The Hustle: Double Digging

Double digging is for the birds…

…and carrots, and parsnips, and maybe potatoes. Oh and possibly sweet potatoes. Onions?

My trusty digging fork.

My trusty digging fork.

Double digging is a cultivation method used by gardeners to deeply aerate and loosen the soil. It involves removing the top layer of soil and then loosening the next layer below it with a digging fork or broadfork. Then replacing the top soil. Most of the time compost or other soil building amendments are added before the top soil is replaced.

I hadn’t planned on double digging, and shiver at the though of all the new weed seeds it is bringing up.

It is tiring. Some people believe it is unnecessary in many cases, only adding to the weed load and if done improperly can lead to more compacted soil. This is especially problematic if subsoil is brought up by accident, diluting the rich organic matter that can only be found in the uppermost layers.

Did I mention it is tiring?

Which is why…

…the normal tillage on Beech Cove Farm will be no tillage. Yep, you heard that right. NO TILLAGE. No turning plow. No discing. No rototilling. Zip. Nada.

It’s really not that strange of an idea. No-till farming has become more popular on large farms recently due to the use of Glyphosate resistant varieties of vegetables, especially corn and soy beans. Farmers are able to spray herbicides onto their crops because they are genetically modified to resist the harmful effects of the herbicide.

Being a natural farm, we will not be using this style of no-till. Instead of using herbicides to suppress weeds, we will be using mulches, top-dressings of compost, and hand held weeding tools. Many natural and organic farms that have moved to minimal or no-tillage have seen a drastic reduction in weeds after just a few years and a remarkable increase in soil health.

So, Beech Cove Farm = no-till.

Except this year. There is tillage this year. I have yet to find a large-scale method of turning sod into garden that I can do quickly with limited resources.

I know that there are many no-till methods for converting pasture or sod into garden.

There is:  “lasagna gardening”, mulching a-la “back to eden” style, or even building raised beds and filling it with perfect, fluffy soil that was purchased at the local big box store or garden center. All of these methods take time, money, and a ridiculous amount of material. It’s one thing to mulch a few beds for your home garden or buy soil for your “square foot” garden, but to do any of these for a 1/3 acre garden is beyond my resources. This fall I will be hoarding leaves, stockpiling cow manure, and begging arborists to bring me their waste wood chips.

Until then, I will use a rototiller to turn our hard clay just enough to make it workable and then mix in as much organic matter as I can. These permanent beds will be used for 3-7 harvests a year with compost added frequently, crops rotated strategically, and minimal cultivation. By using permanent beds we reduce the need for heavy equipment, focus our resources on the areas that will be actively growing food, and continuously improving the health of the soil while maintaining permanent pathways that make bare feet happier.

And more importantly, it will save my back for the crops that need the extra attention that double-digging provides.



One thought

  1. Pingback: The Hustle: Double Digging | Beech Cove | Farm – WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

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