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Homestead Vegtable Garden: To dig or not to dig? (That is my question)

Elisha Gray


Joined: Mar 26, 2012
Posts: 9
Location: Sussex County, NJ
So its my 4th year with my raised beds and I've decided to establish a new garden area (12' x 25') for the homestead annual vegetables. After much consideration and research, I've decided that I'm more confused whether to go dig or no dig now then I was when decided to establish the area early last fall.

So I pose this question to other homesteaders: How would you establish 12x25 undisturbed top-soil (last winter I piled the leaves in this area so some of the grass is already dead). Would you go dig? No dig + Sheet Mulch? What are you doing now? How is it working? How do you feel about it?

Right now I'm leaning towards a very traditional victory garden. My goal is to produce a very productive patch of healthy vegetables. Due to personal time constraints I need to minimize how labor intensive upkeep is, and importing organic matter to the property has been a challenge.

I've recently been reading Steve Solomon's books and am inclined to follow his methods because my experience in the garden thus far supports a lot of what he has to say.

However because I'm implementing permaculture practices elsewhere on my property; I'm a bit torn when considering going completely traditional; Being in my 4th garden year I've already learned the hard way that while idealism and enthusiasm are cheap, hard work and carefully applied technique are often more productive.

One thought I had was to dig down maybe 10'' with my spade, backfill the hole with branches/rotten logs from around the property and then push the soil back on top to create a slightly raised bed. In this area I have 3-5'' topsoil and then a moderate clay. I wouldn't use mulch and do weed control with the hoe.

Another thought I had was to do a bake off of different techniques, sheet mulch one area, double dig another, ect.... Then I'd let field trials make my decision. (I've already learned the hard way that bio-intensive raised beds are not a sustainable practice for the part time homesteader. ) Again my end goal is to find the no gimmick; truly manageable, sustainable, and efficient way to produce a large portion of the household vegetables.


-- Multi-Mode
R Scott


Joined: Apr 13, 2012
Posts: 1838
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
    
  19
It really depend on the exact plot of ground. How rich is the soil, how much clay, sand, organic matter? Does it have good drainage or is it a near-swamp?


"You must be the change you want to see in the world." "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." --Mahatma Gandhi
"Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words." --Francis of Assisi. "Family farms work when the whole family works the farm." -- Adam Klaus
Jordan Lowery
volunteer

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1527
Location: zone 7
    
  11
if the soil was rock solid, i would till ONCE. if the soil cab have a shovel dig into it, just mulch and plant.


The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. - Masanobu Fukuoka
Alex Ames


Joined: Feb 24, 2012
Posts: 320
    
    1
I have done what you are thinking about in digging down and adding stuff from around your place. I then
went pretty much with Emelia Hazelips measurements. Beds 4' wide 10' to 30" high and paths 20". She got
out a pointer to emphasis this in her youtube video and repeated it. So I took that to be something she valued.

She tilled to start and used soil from the paths to build up her beds. I used soil from the paths, soil from the hole
and added compost to the top layer. Then I mulched with wheat straw. I am interplanting and trying to get a good
mix of plants in each bed in hopes of confusing pests and minimizing problems.

The final two beds were done on top of the soil piling up what was left in the yard and then putting leaf mold. soil
from the paths and compost on top and mulching with wheat straw. This performed very well with very nice peppers
and eggplant. I also had lettuce and basil and each bed had one cage of tomatoes which did good. I would think that
long term digging down might be a better solution but this was quicker and easier and worked about the same.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5320
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I used to be anti-dig until I realized plants won't grow in a thin layer of mulch on top of rocks. Now I'm digging big time, down about 18 inches, removing the rocks, and refilling the excavation with logs (buried wood beds) and topping with sheet mulch and sifted soil. I'll only do this once and then I'll go back to sheet mulching or topdressing with compost (if I ever get a decent composting system set up).


Idle dreamer

Alex Ames


Joined: Feb 24, 2012
Posts: 320
    
    1
Tyler Ludens wrote:I used to be anti-dig until I realized plants won't grow in a thin layer of mulch on top of rocks. Now I'm digging big time, down about 18 inches, removing the rocks, and refilling the excavation with logs (buried wood beds) and topping with sheet mulch and sifted soil. I'll only do this once and then I'll go back to sheet mulching or topdressing with compost (if I ever get a decent composting system set up).



The kiss principle is best in compost. Consider the "wandering compost pile" used by Dr. Eberhard Spohn of
Heidelberg, Germany a consultant in waste recycling and soil health. Minimum dimension 3' wide, 3' tall and
at least 3' long. Put waste on the face and take compost from the back and give it room to move. They say
about 6" a week but that is based on how much kitchen scraps you add.


[Thumbnail for Wandering Compost Pile-Dr. Spohn.jpg]

Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5320
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
That's another area I'd have to fence.....
Alex Ames


Joined: Feb 24, 2012
Posts: 320
    
    1
Tyler Ludens wrote:That's another area I'd have to fence.....


Based on some your comments of where you are, there is indeed no telling who/what would
come to Dr. Spohn's wandering compost pile and how much of it would wander off!

On it's face it is a simple and easy way to compost with no costs and nothing to build.
You are probably an exception and would need to cover it with a chicken wire/barbed wire
contraption on wheels.
 
 
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