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Double-dig garden beds are something new to my wife and I. We came across this popular gardening concept just recently (late winter of 2019-2020) and decided to try it out.
If you’re interested in learning how to create double-dig garden beds for your garden, we’ll show you how, step-by-step, below.
Using the Proper Tools for Double-Dig Garden Bed Building
Before making your first attempt at double-dig garden beds, take a moment to take inventory of a few tools that you’ll need in order to get the job done properly.
Essential tools for building double-dig garden beds include:
- Shovel or spade
- Stakes and strings
- Measuring tape (or sticks)
- Wheelbarrow or buckets
- Pitchfork or broadfork
The above-mentioned tools are by no means a required tool list, rather they are suggested.
It is quite possible to build crude double-dig beds with little more than a shovel, though more time and strength may be necessary for such scenarios.
Steps to Creating a Double-Dig Garden Bed
Building double-dig garden beds isn’t the most complicated task when it comes right down to it.
But, it will take a bit of planning, as well as physical strength (and endurance if you’re planning on particularly large beds) to get the job done properly.
Here are a few easy steps to creating a double-dig garden bed:
1. Select the location carefully
The first step to building any garden beds is to select the proper location. With care, take note of where the sun rises, shines throughout the day, and sets, in regards to possible bed locations on your property.
After you select the best locations possible, double-check that they receive enough sun, or shade (necessary for your specific crops) throughout the day. Take into account that the sun shifts its position in the sky during the seasons as well.
2. Properly measure and mark your bed(s)
When you’re sure about where your beds will be, take a measuring tape, yardstick, or whatever it is you’re using for measurements, and then put stakes at the proper lengths and widths that you desire.
Once your four corners are staked off you’re ready to wrap them with string, cord, or rope. When you’ve staked and marked your beds with string, it’s time for you to start digging.
3. Remove the sod with a shovel (or spade)
The top layer of the ground is commonly referred to as sod, the layer of your yard that has grass, weeds, and all of their roots, packed into several inches or centimeters of dirt.
With a spade or shovel break up the top layer of your yard and remove it, grass, roots, dirt, and all. If possible, do this in sizable chunks. You’ll need these sod chunks in order to complete the bed builds.
Place these chunks of sod into a wheelbarrow, or merely to the side of where you’re digging. Be sure to remove as many visible perennial roots as possible.
4. Remove another layer of dirt and separate it from the sod
After the sod is removed from your marked beds, you’ll start to see them take form. Now you need to remove another shovel’s depth or so of dirt from the beds. Keep in mind your ideal bed depth in mind and dig accordingly.
We chose a depth of around half a meter (not including the depth of the pitchfork and aerating – which adds another 20 to 30 cm.) for our first dozen double-dig garden beds.
As you remove the dirt from your beds, keep it separate from the large chunks of sod that have already been removed from the beds and cleaned of perennial roots. You can use a tarp, or plastic sheets, to place the dirt on or use a wheelbarrow or buckets as well.
5. Use a pitchfork to penetrate and aerate the ground even further
Once the dirt and sod are dug from the bed and respectively stored, use a pitchfork, broadfork, or similar tool, and break and penetrate the bottom of the bed.
This is known as aerating by hand and is done by simply inserting the tool straight into the earth as far as possible and slightly rocking them back and forward and side to side.
Aerating allows your top layers of soil to receive more oxygen and drain better as well, which is a major plus for permanent garden beds. That said, even if you plan to purchase soil for your garden beds, aerating the bottoms of your beds is a pro move.
When your beds have been aerated you want to begin avoiding to step directing on them. This is exactly why we designed our beds to be anywhere between 55 cm. and 80 cm., so we can easily step over or straddle them as needed.
6. Replace the sod and remove perennial roots
Continue to avoid stepping into your new double-dig bed at this point. Place the removed-sod back into the bed, upside down. As you go, make sure that you’re still looking out for perennial roots and bulbs that need removing.
7. Replace the loose dirt and break down large chunks
Using a shove and a rake, replace the soil into the beds and spread it out evenly. Be sure to cover all of the sod with a depth of at least a few centimeters. While replacing the soil into your beds, use a hoe, spade, or shovel to break down all of the larger pieces until the soil is uniform.
8. Add compost or fertilizer, and mulch, and water
If you so desire you can add compost to your bed after completing the above steps. Remember to continue avoiding stepping in them directly. The reason for this is to avoid compacting the newly aerated soil.
You can also add fertilizers or other liquid nutrients (we don’t, for the most part – and when we do it is organic only) at this point.
Once you’re all done with your construction, you can remove the stakes and strings (unless you want to keep them!) and water your new bed(s). But, first, if you plan to add mulch or wood chips, go ahead and get that done before moving on to water.
For best results, water the new double-dig garden beds no less than two to three times before planting seeds or transplants.
How We Installed Double-Dig Garden Beds in Our Yard
Shortly after stumbling across the double-dig garden method on YouTube while brushing up on and strengthening our collective gardening knowledge we incorporated the idea into both our short-term and long-term market gardening plan.
This year, we’ve created around a dozen double-dig garden beds in our side yard, which receives full sun. Slightly more than half of them are around 4 meters in length and 75 to 80 cm wide. The others are approximately 10 meters long and 60 to 65 cm. wide.
We’re currently creating another 10 meter-long bed, around 60 cm. wide, and planning to add 12 to 16 more double-dig beds at an undecided width (probably between 50 cm and 80 cm) as well.
Closing Thoughts About Double-Dig Garden Beds
The double-dig garden bed method is an excellent alternative to traditional gardening techniques such as plowing and tilling.
Our favorite part about it so far (we’ve just incorporated them into our gardening technique recently) is that when creating new beds, much more of the soil’s natural composition and eco-system is left undisturbed in comparison to traditional garden building methods like tilling.
What do you think about double-dig gardening? Let us know in the comments section below!
Good luck building new beds for your yard or garden. If you have questions or comments about the steps listed here in our article, we’d love to hear from you!
Suggest Reading: How to Plan a New Garden
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