The veggie growing season has well and truly begun here in south-east Queensland and I am running late, as per usual. At least there is one job I can tick off: preparing the soil.
We built a rather large raised garden bed around four years ago and have thus far used the no-dig method, but with the compost bin literally bursting at the seams and three layers of worm farm full, it was time to get digging.
I only had a vague idea about how to prepare a vegetable garden, but luck was on my side. My parents-in-law provided invaluable knowledge and hard labour while I kicked back and took photos. (Not true, honest!)
Now that I know, I’m excited to share with you how to turn over a garden bed to get it ready for growing amazing organic veggies.
Dig a trench, work backwards
Starting at one end of the bed, dig a trench the width of the spade. Pile the first lot of soil on the grass or in a wheelbarrow for now. The idea is that you work backwards, systematically. As you can see from the picture below (how about my father-in-law? What a legend!) I didn’t bother pulling out the summer weeds. It’s been so dry that there weren’t many so we just dug them in for extra nutrition.
Nourish the soil, nourish yourself
After four years of taking, it was high time I gave back to my soil. We only have one compost heap, so I had to dig out the top layer of non-rotted stuff and get down to the black gold beneath. I stored the top half of the compost in a wheelbarrow, ready to go back into the bin when it was empty.
And here’s the goodness that lurked beneath:
I thought I’d see worms, but instead there were millions of slaters and tiny little bugs and critters I didn’t recognise. At first I was disappointed, but after a bit of research, I realised that all these little fellas are doing the job that’s needed. Sure enough, the peaty substance was moist, had a rich smell (in a good way) and was full of life, which is just what we need in a thriving garden. There were a few surprises though… lots of crushed eggshells still clearly identifiable, a family of mice living right at the bottom of the bin. And then there was this mystery solved:
Work it, baby…
Into the trenches went mini-barrow loads of the good stuff, which was quickly covered up with soil from the previous trench. I was so lucky to have help with this as it meant one person could be digging while the other ferried compost. In keeping with permaculture ideas, we decided to relocate the compost to a new position in the veggie bed to make it easier next year.
Once the compost had been used up, I turned to the army of worms living in my shed. The worms had worked their way through the two bottom layers, representing around a year of food scraps, which they turned into this (the one on the right is the older layer):
Look at that stuff, will you? It practically hummed with life and was full of teeny tiny bugs. We added the worm poo in exactly the same way as the compost – each tray went into an individual trench, returning all the goodness of our veggie scraps to where some of them came from.
Fun for all the family
This task would have taken me weeks if I’d done it on my own, so thanks Nanna and Grandad! We knocked it off in a few hot sessions. As I said, we don’t do this every year. Usually, we dig a hole or two, chuck in the compost and stir it about, and if that’s more your MO then that’s totally fine.
My next job is to plant some of these incredible wet pots to overcome my watering deficiency – stay tuned!
No space for a veggie patch?
Before I go and rest my aching back, a word to those who are wistfully wishing they had more space for a vegetable garden. You really don’t need much space to grow the easy stuff: herbs, lettuces, spring onions, silverbeet/kale. A single 1m x 1m bed is a great start. There are also some incredible systems for small spaces. I’m in love with this vertical wall garden, and these stacking gardens are great for those who rent.