Our family feels like we just rode a roller coaster of emotion-first finding out that we'd have to leave our farm, feeling stress at not being able to find anything else, and finally the joy of having friends offer their amazing 100 acre farm for us to rent! Although we have to re-dig and re-plant everything we've put in our garden this year, we have the joy of starting fresh in a garden that has just been tilled and has great soil to work with!
First things first- creating the optimum garden beds will create the best growing environment for your vegetables. We like to use raised, deep, wide beds in our garden, creating a larger expanse of aerated soil for the root systems of growing plants. This means that about 3/4 of the garden space is used to grow plants and only about a quarter is used for walkways. We'll mulch the pathways with newspaper (with just regular newsprint, not glossy, as the plain newsprint is just soy-based ink) and straw to keep the weeds at bay.
We're making these rows about 3-4 feet wide and about 16-18 " high. This guarantees that our seeds are growing in soil that has been loosened through the process of digging these raised beds, and the roots will have much more room than in traditional beds to grow wider and longer. Healthier, deeper root systems will produce more vigorous and healthier plants.
You can read all about this system of gardening in this great resource from the Grow Biointensive website.
The Grow Biointensive method explains deep soil in this way:
'Ideal soil structure has both pore space for air and water to move freely and soil particles that hold together nicely. Air supports plant roots and soil organisms that give life to the soil and enhance nutrient availability for the plants. Aerated soil holds water better than compacted soil, requiring less watering. It also facilitates root penetration, supporting healthy plants and minimizing erosion.'
Loose, aerated soil structure also allows for easy movement for earth worms; creating the best environment for earth worms will greatly improve your garden.
Worms expel castings which make the soil more granular, helping to create soil capillaries that improve soil structure while allowing air and moisture to flow freely. Worms also create tunnels, allowing easy access for water and air, facilitating deeper root growth in plants. Soil that has been well-worked by worms can take in water four times faster than more compacted, wormless soil!
We've also found that creating raised beds with walkways in between has an added bonus for gardening with children; the kids know exactly where they're allowed to walk, and we don't stress about them accidentally walking on the plants. This also means that it's easier for the kids to help us in the garden.
The boys love to get right into the garden with us-Lily is content with picking dandelions for now!