preparing the garden bed 1

It’s time to get planting here in the Pacific Northwest but before we start sowing our precious little packets of seeds, we need to get the soil ready. This tutorial is for preparing a garden for planting using an old fashioned method called double digging.

If you’ve read any of my past posts on the above garden, you know I struggled horribly with it’s heavy clay soil. But thanks to proper drainage, compost and a big dose of determination, the soil is finally in great shape. It only took about a year and a half to do it.

Above is what the bed looked liked right before I got started. I threw a good layer of compost on this back in January which seems to have further broken down and besides a few weeds….it appears this bed is ready for digging.

When I was going through school to become a Certified Horticulturist, I had a few great teachers and one of them  ( Todd Major, then director of Park and Tilford Gardens) drilled the importance of two things into my belief system, double digging and mulching. Both of which I follow religiously today.

Here’s how it works, you dig a long trench starting at one end of the bed removing and piling the soil off to one side.

This soil would then be carted down to the other end where it will back fill the last trench. Then you either use your spade to turn over the soil in the trench or a garden fork to loosen it.

Once that is done, you begin your next trench beside the first inverting each shovel full into the trench so that the compost layer is now sandwiched between the lower loosened soil layer and the inverted soil layer.

Before and after it’s dug

So what are the benefits to this method?

The deep loose soil is ideal for root crops, drainage is improved, better air flow for plant root health,  and of course the mixing in of organic matter ( compost ) that provides valuable nutrients and improves soil texture.

A board for weight distribution

I work my way out backwards careful not to step on the newly dug soil, we don’t want to compact it after all that hard work do we?

A couple days later after the new soil has had a chance to dry out ( remember, I have a layer of heavy clay under this bed ) I use my hard rake to ‘smash’ the dirt clods into a nice crumb. The big board above allows me to work on the soil with out compacting it by distributing my weight over a large area….yes, I take this dirt stuff seriously.

Ready for planting

After raking and removing any bits of compost that didn’t break down ( woody stems etc) and tossing any rocks bigger than a golf ball down to the other end ( I keep one side of the bed as a rock collection area), I level it and it’s ready to go.

How is this method better than a rototiller?

I can get deeper than a rototiller’s standard 5″ to 8″ ( about 12″ to 18″ ). I find it’s less cumbersome to use a foot and a spade than a big heavy machine. A quick hose cleans off my tool and doesn’t require any more maintenance than that, not to mention the storage space you would need for some tillers. There’s the expense too, whether you rent or buy….hands down a spade is cheaper. And lastly, I don’t need to use oil or gas ( besides some good ol’ fashioned elbow grease ) to get the job done.

I’m a digger and proud of it, hoo rah!

preparing a garden bed

In my next post I will discuss how I will be laying out my rows and how I go about seeding them. Please check back soon…and happy digging.

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