Posts Tagged ‘double-digging’

Prepping Another Bed

No longer my bed. They're much more on top of these things.

No longer my bed. They’re much more on top of these things.

I finally got my butt in gear and went to visit my bed at the Ranch Community Garden yesterday. I had two last year, but there was a waiting list for new gardeners, so I gave one back. After all, I’m getting a mighty slow start, and there’s only one of me, so it’s not like I really need two beds. I can feel good, though, that the person that has my bed got one that was worked correctly last year (if a bit neglectfully) and put to bed for the winter in a way that would set them up for a successful year. They, also, are clearly more on top of things than I am.

My bed. Still snugly covered up from the winter.

My bed. Still snugly covered up from the winter.

Giving up a bed also means that I only had to double-dig one four-by-eight plot. I didn’t do it last year- the beds were brand new and the soil hadn’t settled, yet, so it wasn’t really necessary. “I get why you double-dug the potatoes,” you’re thinking. “They need lots of vertical growing space underground. But why are you double-digging the bed that’s getting tomatoes and peppers?” Good question. Several reasons. The first being- I didn’t do it last year. I didn’t know the soil two shovel-lengths deep. Now I know that it’s lovely and even, without any of the crazy sand or clay patches that you can expect to find in urban soil. The fact that it has been an empty lot some ways away from the building of the church that owns the land would explain it. It is essentially un-touched soil. Now I know that under the first layer, I don’t run into rock-hard, compacted soil. It was pretty easy to dig through.

Hello, there. Don't you look healthy.

Hello, there. Don’t you look healthy.

When I was digging through, I also met enough worms that I kidnapped three to keep Herman company in Showcase 2. I was very happy to see that the decomposer population, at least the big ones, is in good shape. I don’t think that you should populate your garden with lots of imported critters. Most won’t survive Colorado, and those that do might become an invasive species. However, moving worms three blocks away from their home works fine. If you are establishing a new garden, ask a gardener friend if they have any worms to spare so you can jump-start your own population.

Before.

Before.

The last benefit is adding loft to the soil. It started out about a quarter of an inch below the top of the 2×6 board edging. It ended being an average of two inches higher than the board. Since the only thing I added was a handful of blood meal to help the nitrogen levels, that lift came from all the space that air and water now has for wending its way around the roots of the plants. I also know that my plants will be able to get their roots well below the bottom of the board edging. Raised beds are pretty and, in a public garden, useful for making sure that you stick with just the plot you paid for. However, they dry out more easily than beds that are flush with the ground. In wet areas, this is good. In the South West, though, there are some Native Americans that actually garden in lowered garden beds due to the need to preserve every drop of water we have. The deeper the plant roots go, the more water-efficient they are. This is good for both gardeners that forget to water, and ones that are on water restrictions, as we will be this summer.

After.

After.

What about no-till techniques? I think there’s a lot to be said for them. Particularly when farming on a massive scale, since plowing exposes a lot of topsoil to potential erosion. However, unless you have lucked into perfect soil, I think that for at least the first year or two, really getting down and dirty in your garden is a good idea. Will I go with a more minimal turnover for my RCG bed next year? Quite possibly. I now have the information that it is good soil, and no one will be walking on it to compact it. Will I be going with a more minimal technique for Showcase 2 next year? No. I walk on it, sometimes, and so does the dog when she’s being a monster. Also, it does have those sand patches that still need to be mixed into the rest of the bed for a more even texture. That one probably needs to double-dug for at least two more years before it’s even enough to go for a more minimal digging-over. That might be enough time to train myself and the dog to stop walking on it. Maybe.

Re-covered with the old straw to preserve moisture until I put plants in. Since I'm mostly transplanting into this bed, the straw may well stay all summer, since seedlings won't need to grow through it.

Re-covered with the old straw to preserve moisture until I put plants in. Since I’m mostly transplanting into this bed, the straw may well stay all summer, since seedlings won’t need to grow through it.

Double-digging, again

Gathering the tools.

Gathering the tools.

It’s raining. The horizon-to-horizon grey is doing my vitamin D level no favors, but it is a lovely, soaking rain, rather than the kind that pounds down and just runs off the surface, so it is good for my freshly-planted potatoes. If we can’t have it all, we need to be happy with what we’ve got.

It's fluffing up nicely.

It’s fluffing up nicely.

We were slow to order the potatoes this year for Showcase 2, but with as miserable as the weather was for much of April, I wouldn’t have gotten them in the ground at the “right” time anyway. I would have preferred to turn the potato bed at least a few days before I planted, but I really needed to get the seed potatoes in the ground before I totally missed the planting window. Therefore, I dug the bed over and planted on the same day.

This spot may well have been where they dumped the sand needed for construction when the house was built.

This spot may well have been where they dumped the sand needed for construction when the house was built.

In an effort to rotate crops as much as possible in our two-bed garden, the potatoes are going in the bigger bed this year, and other things will be going in what was the potato bed last year. But, whether we are planting potatoes or anything else, we need to prep the bed. For me, that means double-digging. We did this last year, so why do we have to do it again? In part, it is because I was walking on the garden bed during the winter when I was taking things to the compost pile. However, there’s more to it. Double-digging last year started to improve the structure of the soil. We want soil clumps interspersed with spaces big enough for air and water to circulate to the roots. Double-digging this year will help fluff up the soil again, to encourage this structure. Digging by hand, as I mentioned last year, does less damage to any existing structure the soil has. If your garden is small enough, try to do it that way instead of using something like a rototiller. You can even skip the gym, that day, since you’ll be getting a workout.

These are not helpful in a root-vegetable plot.

These are not helpful in a root-vegetable plot.

There are other benefits as well. I dug out a few more rocks that I hadn’t gotten last year. Rocks, and most everything else, migrate through the soil. Long-time gardeners can tell you that you might think you’ve de-rocked a garden or field, but you never really do. I also ran across several serious sand patches. The more this garden gets dug over, the more the sand will be mixed in with the rest of the soil, leading to a more even texture throughout the garden. Untouched soil will change from place to place, but soil in urban areas may well have a sand pit smack beside a solid patch of clay. Modern building techniques don’t generally take into account saving topsoil and not disturbing the underlying layers more than necessary. It is an unfortunate fact of life that if you are in a house, you are probably going to be restoring soil rather than just improving on a good thing. The last perk is that I’m re-introducing myself to my soil and the things that live in it. Because I’m not trotting across the surface following a machine, I have the time to see that there aren’t many worms, still, but one of them is an absolute monster.

I'm naming him Herman.

I’m naming him Herman.

Once it was dug over, I laid out the seed potatoes in four quadrants to see which ones needed to be cut in pieces to fill up their quadrant. Last year I cut first and measured later, forgetting that seed potatoes aren’t as willing to be held for a second year as other seeds. They got buried about 6 or 8 inches deep in the nice, loose soil. I then re-covered the patch with straw to help preserve the moisture in the soil, and gave it a good watering. I am planning on using more straw this year than I did last year, in an effort to make the most of the water I do put in the garden.

Plotting one's plot is a good idea.

Plotting one’s plot is a good idea.

 

 

It's kinda surprising how easy it is to hide all that work.

It’s kinda surprising how easy it is to hide all that work.