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Home > Essentials of Gardening > Gardening Basics > Digging
Digging in Gardening
Digging in GardeningPlanning and digging your garden beds may seem simple at first, but there are several considerations. Location is one of the first things you should think about. Depending on the space you have available, and the structures and large objects around your property, your first goal should be to ask where is the sun hitting most.

Normally, the best sun will come from the eastern and southern directions. This is simply because the sun rises in the east. And many locations on the earth will not strictly adhere to this, but east facing is as good a point to start as any. Of course, there are many garden plants that do well in partially shady areas. If you`re growing vegetables, many prefer slightly colder temperatures and won`t perform well in heavy, direct sun. Lettuce is one example. Hot sun makes the plants bolt, and they become thin and will quickly go to seed.

After you`ve found a nice spot to dig your garden that gets eastern and southern sunshine take a moment to consider the location of trees around the area. Are there large shade trees to the east that will be blocking the morning sun as it comes up? You could be losing two or three hours of the best sun if that`s the case. Fill up you coffee mug and sit outside one morning. Watch how the sun moves. Most plants will need a good 10 hours or more of sunlight to perform well. Check the time and come back to the spot every hour or so to see just how much sunlight the area gets.

With your garden area selected, you then need to think about the manner in which you`ll be digging. Are you using a mechanical tiller or is this just a shovel job? One thing to keep in mind is that once the garden bed is dug, the less you actually get in there and turn that soil the better…both environmentally and in terms of labor. Many people only think of gardens as being in long, straight rows. Large machine oriented agriculture is done this way specifically to enable the machinery to plant and harvest the crop. A small personal garden does not have this need.

Digging the soil before you start planting is as important a part of gardening as any other. A suggested width is just under two arms lengths so that you will be able to tend the bed without stepping on it. This type of bed can be repeated to make multiple, linear planting beds. This series of pictures was taken as we prepared a bed in the early spring, once the winter cover crop had grown. The ground should be soft but not muddy. If you dig and the soil sticks to itself in big clods, wait until it dries a bit more, otherwise you will damage the structure of the soil. If you are digging a bed in the dry season, water the area well a couple of days before you make the bed to soften the soil.

Step 1: Measure and stake out the border of your plot. Begin by marking the edges of your bed. Use a piece of string tied between two stakes to use as a guideline. Do this around the border of the area which will be the bed so that you make a straight bed.

Step 2: Turn under the cover crop using digging forks

Working the depth of the digging fork, turn the cover crop (grown to improve the tilth and nutrient composition of the soil) or weeds (good for adding organic matter to the soil) under. Ensure that the roots are broken up and the soil is aerated-- this will help the plant matter break down more quickly so that you can plant sooner!

Step 3: Dig a one-foot path on each side of the bed using a shovel

Using the stakes as a guide, use a shovel to dig a path one foot wide on each side of your garden bed. Put the soil and cover crop/weeds that you dig up from the path onto the bed. The path should be approximately the depth of a shovel

Step 4: Fill the path with mulch

Use an organic mulch that is readily available to you and that will break down fairly quickly. Try leaves, rice hulls, straw, wood chips, etc. As you weed and pull up spent plants throughout the growing season, toss them into the path. They will break down in the mulch, and then next year you will throw all this nice, broken-down organic matter from the path into your garden bed!

Fill the path trench up to the soil surface with your mulch material.

Step 5: Hoe the garden bed
Use a digging hoe to hoe the garden bed. Your goal is to break up any clods, and the roots of the cover crop/weeds.

Step 6: Wait about 2-3 weeks, then plant!

Then wait until the plant material has been broken down by soil microorganisms and macroorganisms. If the weather is wet, there will be sufficient soil moisture for the organisms.If the weather is dry, water the bed to keep it moist,not soggy. This will take a couple of weeks.In the meantime, get your plants, seed, and bulbs ready to plant! Once there is not any or not much intact plant matter, hoe the bed, adding 1 inch of compost. Then tenderly plant your transplants, seeds, and bulbs!
• Planning• Choice of Plants• Soil Preparation
• Testing and Tilling ..• Soil Amendments• Procurement of Plant..
• Planting Techniques• Planting Techniques ..• Types of Soil
• Digging
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