As Tom put it, it’s better to dig a $5 hole and put in a $1 plant than to dig a $1 hole and put in a $5 plant. And so we double dug. Actually, Tom did the digging while I did a lot of weeding.
An important component to organic gardening, veganic or not, is to create a sustainable source of food for your soil. Yes, your SOIL. You want to feed your soil first because a healthy, well fed soil provides sustenance for the microorganisms living in it who will in turn feed your plants. Do you see the cycle of sustainability we’re creating here? Chemical fertilizers (and products like Miracle Grow’s plant food) feed the plant but not the soil, and then the microorganisms do not have the nourishment they need and die out…creating a bed of worthless dirt in which nothing will grow. When microorganisms feast, they break down part of that soil-food into a something that plants love to eat. The other part is then transformed into “humus” (not to be confused with hummus, a delectable little spread from the Middle East) which improves water retention and lessens the leaching of nutrients. Are you still with me? Good, because there’s one last point: the more microorganisms moving through your soil, the more tunnels you have which allows for better aeration and drainage, and, you guessed it, allows for more movement of nutrients within the soil. Whew…there’s the science lesson for you for the week. Food-soil + microorganisms = a good gardening environment!
For veganic gardening, there are several ways you can feed your soil: mulch, crop rotation, veggie compost, and this thing called “green manure.” Green manure is nothing more than weeds. Weeds, weeds, and lots of weeds. And true to it’s name, you want to make sure that your weeds are, quite literally, green. That means picking them and then immediately using them. If you let your green weeds dry out (and basically turn into hay), you’ve just kissed all those wonderful nutrients bye, bye, bye. So don’t do that. Pick your weeds and then get ready to use them ASAP.
So why did we go with green manure as our primary fertilizer at this point? Quite honestly, I would have loved to use a veggie compost too but I haven’t started composting yet! But we will be using a mulch (from organic matter in my front yard) as our final top layer and not only does Tom already have crop rotation planned for me, but he’s also got me growing certain kinds of plants first in order to beef up (so to speak) the nutrients in our soil (more on that later).
Once Tom and I gathered up a hefty amount of green manure, Tom started in on digging the actual garden plot using the “double digging” method. First, he took about a foot or so of top soil off, which he kept in the black containers pictured above. Then, he dug out the next two feet of what’s called subsoil, which we piled up on the driveway. Why keep these two soils separate? Because each layer of soil has different nutrients in it and we wanted to evenly disperse those nutrients throughout the bed as we layer everything (soil and green manure) back into the plot. Double digging is better than tilling your garden for two important reasons: 1) with tilling, microorganisms are suddenly buried or brought to the surface (causing kill off) and 2) double digging allows you to loosen the soil under your subsoil. This creates more air and space for your microorganisms to move around in as well as making it easier for your root veggies (like carrots and beets) to grow uninhibitedly. Double digging is something you should do when starting any type of garden, not just a veganic one.
So to repeat, your $5 hole starts out like this:
1) collect your green manure
2) remove first foot of top soil
3) remove next two feet of subsoil (keep separate from top soil)
4) loosen (but don't dig out or turn over) the bottom layer of your plot.
And there you have it—a lovely plan in place to feed our soil in a sustainable, organic, veganic way…no poop necessary (except for what is created by the earthworms). Our next steps are to encase the plot with chicken wire (to keep the gophers out) and then layer in the dirt and green manure. Stay tuned for that post!