoveling Dirt In A Garden
double digging garden
(Image credit: jwyld)

If you're starting a new garden, you will want to loosen the soil or till where you will be growing your plants, but you may not have access to a tiller, so you're faced with tilling by hand. If you use the double digging technique, however, you can start hand tilling soil without expensive machinery.

How to Till Soil by Hand with the Double Digging Technique

1. Start by spreading compost over the soil where you'll be tilling by hand. 2. Next, dig a 10 inch (25 cm.) deep ditch along one edge of the space. When you double dig the garden, you'll be working from one end to the other. 3. Then, start another ditch next to the first. Use the dirt from the second ditch to fill the second ditch. 4. Continue hand tilling soil in this fashion across the whole area of the garden bed. 5. Fill the last ditch with the soil from the first ditch you dug. 6. After completing the steps above with this double digging technique, rake the soil smooth.

Benefits of Double Digging

When you double dig the garden, it is actually better for the soil than machine tilling. While hand tilling soil is labor intensive, it is less likely to compact the soil and less likely to severely disrupt the natural structure of the soil. At the same time, when you are hand tilling soil, you are going deeper than a tiller, which loosens the soil to a deeper level. In turn, this helps to get nutrients and water down further in the soil, which encourages deeper and healthier plant roots. Typically, the double digging technique is done only once in a garden bed. Hand tilling soil with this method will sufficiently break up the soil so that natural elements such as earthworms, animals, and plant roots will be able to keep the soil loose.

Heather Rhoades
Founder of Gardening Know How

Heather Rhoades founded Gardening Know How in 2007. She holds degrees from Cleveland State University and Northern Kentucky University. She is an avid gardener with a passion for community, and is a recipient of the Master Gardeners of Ohio Lifetime Achievement Award.