How unfortunate that the term "in good tilth" is passing out of common use! Today it is seldom used to describe a state of well-being in soil-a "oneness" of mellow loam and the gardener's care lavished upon it.
In its place we now use more specific terms which accurately but unpoetically describe some fraction of soil condition-texture, structure, aeration and permeability.
Land in good tilth is well drained, yet holds its moisture tenaciously against the ravages of drought. Water seldom stands on the surface of Gardener's Loam for more than a minute or two before seeping deep into the intricate maze of passages between crumbs of clay, silt and organic matter. When such soil is dug or plowed the clods do not hang together in hard lumps but crumble to a loose, amorphous mold. Such a soil is rich in natural fertility-stored nutrients adsorbed on the clay and loam particles, as well as more tightly held in the humus that is so vital to good tilth.
One of the true delights of spring is the smell of such a soil being prepared for planting. As it is stirred by plow, tiller or spade, it emits a special fragrance which to a true gardener is the essence of the most wonderful time of the year-the awakening of living things to a new season of being. If you were to say that this fragrance reminds you of violets, you would be right, since the "top note" of aroma given off by damp earth contains at least two compounds also found in violet perfume.
Contrast a soil in good tilth with one in poor condition. The latter is hard to work. An old English phrase for poor soil is particularly expressive; it is called "four horse land," meaning that four horses
are needed on the plow to turn the ground over in spring. When wet with winter snow and rain, such soil can be cut into slices like a pasty process-cheese, and it turns into hard ridges instead of crumbling. When four horse soil is dry, deep cracks furrow the surface and tillage tools can hardly break through. Unless worked at exactly the right time, it packs to brick-like hardness.
WHAT CONTRIBUTES TO GOOD TILTH
Good tilth is the product of many things. Perhaps the most important (except in muck-peat soils) is the use of generous amounts of organic matter. Another, described in the chapter on pH, is the lime-flocculation of clay particles which opens soil passages that allow the free movement of air and moisture. Proper provisions for drainage and aeration are also part of the complex of good tilth.