Categories

Archives

Secrets to Seed Starting Success

Click picture to learn more or order now
$19.97 - Your "book" (PDF format for PC or Mac) will be emailed to you the minute I receive your order.




Easy Soil Preparation – Letting Nature “Dig” the Ground

If you want a new bed for your vegetable garden or flower garden and can’t do the deep soil preparation, you can let nature do it for you if you’re willing to wait a while.

Last summer I decided that I wanted another bed in our back meadow. There’s no way that I could fit in the deep soil preparation necessary for great success. But I knew I could get the bed done if I enlisted nature’s help. And I was perfectly willing to wait the 2 or more years to get the bed ready.

Of the two hours that it takes me to do my garden tasks everyday (check bugs, harvest, plant, tie up tomatoes, or whatever), I decided to allot 10 minutes every other day or so towards starting the new bed.

I wanted the bed to be approximately 5 feet wide and about 20 feet long. In the allotted 10 minutes, I could dig out sod in a 1 to 2 square foot area. Starting in September (2013) and at a very slow pace, the job was finally finished by the first week in November.

I decided to plant winter rye for several reasons.

  • The roots can penetrate (dig) the soil deeply.
  • The stubble acts as a weed barrier and as mulch through out the following summer.
  • The roots decay by late summer and a different cover crop can be sown directly into them without any extra work.
November 21, 2013 winter rye is just coming up in new ground

November 21, 2013. The winter rye is just coming up in new bed. Not too impressive.

A few old limbs that had fallen from our trees, I placed at the end of the beds. My thought was to bury them at the edges of the bed when I finally had some time to dig. They’d serve to hold a bit of extra water as they decayed and then finally add more organic matter to the soil. As you can see in the various pictures below, they’re still on top of the ground waiting for me to get to them.

Winter rye in new bed on May 2, 2014.

Winter rye in bed on May 2, 2014. By May 11th the pollen was hanging on the heads.

By May (2014) the rye really looked good and I cut it when the pollen was hanging on the heads. The biomass was placed on top of the stubble. In late June or early July, I put more mulch (straw) on top.

May 19. 2014 - rye has been cut and left on top of stubble

May 19. 2014 – Biomass of the rye placed on top the stubble has dried out.

It had been my original intent to plant squash into the stubble. When planting time came, I was desperate for another place for tomatoes, so I planted one tomato plant at each end of the bed. A pepper plant in the middle hasn’t done as well as the tomatoes.

If we had had the high temperatures and the drought that we usually have, I doubt that these tomatoes would have performed as well as they have in soil that nature has only be working with for one year.

IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND:
This bed is in the process of “long term preparation” by nature.

When you let nature prepare a bed you have to be willing to wait a few years for her to finish the job.
When soil preparation is done well (either over time by nature or by you more quickly) the better your success with vegetables will be.

I took a chance by planting these tomatoes in this “not-yet-finished” bed. Although tomatoes like new soil, they also love deep preparation and lots of organic matter — which of course that bed could not supply. But, because of adequate rains and new soil, they did just fine.

July 31, 2014 - tomatoe plant

July 31, 2014 – tomato plants at each end have been spectacular. The tiny green in the middle is a pepper plant that didn’t like it.

I broadcast cowpeas in the bed the other day and will broadcast another cover crop (or crops) in September. I’m considering oats, alfalfa and/or fava beans. The more diversity the better.

Next year (2015) I’ll probably plant a warm weather vegetable into the stubble of the cover crops. If the soil looks good by September and is loose when I put a garden fork into it, I’ll consider the bed for planting  onions.

A note about weeds.

As you can see I only had a piece of creeping charlie and few pieces of wire grass in the bed. The secret is removing the sod (all wire grass, grass, etc.) before you plant anything. Grass will infringe on the bed from the edges, but when you’ve prepared properly, it’s a piece of cake to keep it out.

cccccc

A few pieces of wire grass came up through the stubble and a piece of creeping charlie weed.  But they were all easy to get out.

If I have time this fall, I’ll remove more sod from the edge to widen the bed.  When width reaches 10 feet, I’ll make a path down the middle and I’ll have two nice size beds. All this with no more than 10 minutes of work from me here and there throughout the seasons.

Taking up more sod.

Taking up more sod.

Final Thoughts

Just walk in the direction of the way you want to go and never underestimate the power of a little.  You can get huge jobs accomplished just doing little by little.  Especially true when you work with nature.

This old maddox is the tool I enjoy using.  The handle is shorter than the new ones I've seen on the market recently.  It really makes the job of removing the sol so easy.

This old maddox is the tool I enjoy using. The handle is shorter than the new ones I’ve seen on the current market. It really makes the job of removing the sod so easy.

________
Related Posts:

Never Underestimate the Power of a Little

Your Focus Will Determine Your Outcome

Cover Crops and Diversity – Need More Proof They Work?

Cover Crops – Your Purpose Determines When You Cut or Incorporate into the Soil
________

All content including photos are copyright by TendingMyGarden.com.  All Rights Reserved.

15 comments to Easy Soil Preparation – Letting Nature “Dig” the Ground

  • Sandra

    Completely inspiring!!! I’d love it if you keep updating on the development of this bed from time to time.
    I started on something similar recently. The kids had dug a big hole in the yard and had finished playing in it. About 4ft by 6ft. I filled it with twigs, and cuttings from branches. Next I layered in all my green cuttings and compost trimmings and covered with a thick layer of straw. I keep tossing things onto and into this hole. If I shovel in a layer of soil from the paths around this hole, I can probably get a cover crop going. Next year I should have someting fairly good in which to plant.

  • Theresa

    Excellent Sandra! What a fun bed and it’ll probably be one of your very best.
    There are always great opportunities in the course of gardening to do things the easy way and have them turn out wonderfully!
    Theresa

  • sheila

    Very inspiring, Theresa. With an increased work schedule this year, I have had fewer hours to work in my gardens, and have fought the ‘guilty’ feeling all year when I saw the weeds gaining ground on me. But I have persisted in working in snatches of time – weeding a small portion of a bed when I’m out with the dog or walking out to pick up the mail/paper. Yesterday I enjoyed some time cleaning up a few spots that I hadn’t gotten to all summer. The grass weeds in the flower bed were starting to seed out, so I finished cleaning it out, then looked around and realized that the beds were all looking good, and even if the weeds stayed longer than usual, by persisting, I had still accomplished the tasks. It really helps to think in terms of taking small steps instead of waiting until you have a big block of time. Your encouraging posts are always helpful to remind us of that! Thank you.

  • Theresa – how do you dig your sod out? A shovel? With a few of my beds I made the mistake of just tilling up the sod and digging it back in – you can imagine the ongoing grass nightmare I have.

  • Theresa

    Sounds like you’re right on track Sheila! Love hearing it!

    Kate, I’ve used a shovel many times to dig out sod. But I really enjoying using the hand tool that I showed at the end of the post. You get basically the same results with either tool.

    I grip the sod with my left hand and use the tool in my right hand to rip up the sod.

    At this point – whether you use a shovel or a hand tool – you shake the sod to loosen the soil from it. There are times when I have to hit it with my tool to work it loose. And sometimes if the dirt has hardened to the sod, I just place it in pile for a while until it loosens enough that it’ll come off. (I don’t like to lose any of the dirt.)

    With the grass etc that remains – I’ll scatter it about the meadow and when Bill cuts the grass, those remains are chopped up when the mower goes over them. That way I still get the benefit of those remains feeding the grass. Of course doing it this way will depend on each individual situation. If a gardener is removing sod that has undesirable weeds in the process of going to seed, they may not want to add those undesirable seeds to their meadow (or whatever) by cutting them up.

    If I end up with a big pile of grass (sod), I put it beside my cold compost pile and let it compost down where I can keep an eye on it. (To see what lives and what decays.)

    And yes, I can imagine the ongoing grass nightmare that you have by tilling in the sod. Many folks make that mistake.
    Theresa

  • Farming Bear

    Thank you, Theresa! What do you do with your sod once you’ve gotten it up?

  • Julie Martin

    I just love your step-by-step tutorials! Thanks for putting in the extra time to post this for us. I can find 10 minutes a day.

  • Theresa

    Hey Farming Bear,
    Good to hear from you.
    You can do different things with the sod. As I told Kate:
    You shake the sod to loosen the soil from it. There are times when I have to hit it with my tool to work it loose. And sometimes if the dirt has hardened to the sod, I just place it in pile for a while until it loosens enough that it’ll come off. (I don’t like to lose any of the dirt.)

    With the grass etc that remains – I’ll scatter it about the meadow and when Bill cuts the grass, those remains are chopped up when the mower goes over them. That way I still get the benefit of those remains feeding the grass. Of course doing it this way will depend on each individual situation. If a gardener is removing sod that has undesirable weeds in the process of going to seed, they may not want to add those undesirable seeds to their meadow (or whatever) by cutting them up.

    If I end up with a big pile of grass (sod), I put it beside my cold compost pile and let it compost down where I can keep an eye on it. (To see what lives and what decays.)

    Basically everything is recycled. I can’t think of anythings that’s not right at this minute — except maybe wire grass.

    Julie,
    I’m glad this was helpful.
    And yes, most of us can find 10 minutes. Makes it really easy and gets the job done.
    Let me know how you progress!
    Theresa

  • Toni Brock

    Well once again your gentle, patient motivation, and step by step direction has come at the perfect time. I have been battling that darn wire grass! Sometimes I just feel like crumpling down in the middle of it and crying like a baby!
    Bless you for picking me up 🙂

  • Theresa

    Tony, I know wire grass is a battle. BUT – but once you dig it out of a garden with permanent beds and paths you’ll never have to deal with it in the garden again. It’ll try to crawl into the edges, but when the edges are mulched heavily it’ll be a snap to keep it out.

    It’ll take me some time, but I hope to do a post with even more detail about getting the garden weed free. Once a garden is established it should not take more than about 5 minutes (if that much) each day or so to weed.

    I’m glad this post was encouraging to you. Hopefully the one I plan will be even more so.
    Thanks Toni, for letting me know your thoughts.
    Theresa

  • Theresa

    Don, friend and reader, wrote to me about this new bed. My post had not made it clear to him that this bed was still being prepared and that the only reason I had anything planted in it was just to see what the plants would do.
    (Fortunately, we had good rains and they did just fine.)

    To clarify further:

    This bed is far from ready to receive a lot of plants. It is NOT a prepared bed, but rather a bed in the process of being prepared by nature. It has a year or so to go before I would plant it like a garden bed.

    I wanted to put a plant or two in the bed just to see what they’d do. The tomatoes ended up there, because I didn’t have another place to put them, and I was mentally prepared to lose them if it came to that.

    The soil there is not the best and in order to achieve excellent results (especially with intensive planting) soil needs to be prepared deeply and have lots of organic matter – either by the gardener (right away for immediate planting) or by nature (over a longer period of time). Nature works slowly and since I just can’t do the work on this bed myself, I’m prepared to wait the time required and let her do it.

    I checked the soil yesterday when I planted fava beans (to enhance the soil, not to eat). The roots of the rye were totally decayed, and the soil looks better than it did at first, but certainly not ready for great success with intensive planting of crops.

    If anyone else has questions, please ask.
    Theresa

  • Toni Brock

    What signs will you look for to know its ready for more intensive planting?

  • Theresa

    Toni, I’ll look for it not to be as compacted as it is now; earthworms; more friable; can be easily loosened with a garden fork; and to some degree can be dug into with my gloved hand. Will look more like my garden soil.
    Theresa

  • I ignored the whole “10 minutes a day” part, and am now rethinking it. I have an area where I am planning to put in a <> mostly decorative bed around some power poles on my property that make it an ordeal to mow. I have been thinking about ways to kill the grass, too many lines to risk the tiller pulling up a line. But, maybe if I just devote 10 minutes a day to digging up a small section by hand, I can have it done by next spring in time to bring in some dirt, mulch and plan. Sometimes, I think I like thinking about the garden more than I do the actual gardening!

  • Theresa

    Kate, there are many times I much prefer thinking about the garden rather than actually gardening. That’s one of the reasons it’s so easy to order more seed than what I need. Thinking about planting and tending is so much easier than doing. 🙂

    I don’t know all the situation with your power lines, but I’d stay away from doing anything over and around power lines. As you said – it’s too chancy to till and I wonder if you can really dig deep enough to prepare the bed properly so you won’t have a lot of maintenance.
    (Bill uses the weed eater around our power poles.)
    Theresa

    Theresa

Leave a Reply

 

 

 

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>