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A garden is only as good as the ground that it's planted in. Discussion forum for the many ways to improve the soil where we plant our gardens.

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Old May 30, 2015   #1
Lycopersica
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Default Is it worth it to double dig the rest of my bed?

I've been growing dwarf tomatoes in containers for a couple years. Now that I finally have a yard, I've been working all spring to build my first outdoor tomato garden (with indeterminate plants) but now I'm running out of time. I built a 3' by 20' raised bed, pulled up all the grass, and spent all Memorial Day weekend double digging half of it. I'm not sure what to do about the other half. The seedlings are looking sad and cramped in their containers so I really want to plant them out this weekend. On the other hand, I doubt I can finish double digging the whole thing (plus it's supposed to be pouring rain tomorrow).

Should I knuckle down, dig as much as I can, and then plant them or is there a quicker way to amend the soil? It's cruddy, clay-ish lawn soil that's slightly acidic and very low on nutrients. I've been using compost (mostly grass clippings from last summer), rock phosphate, and a small amount of egg shell grounds to raise the ph (or at least keep it from going lower if the partially composted grass clippings have become acidic). Would it be okay to just work those into the top of the soil instead?
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Old May 30, 2015   #2
Redbaron
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Originally Posted by Lycopersica View Post
I've been growing dwarf tomatoes in containers for a couple years. Now that I finally have a yard, I've been working all spring to build my first outdoor tomato garden (with indeterminate plants) but now I'm running out of time. I built a 3' by 20' raised bed, pulled up all the grass, and spent all Memorial Day weekend double digging half of it. I'm not sure what to do about the other half. The seedlings are looking sad and cramped in their containers so I really want to plant them out this weekend. On the other hand, I doubt I can finish double digging the whole thing (plus it's supposed to be pouring rain tomorrow).

Should I knuckle down, dig as much as I can, and then plant them or is there a quicker way to amend the soil? It's cruddy, clay-ish lawn soil that's slightly acidic and very low on nutrients. I've been using compost (mostly grass clippings from last summer), rock phosphate, and a small amount of egg shell grounds to raise the ph (or at least keep it from going lower if the partially composted grass clippings have become acidic). Would it be okay to just work those into the top of the soil instead?
Once you have double dug and amended a soil to give it a jump start, as a general rule it is best to use no till and/or minimal till from then on, just top dressing amendments and letting the soil biology, mostly worms, do the tilling for you. Otherwise you could end up in a long term 2 steps forward, 1 1/2 steps backward yearly routine. To do this though you will need to use cover crops and mulches and trust to Mother Nature to build your soil for you. Some people have a hard time trusting natural process to fix their soils. They prefer a hands on approach. It's a whole lot more work, but you can do it and get good results double digging every year too.

Personally it is too much work for me, so I take the Lazy Man's approach and let the worms do the work. But either way can work for sure.
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Old May 30, 2015   #3
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I did a little double digging back when I had more energy. Our house was part of a local developers group of homes. About 1 foot down I found where they threw out the extra stucco mix, colored green with some chromium compound. You never know what you will find.
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Old May 30, 2015   #4
Lycopersica
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Once you have double dug and amended a soil to give it a jump start, as a general rule it is best to use no till and/or minimal till from then on, just top dressing amendments and letting the soil biology, mostly worms, do the tilling for you. Otherwise you could end up in a long term 2 steps forward, 1 1/2 steps backward yearly routine. To do this though you will need to use cover crops and mulches and trust to Mother Nature to build your soil for you. Some people have a hard time trusting natural process to fix their soils. They prefer a hands on approach. It's a whole lot more work, but you can do it and get good results double digging every year too.

Personally it is too much work for me, so I take the Lazy Man's approach and let the worms do the work. But either way can work for sure.
Believe me, I wasn't planning on doing this every year (unless it's to build more beds). I'm just trying to figure out what I should do for the first year. I wanted to start building the bed in the fall but didn't get much further than the planning stage so now I'm working on catching up.
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Old May 30, 2015   #5
Lycopersica
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I did a little double digging back when I had more energy. Our house was part of a local developers group of homes. About 1 foot down I found where they threw out the extra stucco mix, colored green with some chromium compound. You never know what you will find.
You have me beat there! The only things I've found so far are big fat rocks, lawn grubs, rocks, blue flecks of plastic, rocks, clumps of what looks like sawdust, rocks, broken bits of pottery, oh and did I mention a lot of big rocks?
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Old May 30, 2015   #6
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For the half that you didn't finish, I'd be inclined to dig decent sized holes for the tomato plants and plant them in compost. You can then double dig that part of the bed in the fall if you feel the need.

My veggie garden has a clay base with some sandy loam dumped on top, then each year we get a load of aged cow manure to spread all over. I'm pretty happy with that, and have persuaded hubby not to rototill for a few years.

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Old May 30, 2015   #7
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As far as digging in poor quality soil goes... it's usually much easier to just add another layer (or two) of wood on top of the raised bed.
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Old May 30, 2015   #8
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What would answer your question would be to know how deep the tomato/vegetable roots grow in your new garden. If they only grow 5 inches deep - that's all the soil you need to amend.

My advice is to dig in amendments 8-10 inches deep (Single Dig) and see what happens. I'm not a New England gardener, but I think this would work.
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Old June 1, 2015   #9
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To "double dig" I use a single row plow. No work really other then to attach it to the tractor and take it off when im done.
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Old June 1, 2015   #10
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Seems like you have the perfect setup for an experiment. I'd just plant each side as is and measure the performance. I went no till this year on all but 1 bed (for root crops) and my plants have done great. I have also double dug before and it worked well too but there isn't enough difference between methods for me to ever double dig again.
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Old June 1, 2015   #11
Lycopersica
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Thanks for the advice everyone. The rain wasn't as bad as I thought so I double dug another quarter of the bed and single dug the rest. I more or less had to avoid double digging that part anyway since I bumped into rubber hosing for my underground sprinkler system running diagonally under it. It's just a good thing I didn't stab it with my digging fork or rip it out thinking it was a rock! When I build another one, I'm going to try the lasagna method instead.
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Old June 2, 2015   #12
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Do you have a rototiller? I'm a firm believer in no-till myself (read the book "Teaming with Microbes" and you'll be too lol) but it's always necessary IMO to initially work a new plot.. If you have a tiller I'd say just to turn it over quickly in that sense.. but I guess you wouldn't be double digging if you did huh? lol

I seem to always bump in to the underground electrical conduit that the previous owner thought would be a good idea to bury about 3" under the grass lol . .Hit it with the tiller earlier this spring, hit it with a trencher a few weeks ago.. Shoot I even hit it with a garden spade planting the tomatoes.. I just have a knack for finding that conduit all throughout the yard lol . . I find the occasional clam/oyster shell as well, and every so often when I'm really lucky I'll find a full 1923 clay brick that happens to be right where I'm driving a stake! Haha crazy..

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Old June 2, 2015   #13
garden381
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lycopersica View Post
I've been growing dwarf tomatoes in containers for a couple years. Now that I finally have a yard, I've been working all spring to build my first outdoor tomato garden (with indeterminate plants) but now I'm running out of time. I built a 3' by 20' raised bed, pulled up all the grass, and spent all Memorial Day weekend double digging half of it. I'm not sure what to do about the other half. The seedlings are looking sad and cramped in their containers so I really want to plant them out this weekend. On the other hand, I doubt I can finish double digging the whole thing (plus it's supposed to be pouring rain tomorrow).

Should I knuckle down, dig as much as I can, and then plant them or is there a quicker way to amend the soil? It's cruddy, clay-ish lawn soil that's slightly acidic and very low on nutrients. I've been using compost (mostly grass clippings from last summer), rock phosphate, and a small amount of egg shell grounds to raise the ph (or at least keep it from going lower if the partially composted grass clippings have become acidic). Would it be okay to just work those into the top of the soil instead?
So , What i would do and intend to do here in jacksonville ,florida would be to add composted cow manure and sand to your clay soil and eliminate the rock phosphate saving it for a possible side dress
.IF NEEDED.
Dry powered egg shells and be sure the grass clippings don't stick together.
If you want ,and something i do once in a while, is to add 1/2 cup of blood meal into the soil when tilling or turning but too much in volume will make too many greens and fewer tomatoes so be careful.

Finally, i dilute B-1 while i am preparing to plant the seedlings and water them in the pots before planting. B-1 will help with transplant shock.
I personally plant most of my plants on their sides or at least at a sharp angle and stake at planting to train them upwards . plant an 1 inch or so under the top soil.
An inch under ground for very strong root systems.
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Old June 2, 2015   #14
Mike723
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Be very careful... adding sand to clay soil = cement.. You're better off adding gypsum and/or plenty of compost.. It wouldn't even hurt to go with a deep rooted cover crop to help break up the soil and add a heaping dose of organic matter upon it's death..

When planting I pinch off the bottom 2-3 lateral shoots at the very least and plant 5+" deep.. The deeper the better, as you'll end up with greater surface area for roots... As Garden381 said: laying the plants horizontally in a shallow trench and just bending the top growth up is another good method of planting for increased root growth...
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Old June 2, 2015   #15
garden381
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Be very careful... adding sand to clay soil = cement.. You're better off adding gypsum and/or plenty of compost.. It wouldn't even hurt to go with a deep rooted cover crop to help break up the soil and add a heaping dose of organic matter upon it's death..

When planting I pinch off the bottom 2-3 lateral shoots at the very least and plant 5+" deep.. The deeper the better, as you'll end up with greater surface area for roots... As Garden381 said: laying the plants horizontally in a shallow trench and just bending the top growth up is another good method of planting for increased root growth...
==============
Hi Mike723,

I really saw the add sand to clay on the gardenweb site. I have SOME clay but it is grey and sparse. It seemed to work in my situation but i totaly understand the root growth issue with roots trying to press through the heavy soil.

In hindsight i imagine that if the clay was predominant in composition, that sand would only break it up - not make it lighter allowing for CORRECT growth of most ANY root system.

Thanks for the info and i will not add sand any longer in the small area where I need it.
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