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Deep Bed Organic Gardening, As Simple as 1-2-3

Updated on February 25, 2011

Ah... playing in the dirt. To some, it is childish, but to others, it is a vital pastime! I speak of gardening, and actually Americans seem to be gradually returning to the habit. Many of us are searching for new and healthier sources of food, and gardening is no doubt the answer to these problems. If you’re looking to join the grow-it-yourself movement I can give you plenty of tips in my blog as I plant my own garden.

First we’ll start with a hub devoted to how to set up a deep bed garden, which will allow you to grow bountiful vegetables and herbs while sticking to organic techniques. When you grow food on a small scale, its easy to control pests and maintain a nutrient balance in your soil. You don't need artificial additives, you just need a little planning!

Step 1: Plan it out. Choose a good location where the soil is workable and gets at least 6 hours of unblocked sunlight every day. Try drawing a diagram to plan where things will go. Certain vegetables and herbs are beneficial when planted nearby each other. For example, tomatoes and basil work well nearby each other, as do carrots and peas. You can place certain pest-repelling crops – like mustard and rosemary – near the most vulnerable crops

Step 2: Break it up deep down. This is the most laborious step, but you will reap what you sow, so to speak. If you’re starting fresh, your plot will likely begin as either grassy or weedy without many nutrients. In my neck of the woods the soil is naturally very rich but also very clay-like, so it hardens in the sun like a rock. The benefit of such soil is that with a little work and an addition of organic material, the soil is rich and great for growing vegetables and fruit. The downside is that it takes some muscle to make it useable.

For the deep bed technique I’m using, you will need to loosen the soil deeper than the traditional approach of 8 inches. Aim for closer to 18 inches and use a spade, shovel, or garden fork to loosen and break up clods so the soil becomes fine and aerated. It is particularly beneficial to loosen all the way down to the subsoil, which is below the topsoil. This layer of soil contains micronutrients and by opening it up, you will enrich the topsoil and improve drainage and water storage. In general, loosening the soil aerates it, which creates an environment ideal for beneficial bacteria and the nutrients they create.

Step 3: Add Organic Material, such as compost. Mix the organic material in with the existing soil. If you’re working with a grassy area and are building a deep bed, the dead grass can be utilized to enrich the soil. When you dig the garden plot, pile the dead grass and roots separately and then use it as the first layer when you fill the hole. Pile on the compost and soil on top. Let everything settle for at least a few days. By the time you plant and the roots reach that bottom layer, the sod will have broken down into rich organic material.

This is where it gets fun, as your bed transforms into a nutrient-rich environment you can see with your eyes. Check out the delicious-looking marble soil we created in our bed:

To get a raised bed going, continue to build up the layer of soil using dead grass, topsoil, and compost. The more space you provide for roots to grow, the bigger your harvest will be. You can see from the picture below that we used a deep bed, rather than raised bed system. But each approach utilizes the same philosophy of plenty of root space.

You can dedicate part of your plot to a walkway by adding mulch to it. The plants will be able to reach under and utilize the root space beneath the walkway. By adding mulch around your beds, you will protect your plants from infestation and disease as a further method of bolstering their productivity.

Step Four: Consume your feast. Actually this isn't a step; this is the wonderful result of your hard work and patience. Using the approach I've detailed, you can ensure a return on investment.

The picture below comes from our winter garden, since the spring garden is still growing. A typical day’s harvest included brocolli florets, dill, cilantro, carrots, peas, kale, spinach, and radishes. Our spring/summer garden is to include two varieties of tomato, five varieties of pepper, squash, eggplant, cucumbers, cauliflower, onions, and more!


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    • Entourage_007 profile image

      Stuart 6 years ago from Santa Barbara, CA

      Great article. I've had really impressive results by digging deep into the soil, it really makes a difference for gardening beds as it redistributes the soil.

      I liked your picture of your winter harvest, thats a very impressive winter garden you have.

    • Lynn Luther profile image

      Pattie Springle 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Very informative.