Monday, February 28, 2011

Why Raised Beds Are A Must For Me

I saw many signs of Spring yesterday.  Besides the random ant roaming for who knows what across my floor.

Weeds.


Red Maples are some of the first trees to pop around here.


A mysterious yellow flower.


And this.



SM told me once that when developers build houses they strip away any topsoil on the lot and resell it.  (Makes my life so much more difficult that they do this.) Sigh.

I am NOT kidding when I tell you all that my ground is concrete. 

And since it's concrete, I've felt that I've had no other choice but to stick with raised beds.  But in reality, this can't be my only choice.  We've got farmers around here growing crops.  I may not have expensive tractors and combines but surely if they can stick something in the ground and get it to grow than I can.

For some time now I've been interested in the double dig method of gardening.  The book that I've been reading (How to Grow More Vegetables*...) discusses a process called Grow Biointensive which is a combination of the French Intensive or "Double Dig" method and Biodynamic techniques of agriculture.

Tomato, Tamato...

The book has a nice introduction that discusses the how's and why's and the history of it all but what I'm really interested in is how do I do it? 

Chapter one goes into bed prep.  The big double dig.  They talk about going into the soil 12 inches.  Ha.  (Not my soil I'm thinking in my head.)

But wait.  Last March, after a week of soaking rains, I did manage to dig out all those little "swimming pools" that I called a garden.  At the time I threw all the clods of clay up against the fence line and beside the shed. 

Time for a little investigative reporting. 

I went out to the area beside the garden where I hope to "double dig" and plant some sweet corn this year.  I stick my spade into the ground.  Hard.  Both feet and 165 pound of me on the end of that shovel.



Just as I thought. 



I maybe could get into the ground about 2"-3" tops.  If I tried to run a rototiller across this stuff I'd have sparks flying.  (We haven't had much rain this month though so the ground is dry.)

I then went over and stuck my spade into the clods I had tossed beside the shed last year.


Well, lookie there!  The spade went in quite easily.

Thanks to Mother Nature, the decomposing roots in the clods, a years worth of rain and air had beat down these impossible clay bricks into something that could actually be amended with sand and composts.  Just like the book said it would!

Huh.  Maybe this could work!

Another take away from the first chapter is that it takes 5-10 years to build up good soil.  It may also take that long for me to become a competent gardener. (grin)

We all have to start somewhere.  So while raised beds are a must for me right now, I am excited by the prospect that with a little time, a little sweat and a whole lot of patience, I might one day be able to stick a seed in my ground and watch it grow and provide me with food.

One day.  But not yet.  A girls gotta eat.  Thank God for Mels Mix.

3 comments:

  1. Last year I tried to grow corn in raised beds...I was able to grow some corn, but not enough to justify giving up a raised bed. This year I'm having the *boys* work up a couple nice strips along the back side of the orchard. The only reason I hesitate is the weeds...and there's gonna' be plenty. I don't allow Round-Up any where near the home-piece. This corn patch is going to have to be hand weeded: YUCK! What I have to go through for some good sweet corn!

    If I were you, I'd add about six inches of good compost and plant my corn in that...I'm always amazed what a root system can do and where it's willing to grow. Once you get that seed started in the nice organics it may surprise you and really take off on it's own. In the old days farmers planted big root crops to break up the surface of the rock-hard soil: sugar beets, mangel beets, turnips...you may want to try a handful of those seeds and use the produce as a base for your compost pile and or worm bin and/or feed some chickens or other livestock.

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  2. Ooooo...Really great advise Lynda! I was thinking this afternoon that the corn patch was gonna be "hell" to weed. I'm really impressed with what roots can do to break up the soil.

    I think I'll be buying me some some beets and turnips. Thanks again.

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  3. We're going to try the double digging method this year too, though I don't know if we can manage actual raised beds for the entire garden. I requested the John Jeavons book from the library, though we first read about this method in John Seymour's book, Concise Guide to Self-Sufficiency. This is a really huge step for DH, because he's actually willing to give up his tiller for this!

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