Throughout winter I have taken four groups of our woofers to my 9m x 15m garden plot which sits next to the Kerikeri Community gardens. The garden bed has been double dug with sheep manure from the neighbours shearing shed, untreated sawdust from a local mill dragged out by moi via a wheelbarrow and trailer. While I did the lugging, our three boys looked on at the family happily living in a bus next door; thanking their stars that their mother is not prepared to live ‘that’ off the grid.
Double digging is a great idea for an in ground garden which I will go into detail in just a moment. Raised layered gardens should never be dug in this way once they are established. For a raised layered garden, new carbon and nitrogen layers must be added to the top of the bed along with a small amount of organic compost before planting out spring seedlings. For a double dug garden, early spring is the time to get carbon and nitrogen (sawdust and manure is best for this) into the soil. My plot next to the community garden with its bare earth canvas is the perfect place to share more about how to do this age old method of gardening. The work is a bit back breaking, but if you’re after a fit summer bod then this method will suit you.
Before I go on though, I must share what else has been keeping me busy while hubby has been working away from home during the week. Typical me, as if my own gardens are not enough, I’ve found and become involved in a great initiative called The House Of FINKK (families in need of Kindness Kerikeri); the founder and established New Zealand artist Monika Welch, has tirelessly supported families in need for the past two years by collecting donations of food and clothes then delivering them to support at risk families who are trying to get their lives on track. It got my volunteer itch going and during the last several weeks, I and others of influence in their given gifts, have teamed up to teach those in need how to live a little healthier and more self sufficiently. I know what a great idea! So with spades and forks wielding, a new garden plot which sits right next to mine at the community gardens is sited especially for FINKK families. Poo from my horsey and a few extra loads of sawdust has been making its way to The FINKK plot and is ready for them to get double digging. As the season goes they will learn how to grow their own food by working next to me. Oh it feels so good! We’ve had seeds donated which in a wee class with some of them have been sown ready for October planting. Spuds, Maori potatoes and yams are sprouted and due to go in now. I’m super excited can’t you tell?
Double digging for a vegetable garden is only suitable for soil that is not comprised of clay. All clay soil should have raised layered gardens on top of them in my opinion. I have tried with clay soil and the work is not worth the yield. Clay is too clumpy and sodden to work the double digging method, even when a fair amount of gypsum is added. If you don’t have clay soil then double digging will work for you.
Once your free draining soil is dry enough you are ready to work new matter in. My mother tells me that every early spring at their Masterton home, my Grandfather and Grandmother dug in 10cm thick of both sawdust and sheep or horse manure and their produce was generous enough for all the family vegetables to be harvested from home.
Firstly clear the grass in a site that has at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. Clearing grass organically can be done by either covering the area with plastic for the entire winter, spraying with organic weedkiller from Kiwicare available at your local Palmers, or the top layer of grass can be dug off (excavated) now it is spring. Grass that has been excavated can be stored out of the way and covered with plastic over summer so that next spring, will be ready to return to the garden site since the weeds and grass would have been suffocated and rotted down.
Your bare garden area should be of a size that each side can easily be reached without treading all over the bed to harvest food 1.5 meters wide and how ever long you wish is ideal, the primary idea is that you have easy access down both sides. Since I have such a huge rectangular garden, I like to lay timber planks as small pathways down rows so my weight is dispersed so as not to kill off all of the microbial activity beneath my feet.
- Starting from one end and being aware not to tred over the newly dug area, dig a trench down the length of your garden edge. The trench is best dug to a spade width and spade depth (approximately 20cm x 30cm).
- Fill this dug trench with 5cm of horse or sheep manure and 5cm of sawdust and any food scraps you have access to. Much like a raised layered garden, I suggest a trip to your local green grocer for food scraps from their veggie trimmings will be worthwhile.
- Backfill the trench with the soil you removed and top a small amount of sawdust and manure and dig into the top 10cm of this now mounded soil.
- Working backwards and being careful to not step on the newly dug garden trench, keep digging new trenches, filling and backfilling until the whole garden area is ‘double dug’ in this way.
- Lay down timber pathways 1.5 meters apart if your garden size requires and then walk down your isles, spreading one handful per square meter of dolomite lime to the garden bed then water in well.
- Plant out each of your seedlings into two handfuls of good quality organic compost dug into each planting hole. Sprinkle a teaspoon of blood and bone around the drip line of each plant and mulch the garden bed with pea hay or lucerne hay.