16 Tons and What Do You Get? Double-Digging

Double-Digging (just kidding, its really a chain gang; hard to tell the difference)

Double-Digging (just kidding, its really a chain gang; hard to tell the difference)

Double-Digging. For those of you not quite familiar with double-digging, let me fill you in. Double-digging is a dirty, sweaty, tiring, backbreaking way to prepare your garden bed for planting. I hate thinking about it, I hate writing about it and I hate actually doing it. I don’t know anybody that looks forward to double-digging (if you’re that one person out there. . . shhhhh, I don’t want to hear it; there’s something wrong with you).

So, why subject yourself to such torture? The Yield. The yield from double digging can be significant. The Royal Horticulture Society in England has stated that from their experience, double-digging makes a significant difference in crop growth, yields and health of soil. Double-digging can improve the aeration of the soil, facilitate root penetration, and is recommended for deep-rooting crops.

According to Organic Gardening,

“when done properly, double-digging can enhance the soil environment, and even support microbes and mycorrhizal threads that feed root systems by providing the air they need. The soil is never turned in the double-digging process, only loosened and slid forward off the shovel to insure that the soil strata are mixed as little as possible. That is only in the upper 12 inches. The 12 inches below that are just loosened with a garden fork. The digging board used in the process distributes any weight so as to avoid creating compaction. This is all designed to be very low impact for the soil environment.”

However, there is a split over whether double-digging is the way to go at all. There are some experts that don’t like it at all, but then there are those such as John Jeavons, the guru of bio-intensive gardening, that believe that double digging is the best approach in preparing your soil for growing. As for anecdotal evidence, I know that last year, where I live, the Contra Costa Master Gardeners took an empty lot, and following Jeavons’ methods, double-dug numerous beds and turned the lot into a thriving demonstration garden, that now donates almost 3,000 pounds of produce to a local food bank.

So, here’s the bottom line, if you have pretty good soil to begin with; it drains well, is friable (meaning, easily crumbles in your hand), and contains some nice organic matter, double-digging is not the way to go.

But, if you have crappy soil, or a portion of your lawn that you want to turn into a garden bed, don’t want to put in raised beds, but want to grow some deep rooting vegetables, and resources are limited (oh, and you really want some hard exercise) then you might want to consider double-digging as an option.

There are numerous posts and videos out there that go into more detail about double-digging, but here’s short video that will give you an idea of what is entailed, so you can decide for yourself.

Next up, Other Options I like better. . .