My staff relaxing after a hard day’s double-digging a new garden bed. Fortunately there are easier methods these days. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Making new garden beds

Every wise gardener will tell you that the best time to start a garden is “now”.

By Mary Lowther

Every wise gardener will tell you that the best time to start a garden is “now”. Get out that pot, cordon off that bit of land, be it shady or sunny and embrace the addiction. When I started gardening, double-digging was de rigueur and it certainly was rigorous. Double-digging involves digging down two shovelfuls deep and turning the whole shebang over to make a loose garden bed. When researchers learned that most soil life dwelt in the top few inches, they told us that unless we had a hardpan layer, one shovelful deep was enough.

So I dutifully followed the experts’ advice and on subsequent gardens I only dug into the grassy soil eight or so inches deep and turned that upside down, bit by bit, until the bed was done. This was marginally less work and time consuming; waiting for the upturned clods to break up with the weather then chopping up the clods. But, we were warned, it only worked if there wasn’t a hardpan layer eight to 10 inches deep. A hardpan layer, they said, was compacted soil caused by heavy machinery or animals, impenetrable to vegetable roots and should be broken up when preparing the bed. I have never come across one.

Then I learned about two easy methods that take much less effort, and since researchers have found that several years of gardening eventually softens up any possible hardpan, there’s no going back to laborious digging that does, admittedly, develop great biceps. I tell David that sitting on the couch eating bon bons also develops great biceps. Since then, more inventive gardeners than me have developed other great methods but I haven’t tried them yet since these two have worked so well.

The first method is cheapest and easiest, but it takes longer before you can use the bed, and if your subsoil is sandy gravel like mine, you won’t grow root crops in the first couple of years. Eventually the soil does build up though. Measure out where you want the bed to go. Mow down the vegetation, leave it in place and water it well. Cut a piece of clear plastic to that size, lay it on the bed, tightly batten down all the edges and leave it for a few months. The weeds and grass will proliferate under the plastic then turn brown and die. Remove the plastic and dead vegetation and plant the garden.

The second method costs a bit more but produces a plot you can immediately garden. Lay out the bed as in the first method, mowing and watering as before. Then lay sheets of newspapers two or three thick over the area and spread compost and re-hydrated coir (coconut fibre) over it all to a depth of a few inches. If you have any garden soil, lay this on top. Although we are told that the newspaper rots down enough for roots to penetrate, this didn’t happen for me and plant roots remained in the thin layer above, so I learned to poke holes all over with a garden fork right through the newspaper and into the soil below. Sprinkle organic fertilizer on top at the rate of four litres per hundred square feet and lightly hoe it in. Plant the vegetable garden right away. The vegetation under the papers will have rotted by the time vegetable roots reach the soil.

Start small. It is better to do a small plot justice than to work a large plot poorly. Once you get the hang of gardening and practice growing on a small scale you won’t be able to stop yourself from expanding but by then you’ll have a good idea of what to do.

Plan on buying a soaker hose and check out garage sales for a regular hose and garden tools. I use second hand hoses to cut to size and connect between my soaker hoses and the tap.

If you keep an agenda book, write down any gardening chores that need to be scheduled in so they won’t be forgotten. Sowing, transplanting, weeding, watering and fertilizing can be placed on a schedule for the whole growing season, so if someone asks if you’re available on a day you’re meant to do a gardening chore you can confidently point to your agenda book and say: “Oh, sorry, I’m busy that day.”

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Hundreds march against location of safe injection site

A Voice for Our Children opposes centre being near schools, recreation sites

Sarah Simpson Column: Creativity, and smoke, yields two new ‘computers’

My son opted to empty the recycling bin of all its boxes and create stuff.

Arts & Entertainment column: A new book, an art prize, and an AGM

Here are a few of the things happening in Cowichan’s arts and culture scene.

Cowichan golf pro Jackson up for provincial honour

Cowichan Golf Club mainstay is already the only two-time winner

3 new deaths due to COVID-19 in B.C., 139 new cases

B.C. confirms 40 ‘historic cases,’ as well

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

The court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington

Comox Valley protesters send message over old-growth logging

Event in downtown Courtenay was part of wider event on Friday

Emaciated grizzly found dead on central B.C. coast as low salmon count sparks concern

Grizzly was found on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territory in Smith Inlet, 60K north of Port Hardy

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

VIDEO: B.C. to launch mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Test involves swishing and gargling saline in mouth and no deep-nasal swab

Young Canadians have curtailed vaping during pandemic, survey finds

The survey funded by Heart & Stroke also found the decrease in vaping frequency is most notable in British Columbia and Ontario

B.C. teachers file Labour Relations Board application over COVID-19 classroom concerns

The application comes as B.C.’s second week of the new school year comes to a close

CHARTS: Beyond Metro Vancouver, COVID-19 cases in B.C. haven’t increased much recently

COVID-19 case counts outside of Metro Vancouver have been level since July

Most Read