When we first looked at this blank slate of a yard, we asked ourselves two questions: 1. where will we get the most sun? 2. how do we go about starting our new garden beds? Answers came rather quickly. We have a lot of trees and thus a lot of shade. The south end of the house became our main location for just about everything. This is where our compost will live, where the raised beds and cold frames are located, and where a majority of the beds are being dug. Which brings us to question two, how do we start all these new beds? Double digging.
Double digging is essentially what it sounds like. You loosen up the soil by digging down two layers and breaking up the soil. It is a bit labor intensive, but worth every drop of sweat. (I do love to combine my work out with garden tasks.) Double digging is a great way to prepare an organic garden similar to the method of hugelkultur. When you treat your soil with love and care, it gives it right back.
Double digging is a gardening method that increases soil drainage and aeration. The loose soil that this creates makes it much easier for the roots to reach deeper into the earth and access all the nutrients harbored there. Planting is a lot easier, so it goes much faster. Here is the best news; double digging does not need to be done every year. In fact, it is best to go 3-5 years or longer. This means next year we will go right into sheet mulching and bypass the hours/days we spent on the double digging.
How to get started, you ask?
First, make sure it’s safe to dig where you plan on digging. Have all of the utility lines located and marked before you break ground. We got started by taking a digging fork and loosening the soil as deep as the teeth on the fork. Then behind that I took a shovel and put the dirt onto a tarp (if you have a wheelbarrow use that). Move this soil to the opposite end from which you started. With the trench dug out, loosen the soil in the bottom without removing it. Once the first row was done, we followed the same routine. From that point forward, as we dug out the dirt, we dumped it into the previous trench.
To fill the last row, we took the tarp full of dirt and dumped it (or at least tried) into the trench. This part might not have been so hard for us to tackle had we not been digging, jumping (cutting roots), lifting, and flipping earth for hours. (It’s at these times that I think about getting ripped like the Farm Kings.) Last, we leveled it out and lightly went across it with a steal garden rake. You want to be careful to not step on your freshly double dug soil so you don’t pack it down.
As if digging wasn’t exhausting on its own, there were some serious roots going on- breaking through them was a task in itself. We tossed those into our raised beds that we will soon plant (thought we would try a mini hugel in there).
A few days later, we mixed in some compost, transplanted herbs, and planted seeds for arugula, beets, garlic, and lettuce. Things are coming up nicely, and we couldn’t be more tickled.
Why not just use a tiller?
We have for years talked about, “oh when we get a tiller… how nice it will be.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. Tillers are a great way to speed up the process, but at the same time they are damaging the soil and killing many of the microorganisms and worms. These are the foundation of great soil, what it needs to thrive. It’s a living world down there! Think of tilling like putting your soil through a blender…
On top of that, there is the fact that as you till you walk beside or behind it, this presses down and compounds your soil. Sure you may gain some hours and get to plant a little sooner, but the long term health of your soil and the plants growing in it will suffer. Love your soil and it will love you (and the plants) right back.