Hello friends! I’ve made a new YouTube video, the sequel to A shovel in the dirt – a damn good start! Please click the link below to watch the video! 🙂
So the other day, I drew the layout of my new garden on a piece of paper, labelled what vegetables I planted where, and when I looked at the finished drawing it suddenly dawned on me…I have spent the last 3 weeks digging a Pokéball into my parent’s backyard (minus the middle bit which still needs to be finished). Wow, and I never usually go for fads but now it looks as if I’m proclaiming my love for catching animated creatures using little techno balls, especially to anyone lucky enough to fly over in an airplane. Perhaps I should replace the garden gnomes with little stuffed pikachus. OK, well maybe it’s not that bad. But let’s just hope the local Pokémon Go players don’t start tramping into the garden trying to make their next catch.
ANYWAY, the hard work is over now (or maybe it’s just starting?) A couple of days ago I finished double-digging the second half of the new “Pokéball” bed, completing my way around the circle. I had hoped to dig the second half of the bed faster than I did the first, but it worked out to be about the same amount of time…roughly 10 hours per bed, or 20 hours total for both, which includes mixing in amendments and shaping the beds. The bio-intensive handbook How To Grow More Vegetables says it should take about 10-12 hours to double-dig a new, 100 sqft garden bed. The area of my beds are about 75 sqft each, and considering the amount of amendments I mixed in, I’m satisfied with how long it took me (my back may be less satisfied, but hey that’s what yoga is for.)
To confirm what you are thinking (at least I think you are thinking it), yes double-digging is HARD WORK – especially in heavy clay soil like we have here in Eastern Colorado. There are many other strategies for making new garden beds that don’t involve nearly as much labor, such as sheet mulching or simply bringing in good soil.
For those who don’t know, sheet mulching (also known as “lasagna gardening”) is a no-dig method of making garden beds that involves stacking alternating layers of carbon, nitrogen and mineral rich materials, typically up to one foot tall or higher. To do sheet mulching properly you need A LOT of organic matter, fresh vegetation, compost and/or manure. If you live on a farm, a large piece of land or have been stockpiling materials for a while it’s usually not an issue to do sheet mulching.
In my case, I’m on a small, semi-rural, un-farmed piece of land with very little vegetation aside from a lawn, and I have only been in the region a month. So even sourcing materials for the double-dig has taken a fare amount of time for me. While I’m sure I could have rounded up the materials to do a sheet mulch, it may have ended up taking even longer – who knows.
Aside from this, there are other reasons for going to all the effort of double-digging. One is the speed in which you can build the soil (and hence the speed at which you can grow nutrient dense vegetables). By manually working the soil, decades of compaction can be broken up in a few hours and organic material can be added directly. A sheet mulch garden can also break up compaction and increase organic matter in the soil, but over a much longer period of time because you are relying on the plants to do the work for you. The main argument for no-dig methods is that you are not disturbing the microbial and mycelial networks within the topsoil. Well, I’ll tell you this – before I started digging this soil, the only organic matter I could find was a few thin roots from the scraggily grass above. Certainly very little microbial action happening in the native soil here, and certainly not any mycelium.
There is another benefit to double-digging, which is the depth to which you can loosen and aerate the soil. Vegetable roots grow deeper than you might imagine – some deep rooted varieties like parsnips, carrots, sugar beets, corn, and tomatoes can have roots that reach five feet deep. Even shallow rooted crops can still penetrate deeper than one foot. The plants shoot their roots downward in search of water and micro-nutrients that are often contained in the subsoil, and the deeper they stretch the more diversity of food they will find. So in setting up a new garden bed, we want to try to loosen the soil as deep as we feasibly can.
Before I took off for Arise Music Festival, I planted several vegetable varieties in the first half of the Pokéball garden (still not sure if I like that name). The number of seeds I planted was certainly overkill, but seeing as this is essentially virgin soil, I decided that there is power in numbers. As the seedlings have come up, I have thinned them out or moved them to other parts of the garden.
Planting this time of year can be a challenge. It is August, one the hottest months of the year, and the possibility of frost is less than two months away. Anything that goes in the ground now must either mature rapidly or be hardy enough to take a frost.
Below is a list of what I have planted from seed:
- Several varieties of radish – sparkler radish, icicle short top radish, daikon radish, rover radish
- Lettuce (gourmet mix)
- Mesclun lettuce mix (arugula, Chinese cabbage, Japanese spinach, mustard-mizuna, mustard green, mustard red, mustard Ruby streaks, tatsoi)
- Baby bok choi
- Red Russian kale
- Georgia Southern collards
- Swiss chard
- Spinach (Bloomsdale)
- Garlic chives
- French marigold
As you can see this is mostly all greens. I would have thrown in some beets, carrots or turnips, but unfortunately my local garden center did not have any rapid growing varieties (although I am wishing now that I had planted some just to see how they performed.) Garlic, onions and shallots are typically planted in September to set in over the winter, but I’m interested in getting some real food growing now while there’s still some warm weather.
By the time I finished digging the second half of the garden it was a bit late to be planting seeds, so I went over to my local garden store to pick up some seedlings. The options were few, but I was able to get some cold tolerant varieties of cabbage, kale, broccoli and cauliflower – Brassica family to the rescue! I transplanted these guys while also leaving room at the end of the bed for some garlic and onions come September.
The Middle Bit
This morning I actually finished digging the circular portion in the middle of the garden (of course, I’ll never ACTUALLY be done playing around in the dirt!). I am about to be gone for 10 days, and I just couldn’t stand to leave the job unfinished. I used the same process as I did on the main beds, except I had run out of coffee grounds and some of my manure, so instead I used lawn clippings. For now I’ve just mounded the central bed into a little bubble shape, and will leave it until I have some more amendments to mix in.
I also lined the entire garden with some of my parent’s landscaping rock to give it a bit more of a professional look, and implemented a permaculture trick called a WORM PARTY. I’ve also wrote up blog post about the good ol’ worm party, check it out Welcome to the Worm Party!
Here is what the Pokéball garden is looking like at the moment
I was unsure about the rocks at first, but now I think it looks nice. 🙂
And that is pretty much a wrap! The Pokéball garden is fully ready. I’m pulling for a long summer without any surprise frosts (aren’t we all), but when the winter does come, I’ll be ready because I’m planning on setting up some cold frames!
So stay tuned for more gardening love, thanks for reading, and remember to live joyfully and abundantly!
-The Abundance Gnome