Spring Bed Prep
At Dirt Rich Farm we take soil preservation seriously. As a part of this, we try to minimize or eliminate mechanical tillage as much as possible. Many of our garden beds are prepped without the help of tractors – how do we do this? There are a number of techniques that we use but this issue is most important during the early spring when the soil is wet with winter rain and a high water table. Here is an example of how we prep beds at this time of the year. This bed will be used to grow spinach for our 2017 CSA.
In the fall, we plant a number of our beds with cover crop. In this case, we used rye and clover. Cover crop is used over winter to protect the soil from compaction and erosion as well as to provide nutrients for the crops in the spring.
The first step to preparing these beds is to cut the cover crop as low as possible. We don’t want to pull plants because the root systems are extensive and add to the organic matter in the soil. Additionally, as the root systems decay, they create channels and pathways for water, air and microorganisms.
Cover crop is cut by hand with a scythe and then raked to the pathways.
Once the bed is clear of plant matter, we use a wheel hoe to break up the surface and clear out any low-growing weeds. This tool is like a garden hoe on steroids! It’s very powerful and efficient for being human-powered. In the early spring, this is our tractor. The wheel hoe is great because it only disturbs the top 2 or 3 inches of the soil surface. This prevents disruption of the ecological networks below the surface
After the soil surface is broken up with the wheel hoe, we use a large landscape rake to grade the bed. The broad tines of a landscape rake are really effective at sorting out large clumps and encouraging small clumps to break up nicely. The tool is also made of aluminum making it very easy to cary and maneuver.
This bed will be left to rest for a few days so any additional weeds can germinate and start growing. After that they will get one more pass with a hoe. We will also use a garden fork to gently lift the soil (without turning it over) in order to add more air and fluffiness to the beds. One last pass with the landscape rake and this bed will be in prime condition to receive baby plants!