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June 28, 2011

Double-digging garden beds Part One

There are three most commonly used types of gardening: containers, raised beds and tilled beds or rows. I found that a variation of tilled beds, called double-dug beds, works best in hot climates like Florida. Usually we encounter the extremes of hot/wet, hot/dry or cool/dry gardening conditions. Plants, on the other hand, like constant moisture and temperature. Containers and raised beds dry out too quickly in the hot sun, unless they are filled with special mixes and are watered and fertilized often.

Double-dug beds, with their depth of at least twelve to eighteen inches, provide coolness to the roots, good drainage and ample moisture. I discovered that even in hottest and driest weather I only need to water the plants twice a week, as opposed to every day or even twice per day in raised beds or containers.

Double-dug beds are also the cheapest method to build a productive garden. They do however require a good amount of physical work, initially. When I started with double-dug beds, I went gung ho. This was a mistake as it proved to be a challenging task. For someone just starting out with the double-dug beds I would suggest starting small, maybe even as small as four by four feet bed. By combining a productive double-dug bed with square foot garden design, even a bed this small can produce a lot of vegetables.

To start with, you need to designate an area in your yard where the bed will be, and then measure and outline its boundaries with boards or garden hose. Once you are happy with the layout, use spray paint to mark the edges. Now the fun part starts. You need to remove the grass. If you ever tried digging in your yard where grass is growing, you know that this is not an easy task. Not impossible, but very labor-intensive. For that task I use "Good Ol Rusty", The electric tiller. It does not till deep, but does a fine job stripping the top layer of the grass, which is what I am after.

Pictured above is the three by ten feet future bed stripped of grass by the electric tiller. I rake up stripped grass and put it aside; it will be used in a compost pile later.

Now, the physical labor part gets into play. Using a shovel, dig out a portion of the bed, a foot long for a whole width of the bed. Take out the soil and put it aside. This soil will be needed to finish the bed at the other end. The depth of the bed should be at least a foot. Here you can see how deep the bed is, showel depicted for scale:

Once you take the soil out, loosen the soil with the shovel or a garden fork for another six inches, or as deep as you can go.

Double-Digging garden beds Part Two


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