You're right Patrick, I have to admit my free-draining soil is less fertile than a clay soil would be. I have to add a lot of organic matter to it, which can be almost as back-breaking as digging because much of it has to be sourced from elsewhere and is very heavy for me to carry.
Fortunately for me, the crops I care about most are the ones which grow very readily in less fertile soil. Peas of course have their own built-in fertilisation system and thrive in the soil here. Potatoes are happy with it too. But when I try to grow brassicas it's another matter ... cauliflowers the size of pimples ... *sigh*.
Post by ottawagardener on Dec 30, 2008 16:20:55 GMT -5
I garden in sand with a clay subbase but that can be some way down. At first, nothing grew well because of the lack of organic matter but after some years of love and lack of removing every last scrap of organic debris - in fact, quite the opposite as I have added manure etc... I can't complain. My veggies grow very well.
Even though I don't do digging because it isn't necessary in my case - over zealous digging would bring up playground sand similar to Rebsie - I occasionally enjoy the fact that the neighbours always assume that it will be the hubby that will be moving hills of drainage gravel and manure not me so they are surprised time and again when I get to show off. You have to keep in mind that I am a pipsqueak of a girl so I have something to prove.
As for digging, I think we all just realized that it was more of a make work project than actually necessary and love our vertabrae.
I have no excuse other than that I spend too much time sitting on my backside staring at packets of peas, so when there's a heavy lifting job to be done I'm all wheezy and unfit.
The area I live in is naturally full of limestone but I haven't tested the soil here. It's been a garden for 70 years so the soil has probably had all sorts of stuff chucked on it. I'm still in the process of bringing it back into cultivation ... it was all laid to lawn when I came here in 2004, and I'm still digging new beds out of it. The previous gardener was not organic (I know that from the parade of poisons I found in the shed, sheesh) and I think it's still in the process of re-establishing a balance after years of chemicals.
Remembering how long it took me to get the soil in my previous garden into tiptop condition (and then the bloke who bought the house ripped everything out and laid gravel over it, bastard) I probably just need to be more patient.
When I had a strong back, I dug up all my beds but not exactly the Jeavons way. I put all the "topsoil" on one side and subsoil on the other, then loosened the next spade-depth. As I put the subsoil back in place I layered it with hay and pig manure. As I put the topsoil back I mixed it with rabbit and poultry manure. By the time I subtracted all the fist-sized and up rocks, I had sunken beds... but not too bad. That was after trying to lasagna garden for a few years with no noticeable difference. The double digging made an unbelieveable difference. That was back when the garden was only four wide beds, and I haven't done that since - at least not to that degree. The topsoil here is about 3" thick at best, and rocky (mostly flint). Then there's clay and rock for maybe 6' before the limestone bedrock. Without digging in some kind of organic matter and loosening the subsoil to some extent, the weeds have a hard time.
Now there are many more wide beds, but none of them do as well as those first four.
If I had a chance, I'd till the soil 3' deep. I've made soil that deep by trench composting large piles of rabbit and pigeon manure. Many plants which appear to have roots only a foot or so deep may actually be going down 6 to 8 feet. Mulching, compost, or no-till gardening is fine as long as there is a great base. Otherwise it may take years for the surface nutrients to get down to where they are available to the plants.
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I agree 100% Martin. At least for my kind of soil. Time is the key factor - you can do in a day what would take nature centuries to accomplish; from then on a little mulch on top takes care of the rest.
I double dug all my 13 vegetable beds when I started out years ago. Well, that was the intention having read about the wonderfully named technique of "bastard digging" in, I think, one of John Seymour's books on self-sufficiency. The technique basically ends up with the surface spit (= spade length) of earth inverted two spits down. However, it turned out that I didn't have two spits in about half of the area, the second spit being solid rock....! Part of the technique is to shout "bastard" systematically as you dig - it helps!
I still use the technique when clearing new land with sufficient depth, particularly when it is infested with ground elder (Aegopodium) as the roots end up two spits down and usually doesn't find its way back to the surface, and if it does is severely weakened.
Eating my way through the world's 15,000+ edible species
Post by pigletwillie on Dec 31, 2008 9:10:24 GMT -5
Clay is probably the most fertile of growing mediums but the most hated due to its nature. A lot of our local geology is granite with 20 metres of red clay above, hence digging can be fun.
To combat this to a certain extend we have one of our plots laid down to raised beds giving us a good spit of top soil with 10" of raised bed on top, all no dig of course. One plot has had some 20 tonnes of manure, compost and leafmould added to it over the last 4 years and it is nowok, not brilliant, just ok, but thats a vast improvement over the brick works clay I inherited.
As for double digging, well I scratched the surface of it cos, as Rebsie says all our books say its imperative, but soon wandered into the shed for Ruddles and a sit down.
Post by ottawagardener on Dec 31, 2008 10:41:09 GMT -5
Thankfully there are books that state the opposite so imperative may be a more lightly understood term ;-)
All this talk about loosening soil and adding organic matter brings me to another Jeavons et al and co. technique of successive green manuring particularly with deep rooted plants like Alfalfa. I did single dig and heavily ammend my soil when I first start to garden and I did notice an initial difference though my reading of this is that it aerates the soil which leads to the quick release of nutrients and organic material and therefore quickens the loss of fertility to the soil without ammendments.
This being separate from needing to accelerate the development of humus to rock or clay soils. Also, I have been known to dig two spits deep when it comes to removing a tenacious weed like lily of the valley then covering with a heavy heavy heavy mulch. Sometimes, of course, it just acts to propogate the weed. It depends on how carefully you excavate. Be the archeologist with your paint brush against that couch grass... or just cover the entire bed with four inches of newsprint...
Stevil: I like the description: Bastard Digging and it is how I will refer to it from now on.
I am going to get some more land to garden this spring (city allotment) and the person warned me to 'check it out first' so we'll see what treatment it needs though I am steeling myself for a scrub brush wasteland.
Garden is a clearing in the woods grading from shallow, rocky soil supporting a maple bush to a pine forest planted on sandy soil and a clay bottomland with spruce and tamarack.
I used to do single and double digging on this fairly heavy loamy soil. And in our climate, this had some advantages. First of all, when you dig the soil before the winter, the ground gets some frost and this frost turns this soil into something more crumbly. The only thing you have to do in spring is going through it with some sort of cultivator, and , there's the second advantage, this makes that the soil warms up more quickly in March or April, and dries out better. I can get these waterlogged soils after a usually wet winter, the ground is then heavy and cold, compact. So this cultivating really helps a lot. But does digging help out?
I think in certain circumstances it does, aerating the soil, and making it more crumbly. But I tried the cultivator thing after double and single digging, after mulching and after , well , doing nothing. The last part was no good, too much weeds grow over here during wintertime, and it's harder to get the cultivatr through all this, and sometimes you can wait and wait for that tiny dry period in which these weeds will dry up, so, so no good.
Double digging got me to the real sticky gluing loam, I literally had to whack the loam off the spade every time (really!), and this loam gets rock-hard in the occasional summer sun... No good...
Single digging, works better, the soil has bee enriched with compost for years and years, and it's easier to dig, and all the nutritient build -up doesn't disappear into the deep...
So no good, I finally switched to mulching as much as possible, and the cultivating thing remains as well, to heat the soil after I took away the mulch. The more compost you throw on top of the soil, the more the ground will get aerated by worm activity, and also by groundhogs who eat the worms (which is a pity, but that's nature). And if you add a bit off green things (weeds or...) just under the compost, worm activity will be even bigger...