Is Double Digging Worth All The Extra Effort?

Many gardening sites recommend double digging especially when starting a new garden bed. Sounds like a whole lot of work but I'm no stranger to hard work! Think I'll give it a try this year even though some claim it's worth the extra effort while still others claim it really has very little advantage to the average home gardener. My thoughts are based on the fact that the root system is the heart of any plant. Take good care of the root system and the plant should get a great start in it's new home. My plan is to remove the first foot of soil with a spade and then use a spading fork. I'll thrust the fork down another ten to twelve inches and rock it back and forth to loosen the sub soil. After the whole plot is double dug, I'll then rototill the bed, add some slow release organic fertilizer and rake it into the top 3" of soil. I only plan to double dig once. After that, hopefully the earth worms combined with the addition of compost will to the job for me in the future. I have a lot of leaf mold from last fall to mix in also. If I get tomatoes the size of basketballs, I'll then know that double digging wasn't all in vain........LOL
Rich
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On 2/28/10 9:19 AM, EVP MAN wrote:

Since you are planning on using a rototiller anyway, I would use it instead of spading.
Rototill the surface to the depth of the tines on a spading fork, working the entire area. Then, using a spade or even a shovel, remove the tilled soil along a "path" the length of the area but only the width of one pass of the rototiller, piling the soil on an adjacent untilled area. Use the rototiller in the resulting trench. Remove that tilled soil, placing it next to the soil already removed.
Then move the tilled soil (first pass) from the adjacent area into the bottom of the first trench, stirring superphosphate or bone meal into it. Use the rototiller in that second trench. Then move the tilled soil from the bottom of that trench onto the top of the first trench. Work your way across the area until you have a final trench.
Move the piled soil from the first tilling of the first trench to the bottom of the last trench, remembering to work some form of phosphorus into it. Finally move the piled soil from the second tilling of the first trench to complete the filling of the last trench.
This is called double spitting, a "spit" being the depth of the tines of a spading fork. You can even do this while tilling deeper than one spit. This moves the surface soil down below and brings lower soil to the surface. You will find that the results will last many, many years. However, you will find that the surface of the soil becomes higher than it was.
If you wish to add amendments (e.g., compost, peat moss), do so during the second pass of the rototiller. The results will then be in the top layer of soil after all the moving is done. A smaller amount of amendments can be applied during the first pass, but that will not be as beneficial.
The reason for placing bone meal or superphosphate into the bottom spit is that phosphorus tends not to dissolve and travel through the soil. Thus, it needs to be placed where roots will find it. Mixed thoroughly into the soil of the bottom spit, there will be some at the boundary between the top and bottom spits for young or shallow-rooted plants.
If your soil is heavy clay, broadcast a generous amount of gypsum on the surface before the first pass of the rototiller. After the first pass, water the area thoroughly and then allow it to dry somewhat. Then repeat the first pass. You don't want to till any soil that is wet. In particular, clay soil should be only slightly moist; otherwise, you will make the soil structure worse, not better.
--
David E. Ross
Climate: California Mediterranean
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Thank you David for some very good and detailed information :) ........... Rich
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On 2/28/10 12:37 PM, EVP MAN wrote:

You're welcome. I only wish I knew all this before I planted my own garden some 36 years ago. Today, I do the equivalent but for each planting hole I dig. What a pain!!
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White_Noise snipped-for-privacy@webtv.net (EVP MAN) wrote:

that to our gardening areas in 1997-98. It was a lot of work, with hand tools, even in our easily-dug FL sand. Doing it again, I'd till the hell out of it with the machine while it's still easy to start. Cut in loads of whatever amendments would keep the soil light and loose, build raised beds, sell the tiller on Craig's List and spend the money (AWA the rest of your gardening life) in pursuit of organic compost. We grow veggies in 7 nominally 3' x 8' raised beds. Five have a surface about 10"-12" above the natural grade and the other two at least 8". We dug only the areas where the beds actually are. If all of that digging was beneficial, it was to remove native tree roots and retard their intrusion into the garden.
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the Balvenieman
Running on single malt in U.S.A.
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I absolutely agree. raised beds with no digging is gentler and kinder to worms and other beneficial critters and doesnt bring the weeds up to the surface. Ingrid
build raised

on the council grounds of the Fox, Mascouten, Potawatomi, and Winnebago
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On Sun, 28 Feb 2010 12:19:46 -0500, White_Noise snipped-for-privacy@webtv.net (EVP MAN) wrote:

http://www.johnnyseeds.com/c-469-broadforks.aspx
Think about what happens to the soil when you open it up with a broadfork, or "spading fork", what happens to those finer amendments that you have laid upon the surface.
You should give consideration also to what damage you cause to the existing earthworms with a rototiller. Be patient and gentle and let the worms do their work.
BTW, the root system is not the heart of the plant, in the way you may envisage. The soil is what you need to be about. Symbiosis. Lowenfels.
Lots of thought stuff here. http://www.soilfoodweb.com/sfi_approach1.html
Charlie
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I think what your trying to tell me is NOT to double dig a garden. I was only going to double dig it the first time as I only have about a foot of top soil before I hit heavy clay. I kind of thought if I open up this clay that it may help with drainage in the garden. I also considered just double digging each planting hole when I set my plants out rather than the entire bed.
Rich
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On 3/1/10 5:45 AM, EVP MAN wrote:

Double digging will put the top soil under the clay and break up the clay. That will indeed improve drainage. A generous application of gypsum annually will also help.
If you are planting vegetables, the result should last about 10 years or more. If you are planting a lawn, shrubs, and trees, you will only have to do this once; those "permanent" plants will quickly send roots down and continue the process.
--
David E. Ross
Climate: California Mediterranean
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the problem is that the drainage is only good in the area you double dig. it will still be surrounded by heavy clay that will hold the water like a big "pot".
what my mother did was build up beds a foot or so with compost and rotting marsh hay ala Ruth Stout. BTW, digging also kills worms which turn everything into lovely soil. And there is the problem of digging brings weed seeds up to the top where they will sprout. a raised bed warms up faster and can be planted faster in any case. Ingrid

on the council grounds of the Fox, Mascouten, Potawatomi, and Winnebago
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On Thu, 04 Mar 2010 10:11:58 -0600, snipped-for-privacy@wi.rr.com wrote:

Well I'll be damned.... I never even considered this. Doh! Thanks.
Charlie, glad he uses raised beds.
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g'day rich,
it is a whole lot of work, and work that realy is not needed in this enlightened age of raised bed gardening, we never dig, too easy.
here is a link to how we did our latest beds:
http://www.lensgarden.com.au/straw_bale_garden.htm
On Sun, 28 Feb 2010 12:19:46 -0500, White_Noise snipped-for-privacy@webtv.net (EVP MAN) wrote: snipped
--
len

With peace and brightest of blessings,
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Greetings Len, The straw bale garden looks like a great idea to me! Only problem is the fact that I live in town where we have mostly new homes in a well manicured neighborhood. There isn't a doubt in my mind that the city officials wouldn't allow straw bale gardens here! Perhaps if we would bury the bales at ground level no one would notice them but to do that we would have more work involved than double digging. If I lived away from town in the rural area I sure would consider giving it a try. Sure does look interesting :)
Rich
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my itty bitty back yard http://weloveteaching.com/landscape/bkyd/backyard.htm been trying to update including the new fruit trees. the figs were loaded with both breba and fall crop, I just ate and ate and ate. http://weloveteaching.com/landscape/figs/figgrove.htm Ingrid Somewhere between zone 5 and 6 tucked along the shore of Lake Michigan on the council grounds of the Fox, Mascouten, Potawatomi, and Winnebago
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