User avatar
iangagn
Full Member
Posts: 16
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2012 6:48 am
Location: Canada

Preparing the soil: how much compost, how deep, etc.

Hello everyone,

As I have mentioned in an earlier post, I have a piece of land on which there used to be a standing pool before and so the soil is pretty dense underneath now. When the snow cover disappears, I will have to break it up and add some compost so that I can bring it back to life and hopefully it will yield some decent vegetables.

How deep should I plow in order to get the best results? I've looked it up in a few books and on a couple of websites, but nothing beats practical knowledge.

Also, are there any rules of thumb that I should know before adding compost? I really want to make sure that I don't add too much --or not enough-- of the good stuff.

Merry Christmas,
*** Gearing up for his first growing season! ***

User avatar
rainbowgardener
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 25303
Joined: Sun Feb 15, 2009 11:04 pm
Location: TN/GA 7b

I can't give you any exact answers, but there's hardly any such thing as too much compost. If it is finished compost, you can't burn your plants with it as you could with synthetics. Lots of plants will happily grow right out of your compost pile.

And given that your ground was compacted, probably the deeper you can till it the better. If you have time and energy for it, look up double-digging or French intensive gardening. But that is all manual work.
Twitter account I manage for local Sierra Club: https://twitter.com/CherokeeGroupSC Facebook page I manage for them: https://www.facebook.com/groups/65310596576/ Come and find me and lots of great information, inspiration

User avatar
iangagn
Full Member
Posts: 16
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2012 6:48 am
Location: Canada

Oh, right, I was thinking in "synthetic" terms, I should've guessed that one! :lol:

I will do my homework and look into double-digging and French intensive gardening, thanks!
Last edited by iangagn on Mon Dec 24, 2012 2:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
*** Gearing up for his first growing season! ***

Dillbert
Greener Thumb
Posts: 955
Joined: Sun Apr 04, 2010 7:29 pm
Location: Central PA

as mentioned, very difficult to "over do" the compost.

compost is organic matter - it "rots" - it becomes reduced to near nothing in a "by weight" relationship.

I've done a couple gardens starting with heavy clay soil. my "trick" was to till to maximum depth - typically 4-6 inches using a "tiller"

then, using a shovel and lots of backbreaking work, move the tilled dirt off to the side.

then apply more compost (mushroom soil in my case) to the "un-tilled" area, till that in. this is a mechanized approach to "double digging"

not something that is accomplished "instantly" - but working the soil over 2-3 years at 90 degree directions, eventually I got to a garden with essentially flour like fluffy soil to a depth of roughly 12 inches.

you must have a plan - a drawing & record of what was done "last" - so you can "stagger" the "double tilling" effort

it's a lot of work and attention to detail, but very well worth the effort.

User avatar
iangagn
Full Member
Posts: 16
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2012 6:48 am
Location: Canada

oops
Last edited by iangagn on Mon Dec 24, 2012 2:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
*** Gearing up for his first growing season! ***

User avatar
iangagn
Full Member
Posts: 16
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2012 6:48 am
Location: Canada

I hadn't thought about the freeze-thaw cycle, how neat! I still think I will be following the "Biointensive Gardening" principles though. Here's what I found:

https://youtu.be/NUp8XOsA2q4
https://youtu.be/1BTwQyNtpaE

Also, I will probably do without buying any gardening books since there is so much free information on the internet. I will definitely post pictures when the time comes.

Merry Christmas!
*** Gearing up for his first growing season! ***

cynthia_h
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 7501
Joined: Tue May 06, 2008 11:02 pm
Location: El Cerrito, CA

Jeavons is a good source; when people ask where to start with veggie gardening, he's always one of my top three authors. His How to Grow More Vegetables book contains *almost* everything you'd ever want to know on double-digging, planting/inter-planting spaces, succession planting, scaling up from 100 sq. ft. the first year to 200 sq. ft. the second year, etc., and incorporating permanent fruit/nut trees. I haven't purchased the DVDs, since I'm more a "curl up in bed/in a chair with a book" type or even "take it outdoors with you" type, but the Grow Biointensive DVDs are also available on Jeavons's website.

His numerical charts, as provided in the book, are not available on the Internet, so far as I know, but the videos are certainly helpful! :D

Cynthia H.
Sunset Zone 17, USDA Zone 9

User avatar
BluesJay
Full Member
Posts: 11
Joined: Fri Dec 14, 2012 7:28 pm
Location: Citrus Heights

another idea

Putting in raised beds would be another way to go. You'd get more bang for your buck this way if you don't have that much compost. I like the idea of loosening up the soil with a fork, I've heard that when you turn the soil over it doesn't do the micro environment much good. Used a tiller but gave it away and went to raised beds a few years back. Raised beds really help if you're an older gardener(like me), just watching those two dig on that video gave me a backache :wink:

User avatar
iangagn
Full Member
Posts: 16
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2012 6:48 am
Location: Canada

I was thinking of gardening in raised beds, but what made me change my mind is that I would have to purchase more soil for the same amount of compost. Also, I would have to buy wood to build the beds themselves and replace all of them eventually. Moreover, I would like to teach my friends to garden once I get the hang of it and so I think that the idea of just working with a bare patch of ground might be more appealing to them than building big boxes out of wood and all.

P.S. I might just pick up a copy of Jeavon's book after all, who knows?
*** Gearing up for his first growing season! ***

User avatar
iangagn
Full Member
Posts: 16
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2012 6:48 am
Location: Canada

oops
Last edited by iangagn on Tue Dec 25, 2012 7:19 am, edited 1 time in total.
*** Gearing up for his first growing season! ***

User avatar
rainbowgardener
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 25303
Joined: Sun Feb 15, 2009 11:04 pm
Location: TN/GA 7b

There are some advantages to raised beds. It's an easier way to get the depth of loosened soil that double digging is going for and really helps with drainage etc. But it can be done without boxing it in.

Just lay out what are your beds and what are your paths. Now dig down your paths at least six inches, piling the dug out dirt from the path onto the beds (or in this case maybe raised wide rows).

Here's a little article about what I mean:

https://www.growingvegetablegardens.com/ ... _rows.html

Especially since your ground has been compacted, you do need to start by tilling, which is also the time to mix in all the compost and other organic materials. Then do the digging and piling on to the tilled ground. After it's all built, you may never have to till again.

Your raised wide rows can then be totally planted.

Note the article mentions having your soil tested. You really need to do this, to find out what you should be adding.

I know all this sounds like a lot of work, but you are laying the foundation for years of gardening. Your garden is only as good as your soil and there's really no way to cheat. You can't dump a bunch of Miracle-Gro on top of bad soil and think you've made it good, not the same at all.

Just for a little more quick reading, here's a thread where Scott, The Helpful Gardener himself, talks about raised rows.

https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/v ... hp?t=32655
Twitter account I manage for local Sierra Club: https://twitter.com/CherokeeGroupSC Facebook page I manage for them: https://www.facebook.com/groups/65310596576/ Come and find me and lots of great information, inspiration

User avatar
iangagn
Full Member
Posts: 16
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2012 6:48 am
Location: Canada

Thank you rainbowgardener, I will try both and judge by result. Soil analysis is dirt (hehe) cheap and it is readily available in my region so I'm going to do it before doing my thing with the compost and all.

I will set up two garden beds, one on the bare ground and the other will be raised, I'll divide the plants equally between them and then carefully measure temperatures, humidity levels and so forth throughout the growing season. I'm still going to prepare the ground underneath though, since it's practically rock hard.
*** Gearing up for his first growing season! ***

DoubleDogFarm
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 6113
Joined: Mon Mar 29, 2010 3:43 am

I removed. The video was on worm composting. Maybe a little off topic.

Eric

cynthia_h
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 7501
Joined: Tue May 06, 2008 11:02 pm
Location: El Cerrito, CA

DoubleDogFarm wrote:I removed. The video was on worm composting. Maybe a little off topic.

Eric
No reason not to start a new thread, though; worm composting is its own worthy subject. :)

To the OP: Whether or not to use raised beds often depends on how much land you have available. In my case, I have 96 sq feet (108 in an excellent year), or approx. 9.5 to 10 sq. meters. The closer planting spaces available in a raised bed make a huge difference for me.

But people who can use Jeavons's double-digging methods in-ground can reap even larger harvests, so if you have the space, I'd encourage you to continue reading up/checking up on those techniques. :)

Cynthia

User avatar
Jardin du Fort
Senior Member
Posts: 243
Joined: Thu Dec 13, 2012 7:59 pm
Location: Fort Wayne, IN

Raised beds

Raised beds come in all types. The basic idea is to use "bed" gardening rather than "row" gardening, and then to elevate the "bed" above the surrounding ground. That elevating can be anything from a few inches to a few feet. For the minimally raised bed, a containing framework may not even be needed, just a rounding up of the bed above the paths between/around them. For the handicapped gardener confined to a wheelchair, I have seen beds raised to 2' or more.

Double-digging tends to elevate the soil all by itself, because it "fluffs" the soil. You can get more elevation by moving the good soil from the paths to the beds. If you do this, then plan on putting something on the paths so they don't become mud holes. Straw, grass clippings, leaves, newspapers all work. My last three gardens I used plywood scraps and stakes to elevate the beds about 8-9" above the paths. I double dug, but never did get around to adding compost on the first two. The third one I grew some green manure, and the soil was very fertile, but I ended up working a lot of overtime that year and the garden went to weeds! :cry:

IF you are in a desert area, the converse is useful, i.e. a LOWERED bed. Double dig for the benefit of the roots, but remove some from the beds to elevate the paths, so that the beds benefit from collecting rainfall from the surrounding area.

User avatar
iangagn
Full Member
Posts: 16
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2012 6:48 am
Location: Canada

I've looked up worm composting and I'll probably include it in my world domination plan for this summer. I don't want to put too much on my plate though, else I might just not accomplish anything. I want to set up a rainwater collector, grow a garden and start composting all at the same time so I'll have to cut the right corners so as not to botch anything.

Thanks for everything all!
*** Gearing up for his first growing season! ***

User avatar
rainbowgardener
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 25303
Joined: Sun Feb 15, 2009 11:04 pm
Location: TN/GA 7b

I totally agree about starting small, so as not to overwhelm yourself. I don't know if you have said how big an area you are talking about. If you take on too much and can't keep up with it and it all goes to weeds, you will just frustrate yourself and not want to do it again. Two or three 8 x 4' bed areas (whether raised or not) would really be plenty to start with while you are getting everything set up and going and learning what you are doing. If it goes well, you can keep adding to it in subsequent seasons.
Twitter account I manage for local Sierra Club: https://twitter.com/CherokeeGroupSC Facebook page I manage for them: https://www.facebook.com/groups/65310596576/ Come and find me and lots of great information, inspiration

cynthia_h
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 7501
Joined: Tue May 06, 2008 11:02 pm
Location: El Cerrito, CA

What Rainbow said. Jeavons recommends that the first-year gardener try for no more than 100 sq. feet (9 or so sq. m) of cultivated area. It may not seem like much right now, but when added to work, household obligations, that rain collector, and the composting start-up, will be enough to keep you very busy. :)

Start small, get some skills under your belt, and then expand that world-domination plan. :twisted: (A phrase which, BTW, I love!)

Cynthia

Return to “Organic Gardening Forum”