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Garden Blogging: The Epic Double Dig

by: Jill Richardson

Thu Nov 15, 2012 at 19:41:45 PM PST

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It's been weeks since I've updated y'all on my garden and there's a reason for that: it's taken weeks to weed one single raised bed. Even AFTER having a weeding party, it's taken this long. The weeding party got some of the weeds out of this bed, but not all. Not most. Not even nearly.

My bed. It LOOKS weed-free... but it isn't...

Jill Richardson :: Garden Blogging: The Epic Double Dig
Most of the weed species in my yard are actually edible, medicinal, and somewhat beneficial. They are also easy to get rid of if they grow in inconvenient places. I just discovered that a weed near the chicken coop that I hadn't previously identified is chickweed, which is edible and is useful in healing cuts, pinkeye, warts, and sore muscles. But the weed in this particular raised bed is neither edible nor beneficial. And it's hard to eradicate.

The weed in question is nutsedge, and it forms a little "nut" deep below the soil surface that you need to get rid of if you don't want the weed coming back. My plan for the nutsedge is to pull out as much of it as I can and then exhaust any nutsedge still left in the bed by meticulously pulling it immediately when it pops up so I can starve it of photosynthesis.

I will say now that I don't anticipate living in this house for very long, and my landlord and roommates and I have very different views about gardening (and just about everything else). They think I'm stupid to handweed the bed, and they aren't helping. I'm doing it myself. And it's slow. (They bought soil which was delivered today and they put down some synthetic cloth on the bottom of another bed and filled it with the purchased topsoil. They are counting on the synthetic cloth to suppress the weeds under that bed.)

As I was weeding, I figured I might as well use the weeding as an opportunity to do a double dig. A double dig involves removing a strip of soil in your bed that is one foot wide and one foot deep, aerating and mixing compost into the foot of soil below that with a pitchfork, and then replacing the top foot of soil and mixing compost into that soil as well. After you do this, you don't walk on the bed to allow the soil to remain fluffy and aerated. Then you do the next one foot wide strip of soil in the bed and continue until the whole thing is done. There's a great illustration of this in the book How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons.

A double dig isn't always necessary. It's something you do if you have very compacted soil and you are just starting to garden in that bed for the first time. After an initial double dig, you only work the top two inches of soil when you work compost in before future plantings. A double dig will disturb fungi and other microorganisms, but it is worth it if your soil is very compacted.

I figured that my weeding was so extensive, it basically WAS a double dig, so I might as well use it as one. We don't have finished compost YET so I did a compromise. First, I removed as much soil from the top as I could, going pretty deep down below the wooden frame of the bed. I tried to go deep enough to remove all of the nutsedge, but I'm sure there's still more below where I stopped.

Then, I added a layer of rotting veggies and such from the compost bin followed by a layer of mulch. The rotting veggies have more nitrogen, whereas the mulch has more carbon. Together, they hopefully have the right ratio after they all break down. I put the original soil back on top of those two layers.

The first strip of soil I weeded and double-dug. The soil is removed and you can see a layer of mulch, with a layer of compost below. Then I replaced the soil on top.

The nitrogen-rich rotting veggies would burn my plants if I planted directly in them, but I'm hoping that the plants have enough soil to use above the layer of rotting veggies that it's OK - and ultimately, the veggies will break down and enrich the soil down there.

Then I did the next strip of soil, removing all of the soil and weeding as I went:

As I went, I marked off where I had finished by planting sunflowers in the middle of the bed in the areas that were already done:

Marking my place with sunflowers

I took these pictures several weeks ago. I'm still working on weeding and double digging this damn bed, although I'm almost done. I've kind of lost my momentum because if I'm going to move very soon, there's very little reason to meticulously weed someone else's garden. (I don't know when exactly I'll move again, but the landlord's cat keeps attacking my poor kitty Meg, who then gets stressed out and pees. And I can't stick around very long if she's doing that all the time.)

As I work on the last parts, the blades of nutsedge are popping up on the front parts. When they pop up, I remove them. I remove the entire plant, including the root and the "nut" when I can - or just as much of the shoot that's coming up as possible otherwise, so that I can hopefully exhaust the plant and starve it of photosynthesis.

As I've done this, I've noticed that the soil is extremely sandy. It does not hold water at all, the water just runs right through it. The solution to this is adding organic matter. Once I noticed this, I started making an effort to dig deeper during my weeding/double dig and then add two layers of compost and mulch. I add compost, then mulch, then cover it with some soil, and then I add more compost, more mulch, and the rest of the soil. Our rainy season is coming up and that will keep the bed nice and wet so that the organic matter can break down and hold the water where the plants can get it.

Another new development around here are the chickens. These are the first two I got, two Polish hens we've named Lucy and Ethel:

We've since built a coop and bought 4 more chickens. And I must say, I really don't recommend Polish chickens. These two are dumb even for chickens. They've improved since we got a few more birds to keep them company at least.

In the near future, I'll post photos of the bed as it looks now. It's almost all weeded and the front bit is planted with carrots, lettuce, radishes, turnips, beets, peas, and sunflowers.

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Yeah, definitely time for glasses... (4.00 / 1)
I was gonna say... you had a wedding party?!  And what's that got to do with weeds, anyway?


("What's love got to do, got to do with weeds...")

Okay, I'm done being a dork.  For the moment.

I hope you find a better living situation as soon as possible!

thanks (4.00 / 1)
I'm honestly not terribly eager to leave the garden behind. Or the chickens. I mean, I only JUST thought of a name for the last one. (Blue laced red wyandotte... gonna be Violet or Lavender, because blue + red = purple!) They aren't laying now but will be in late January. If I can just hang on...

The immediate problem is the landlord's cat keeps attacking my cat and she gets freaked out and pees in places she shouldn't. Like on my roommate's stuff.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
weeds.. (4.00 / 2)
right before my tenant left he cut down 3 evergreens ( they were leaning ) which are not great for places that get a lot of rain ( shallow roots) Thank god bc hurricane sandy came along 3 days later. So now I have a spot that will get full sun but is covered with gout weed. Gout weed is edible but its also really invasive. When I asked the local garden center what to do to get rid of it, they said Move :) To get rid of the gout weed I am trying to smother with black plastic for two growing seasons.
I'll see if it works. I  

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