Spring Bed Prep

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.

Dirt Rich Farm bed planted to cover crop

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.

The scythe is an old but effective tool!

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

The wheel hoe is the MVP of the Spring

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.

Graded and raked

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!

2 Replies to “Spring Bed Prep”

    1. We do turn the soil when we are making beds and occasionally when we are preparing them throughout the season. However, we are aiming to reduce tillage as much as possible for a couple of reasons:

      1. Inverting soil disrupts the structures and networks of micro-organisms – these are the creatures that are ultimately feeding the plants. Helping the micro-organisms thrive reduces our needs for fertilizer amendments. When soil is turned over, large amounts of oxygen are introduced. At first this causes the microbes to grow like crazy (and thus the plants too!). However, their populations can collapse resulting in a one step forward, two steps back effect on the soil ecology.
      2. Turning the soil with machinery (tillers in particular) can create a hard pan surface underneath the surface. This hard pan makes it difficult for roots to penetrate deeply and can cause drainage problems (particularly for our silty soil type)
      3. Tractors are noisy and stinky!

      Thanks for asking!

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