Preparing the Garden

The Hunt

Preparing the Garden

Last fall I was lucky enough to get myself a plot in one of the Boulder Community Gardens. I’d heard since I moved here that the waitlist was enormous, but I was only on it for a few weeks before I got the call.

It is a 400 square foot plot, large enough (according to the internet) to feed two people if managed properly. I inherited a plot in pretty good condition. There were a handful of trimmed down woody shrubs that needed to be dug out, but overall it wasn’t too bad. Plus it came with one raised bed already installed and a whole mess of bricks and decorative rocks.

Given that it was a new piece of ground for me I thought it would be wise to really till it up. I don’t have any idea how the person before me managed their soil, so I wanted to get to know my dirt a bit and have an opportunity to amend it with a bit of compost and green manure. And for some reason I decided to do this all by hand.

I used the double-digging technique, which is very simple. You dig a ditch around 8” deep along the length of your plot, piling the soil to the side. Once that’s done you dig another ditch right next to the first and toss the new soil into your first ditch. And repeat.

The soil in my garden is a little on the clay side, so I also spent a lot of time breaking up big clods of dirt with a gardening fork. You want to ensure that you have loose, fluffy soil and that your green material gets turned under and integrated into the soil.

Once that was all done (about five hours of digging later), I decided to test out a technique I read about recently. My garden was quite full of weeds when I started work this spring, and turning the soil does a good job of killing those, but it also exposes lots of dormant seeds to germinating conditions.

I gave the freshly turned soil a good soaking and then covered it with a layer of black plastic sheeting. The idea here is that by sealing in the moisture and attracting a bit of extra heat with the black plastic we are creating optimal conditions for weeds to germinate. But, once they do, they won’t have any light for a couple weeks and will die in the too dark and too moist conditions.

I don’t know how well it is going to work, but it seems like it could be an elegant solution to dealing with weeds. It is also good for making me feel like I’m doing something productive in the garden during the last couple weeks until it seems safe to start planting out. I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

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