Thursday, October 2, 2008

Leaf Bin and Double Digging

I didn't sleep well last night, and woke up tired this morning. So what did I do? I spent a couple hours in the garden doing chores that I had been putting off all week. You'd think I'd pick a day when I had energy, but nope. At least it was a pretty morning out - finally.

First the compost piles needed some work and the hose there needed to be put away for the winter. But the big part there was setting up for the fall leaves. My landscaping service is very nice about saving my own grass clippings, but recently a lot of the mowing has been just mowing up the leaves. I don't need them in the compost pile yet. I want to save them for next year when I get more grass, aka nitrogen.

So I rescued my old huge wire bin out in the back which is maybe 10' in diameter. A small tree was growing up between a mesh square. In fact some of the trunk had grown around the mesh. So I got out my clippers and took out that portion of mesh. It still seemed quite serviceable. I attached one end to a short sapling that had been cut off, and on the other side I wrapped the mesh around another sapling. This left a wide gap that they can blow the leaves into. Then I made a sign so they would know where things went.

Then I had the big chore - finish double digging the garlic and onion bed. Everyone has their own way of double digging. But here is how I do it. I take one shovel's width of the top layer of soil out of the bed, saved to the side for later. Some people go down 6" (15cm), some go down a foot (30cm), but I go down the depth of the top soil. Usually there is a pretty distinct dividing line between the topsoil (nice dark dirt full of humus) and the sub soil (light brown and tending to rocky), at least in my area. This part of the garden hasn't had compost added in years, so the topsoil is thinner than the rest of my garden, maybe 6" (15cm) deep.

After the topsoil has been removed, I fork the subsoil up all the way to the top of the fork. I don't turn it over but keep the soil structure intact. I'm just letting air into the soil and getting out the bigger rocks. And since this area was covered in hostas for a while and not amended, I added 3" (7cm) of compost right above the subsoil.

Then I do the next shovel width of bed by taking the top soil and putting it on top of the compost from the last row. Some people say to try to keep the top of the soil on top and the bottom on the bottom, ie when moving the soil over, don't turn it over. But I don't worry. Since I'm not actually turn over subsoil (usually a little always gets in), I just don't worry about that.Continue in this fashion until the end of the bed. Then take the top soil from the first row and put it in the last row. Then I rake it all down.

My bed had a lot of roots in it. The maple tree is close and the perennial border is just on the other side of the fence. So I tried to rake out most of the roots that I dug up. I wanted to amend the soil with lime, greensand and bonemeal, but it was so windy today. I'll have to wait for a nice calm day, so it doesn't blow away.

The bed looks a little funky. I lined the path side with bricks on edge to keep in the soil. It is 32" wide at one end and about 24" wide at the other. So the brick path is not straight like the back of the bed. I did this because the path there was a little bit wavy and I wanted at least 18" to walk and still have the largest growing area possible. If I ever make the other side straight I'll straighten this side out too.

And wow double digging is a lot of work. I remember the first year I had this garden. I had the fence put in the fall. Then I collected bags of leaves found along the roadside. I filled the fence area in with about a foot of leaves. I figured this would smoother the grass over the winter. It did a pretty good job. Then that next spring I set up the paths and beds, and double dug all of the beds. After 16 years I'd forgotten all the pain of double digging. Or maybe it is just my age catching up with me.


  1. Double digging is hard!!! Gardening keeps you young :-) Keep saying it and you will come to believe it.

    I'm going to make an effort this year to collect leaves from my neighbors. I never have enough leafmold or compost, so time to expand my efforts.

  2. Thanks for the detailed post. I have double-dug (after which I was doubled-over!) but not with such scientific accuracy. But it's the only way to get good root crops or anything else that requires looser soil. What I really need to do is remove my clay underlayer, but that's more work than I can handle at this point!

  3. LOL Yup if I keep telling myself it will keep me young, I will be more inclined to do it.

    Karen, I find my clay much more productive than the soil in my last yard. My first yard was all sand. So clay isn't altogether bad. Just a pain to dig up and it requires so much organic matter to keep it from cracking. Luckily here in suburbia, there are plenty of free leaves had for the hauling. Most people don't know what gold they are giving away.