One Lesson Learned from Double Digging: It Works!
As you may have already read, I spent a heap of time this spring double digging our garden beds. Following John Jeavons’ techniques (described in “How to Grow More Vegetables”), I mixed wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of homemade compost deep into the soil. Although I never got the six-pack abs that I had hoped to gain from all of the upper-body exercise, I’m happy to report that the work itself has paid off.
Having just gotten back from a 12-day trip (my 25th high school reunion, the 2nd Annual Slow Money Conference, and my sister’s fantastic Buddhist wedding) in northern New England, one thing is clear. Double digging works! Plants in the the double-dug beds are now twice the size of the plants we planted in the other beds (which got soil amending with the same homemade compost but were not double dug to a depth of 24”). Tonight we feasted on a garden-grown dinner: tomato, cilantro, and scallion omelet coupled with huge sides of luscious chard and fortifying kale.
Tomorrow, the first of three 30-yard loads of Soilutions’ compost will be delivered to a job site down the street where we will be doing the mechanized version of double digging. With a little help from a backhoe, we will begin the transformation of one terribly compacted dirt-and-gravel parking lot into a lush, forested landscape. Unlike our food-producing veggies, the plant material we will plant in this 24”-deep soil mixture will screen a neighboring church and a busy city intersection (with 16’ to 18’-tall trees) while it simultaneously provides shade, wind protection, beauty, and comfort for my clients.
Although the end results are different, the basic concept of each digging process, its lesson, is the same: Mix organic material thoroughly and deeply into the top two feet of existing soil in order to bring the land
back to life and, ultimately, to regenerate the local watershed for generations to come.
Chicken-Coop Addition Provides Shade, Curb Appeal
We had various vague notions as to how to proceed with our months-long goal of increasing the size of our chicken coop. In the end, we wanted to create an almost invisible fenced area under an existing evergreen tree right outside our chickens’ 110 sq. ft. abode. Whenever we let the chickens range free, if they were not in our compost pile, they were typically kicking around under this one tree next to their coop, a tree that we can easily see from many parts of our backyard. If successful, the project would not only add 50% more square feet to the coop, but it would also do so in a visually appealing way. Just as the functionality of our backyard is paramount, aesthetics are equally supreme for us—in part because we do not see the sustainability movement happening if it is seen as anything other than beautiful.
Today, my four-year old and I started by moving fencing materials out to the northwest corner of the backyard. As soon as I got there, I immediately rejected a plan I’d been leaning toward and started sketching (in the dirt) an even-more-round-about plan. Finally settling on the direct route that I had rejected weeks ago, we got to work using only found materials. (This is one of the times that it really helps to be involved in the landscaping industry. We always have all sorts of scrap fencing materials stashed somewhere, begging to be used.)
After lining out the basic structure and getting the project half-way up so Melissa could see it and grant us her official aesthetic approval, we proceeded to bust out the job in a couple of hours (And the ladies only escaped once!). As the sun was getting ready to set, we let our hens explore their highly improved digs. Given the way that they enthusiastically scratched and found all sorts of good things to eat, we could tell that they loved their new scene. But it was late and chickens are as groggy at nightfall as high school students are at dawn, so we encouraged them to retire to their bedroom. This they did grudgingly but somehow, too, they hit the hay, in their own goofy-chicken way, gorgeously.