A shovel in the dirt -a damn good start!

They say a picture tells a thousand words. If thats true, how many words does a video tell? (At 30 frame per second, thats 30,000 words a second, or 1,800,000 words a minute. A standard novel is about 80,000 words…so that means for each one minute of video you are getting about 20 novels of information. Holy cripes thats a lot!) Well one thing is for sure – I’m certainly not going to TYPE that many words. So if you would like to watch a few million words, please click on the link below to watch a video of me creating this new garden bed (unfortunately I can’t upload video to wordpress without paying for the premium account, so I’m going through youtube). Alternatively, or conjunctively, you can read the blog post below, which is only a few hundred words.

Click here to watch the video

Growing food has become my new passion. I love working the soil, caring for it, nurturing it, and understanding it. I love looking after the plants and figuring out the best way to nourish them. I love observing the process of nature in all its beautiful complexity. What a joy it is to watch your food manifest before your very eyes.

While I was living abroad in New Zealand and Australia, I helped to make all sorts of garden beds – no dig beds, dig beds, raised beds, wicking beds, bathtub beds, spiral beds, lasagna beds…There are so many different techniques it can leave one feeling confused. But if there is one thing I learned it is that gardening and experiential learning are synonymous, and what works for one gardner doesn’t always work for another. You just have to go for it and find out what works for you.

So that’s exactly what I’m doing. I have never made a garden in Colorado, and the soil I’m working with has probably never had a vegetable grown it, but you have to start somewhere. So here we go.

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Double-digging in action.

This is a gardening technique known as double-digging. It is a strategy developed by world-renowned gardener John Jeavons as part of what he calls bio-intensive gardening, and discussed thoroughly in his book How To Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine. Bio-intensive gardening is a method of sustainable agriculture that uses double-digging to loosen and aerate the soil, and employs a dense planting strategy that allows more food to be grown in a given area. The methodology also includes crop rotation and composting techniques for sustainable farming.

Double-digging is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. You dig – twice. Traditionally it is done with a spade and a garden fork. The top horizon of the soil is removed using the spade, and the bottom horizon is loosened using the fork. At my location (north-central Colorado), the soil is heavy clay with very little organic matter – its as hard as a rock. I actually broke a brand new garden fork trying to get it into the soil (the forks and shovels at Home Depot are made with cheap glue and plastic – get yourself vintage steel tools with wooden D handles instead).  So instead I opted for using a pick-axe to break up the lower soil horizon.

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Buried logs have many advantages

Another gardening technique I’ve recently learned about is hügelkultur, a traditional method originating from Europe, and recently popularized by the infamous permaculture guru Sepp Holzer, in which logs and sticks are buried in the earth to improve the fertility of the soil. The logs perform many functions – they help break up the soil, they retain moisture, moderate soil temperature, and provide ecological habitat for microbes as they decompose. I have personally never built a hügelkultur bed before, and although what I’m doing here isn’t a true hügelkultur, the principles should still be the same.

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Sepp Holzer’s diagram of a hugelkultur. Source: edinparadigm.com

Ah yes – a quick word on the bed layout. I was inspired by the permaculture idea of a keyhole design. A keyhole shape makes efficient use of space and is elegant to look at. A circular shape also provides more edge space and allows for more development of microclimates – two important permaculture principles. The one thing I don’t like about the standard keyhole design is the amount of walking required to get out from the middle and around to the other side of the bed. To deal with this I will be extending the path through both sides of the circle, effectively making two half circle beds. Also there is useful space in the center of the circle, and my plan is to fill this spot with a herb spiral or some other fun permaculture technology.

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Example of a keyhole bed. Source: permaculturenews.org

At the writing of this blog post, I have finished with one half of the bed. It took me 6 days, working about two hours a day in the morning (this doesn’t include time spent driving around to collect materials, however). It has been hard work, but seeing the end result was truly gratifying. Nature generally follows slow and gradual processes, and I expect it to be a couple of years before this soil is truly up and running at full speed. But we have to start somewhere, and once nudged in the appropriate direction, nature can become a powerful ally.

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Current state of the garden bed, waiting to be planted out.

Soon I will be planting seeds in the new bed – a few fast growing radish, lettuce and greens, along with some winter hardy kale, collards, chard and spinach. Stay tuned for the next update!

References:

http://www.permaculturenews.org/images/keyhole_garden_bed2

http://edenparadigm.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Holzer-Raised-Bed-Diagram-LRG

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