Double-Digging Crudely Hits Pay Dirt but…
Double digging is a technique where you dig, put the soil to the side, dig a bit more and toss that second lot of soil into the first hole. Essentially, you are turning the soil and bugs upside down and letting their shocked, dead bodies feed the your new plantings. In thin soils (like dryland soils) you would be bringing up the subsoil and trying to turn it into top soil. Double digging is destructive.
Double-Digging can be Instantly Impressive
The growth on plants (and sometimes the weeds) is quick and leafy. Double digging is an old farming technique used for centuries in countries with cool climates, deep soils and a careful regime where the soil is rested for long periods to try to recover. If you are in the modern world where land is expensive and there is pressure on you to do use (no time to rest it), or you want to use the space that is close to your backdoor not far away in a forgotten back corner of your garden. Then double digging is not your best option.
There is a serious cost to double-digging. Put bluntly, double-digging does irreparable damage to your soil. Double-digging
- kills the micro-organisms in the soil. The dead creatures make double digging so amazingly productive. Their little bodies become instant fertiliser for the crops.
- damages the structure of fragile soils and tempts erosion due to weathering by water and wind.
- can bring up the useless, hard clods of subsoil unless you are digging on a rare fertile flood plain.
- has a high risk of erosion from the moment vegetation is removed or hard-hoofed animals are put to graze. The typical Australian soil is only centimeters deep. This risk is amplified by the process of digging.
- releases carbon into the atmosphere.
Digging can be satisfying.
We can buy a fruit tree, dig a hole and put the tree in the ground. In a short time the tree may be fruiting and voilà we have the start of a food forest. Or do we? A real food forest captures condensation (more condensation can come to your garden than rainfall). A Permaculture forest builds soil. Condensation is trapped and rainfall stored in the soil. Water is used and re-used. Organisms are nurtured not sacrificed. A good permaculture forest design optimises the use of natural energies and serves to increase the health of the soil. Healthy soil gives us healthier trees and more nutritious fruit.
What Soil Really Wants
Good soil has 5 components:
- Air (digging does increase the air, but so do worms)
- Water (digging can increase water penetration) but if not designed well it can lead to erosion
- Micro-organisms (digging kills many of these). Mulching provides them habitat
- Nutrients (plants including weeds can mine for nutrients and make good air pockets with their long roots) Biochar can boost the nutrients in the soil as well as increase habitat for micro-organisms.
- rock or other growing media such as recycled brick.
Healthy soil grows in height over the years. We can see the somewhat gruesome evidence of this in ancient graveyards where the ground level has risen.
What could be more satisfying than Digging?
Simple No-dig Gardens
No-dig gardens can be designed to capture and filter the rain-water and protect the soil and micro-organisms from erosion. No-dig gardening
- is physically easier and faster to set up
- suppresses weeds
- can regenerate soil (fertile, rocky, sandy or solid clay)
- requires less effort
- uses waste materials and
- evolves into a beautiful garden
No dig gardening requires a little patience but the soil is regenerated, fertility is enhanced and the organisms are constantly building in numbers.
Joyous Songs of Worm Charmers
There are many traditional farming techniques where the nutrients and organisms in local forests are brought to their fields to ‘seed’ worms and nutrients into the fields to improve fertility. Some people have turned it into a quirky sport like worm charming.
Have fun learning about healing the earth with a permaculture course.