How much work is double digging really?

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after. Still need to line it with some wood.

This spring I embark on my first full scale concerted effort to having a vegetable garden. (Last year, was my first year in my new house, and I moved in in late may, bought a couple starts and decided water wasn’t something plants needed, needless to say I had a total of 1 sugar snap pea and 2 cherry tomatoes).  This year I have done a lot more research and am ready.

While I don’t agree with everything this author has to say, I found Mini Farming a great read.  In it, the author advocated something called double-digging, or bastard trenching, to loosen up your soil and start your garden right the first year.

After spending way too much time on google spreadsheets (and a few failed hours trying to write my own garden layout program after being disenchanted with all the options available), I decided I would start 2 beds.  A 15×4 and a 25×4.  In addition to the 4×4 raised bed I made last year (and imported all the soil for) and the 6×6 Hugulkultur bed I also made.

It might only be February but winters in the Pacific North West are pretty mild, and since the last month has been mostly above freezing, my ground was nice and workable.  So I started on my first 15×4 bed.  The first 4′ were the hardest, and took me about an hour.

I was dealing with a lot of negatives.  Not only was my soil full of rocks, but worse it was full of roots.  And a giant rhododendron which I had already cut down.  I watched a video on double-digging from bio-intensive gardening.  In it the shovel moved like butter and seemed effortless.  I’m here to tell you, you probably won’t be that lucky with soil like that.  And if you are, why are you double digging in the first place?!

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This is what i was working with (I cut the rhodey down to it’s roots last year)

That said digging around roots is hard.  I ended up leaving some in the ground and not being able to get quite as deep in those parts, but others I was able to leverage out.

Here’s how my first 15×4 went:

Tools: flat shovel with a D handle, stabby fork, cutting shears (for those roots)

First 1′ strip (4′ long): 1 hour

Second strip: 2 hours

3-8 : 2 hours

8-15: 2 hours

I did it over 3 weekends.  As you can see, getting started was the hardest part.  I don’t know if it was the ground I was on, or the fact I had already broken ground next to it, or the fact it had rained more recently, but the going got easier.

Am I ready to start on my 25×4 bed? Yes, but not today, I need a break!  My fingers are probably the most sore.  A lot of the digging is body weight.  But pulling roots and digging out rocks had to be done by hand.  It will be a long time before I get that dirt caked on my hands off.

Heres to hoping the next 100′ of digging go quickly and are ready by spring!

 

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