Garden · How-To

I have done battle… with dirt

I recognize not everyone has strongly held opinions about soil. I wasn’t even aware that I had a strongly held opinion about soil until this past year, until I had this aha moment after spending almost an entire growing season ignoring one of my raised garden beds.

The bed in question

It’s the end of summer (okay, mid Fall, you caught me) and I STILL haven’t pulled the very dead, very gross tomato plants out. Or condemned to the compost the six-cell of okra seedlings I meant to plant in July but didn’t. My mother finally called me out because Mom-powers: “Jacquelyn, what is going on with this garden bed? Is there something wrong with it?” OMG YES. YES THERE IS.

It’s the DIRT. I loathe it. I detest it. I try to do anything in that bed and my trowel goes in about an inch before it just stops. All of my other garden beds are nice and soft and fluffy and are an unmitigated joy in which to be a frolicking plant fairy. But this bed; oh no. It’s like a Mordor of clay and rocks and RAGE.

*deep breath*

Hokay, so that was helpful to understand. This dumb dirt needs to go, even if it’s a dumb amount of work to empty the soil out of the near entirety of a dumb 4 foot by 12 foot raised bed. Wah! Some people would have just lived with it and made the best but NO.

First I try to use a standard hoe to break up the obnoxious clay clods, but it’s so long that I’m overly wary of accidentally clipping the wood sides. Next I try the shovel, but the angles are all wrong. So I get out my Precious: my bachi hand hoe.    

Hello, my beauties!

I could sing the praises of this tool and its compatriot, the hori hori, ad nauseum. Alas, no one really needs to hear my bad poetry about gardening implements so suffice to say: these are the workhorses of my garden tool belt. They proved their worth yet again because I had to saw -SAW- through some of this dirt.

This is not how normal soil works.

Three afternoons later, not even close to consecutive because life and weather, I finally get the bed mostly empty. I’ve left the two lavenders alone and everything else came OUT; summarily distributed somewhere else in the yard where I don’t have to dig regularly. The babe even “helped” one afternoon.

He didn’t stay this clean for long.

Now for the filling part of this process. I prescribe to the three-part-soil method, partially from what I learned with this whole escapade. Essentially, I don’t use topsoil from a bag but instead mix compost, vermiculite, and peat moss together. It makes fantastic planting medium, but it’s alternately slimy, dusty, and heavy as all get out.

Not sand, I promise. Vermiculite!

After wrenching my arms out of my shoulder sockets and using pretty much every garden tool I own, I finally have all the components more or less mixed evenly together. I plant cover crops (vetch, alfalfa, sweet pea, barley, etc) to help the chunky bits of compost break down a bit more before I plant the edible plants for summer harvest. That is, if I manage to turn the cover crop over on time. And start those vegetable seeds soon…

Or maybe it will just look like I’m growing a raised bed for grazing the goats I don’t own.


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