In many parts of the country, the soil is very dense and heavy making it a challenge to dig deep for garden beds. You will want to use a rototiller for a large garden area, and the same method below can be used to create beds in a large garden after the soil has been turned over. This method is also ideal for creating many small beds in which to plant flowers, herbs or vegetables. With this method you do not have to dig down as deep since you will be creating raised beds where you use the current soil plus added nutrients. So why do we create raised garden beds? Most garden soils are deficient in proper nutrients to allow for the plants to grow healthy and abundantly. If you have ever just gone out, turned over soil and planted, you probably didn’t have much luck. Almost all soils need amending in order to create healthier soil. Creating raised beds allows you to amend the soil beneath the beds, and allows for rain runoff and less erosion. They also allow you to create nice shaped beds with walking paths between them. Most people think of raised beds as having a wooden frame around them. You can certainly do this if the space demands it, but if possible, do without any frame and simply shape the beds with a 45 degree slope.
One of the defined characteristics of biodynamic gardens is the raised beds. An ideal size to begin with is about 100 square feet, and that can be a 10′ x 10′ or a 5′ x 20′. The idea is that you will create a design within this space that allows you to walk through the space to garden without crushing any plants, yet keep that walk space to a minimum. This entire bed will be built as a raised bed, then you will create raised beds within this space. The beds within this space will be shaped with a 45 degree slope angle, which provides more surface area than if it was left flat. Raised bed vegetable gardening is a crucial part of biodynamic gardening methods.
The entire 100 square foot space will be “double dug” before you design the space and shape the beds. Essentially, double digging is digging down with a flat shovel about one foot, going about it in one row at a time, then adding layers of nutrients, manure, straw, soil and water to raise the bed. You are creating a rich cushion so that seedlings and plants can easily and quickly send their tiny root hairs down to gather in the water and nutrition (supplied by compost, straw, bone meal, and other such organic plant foods) that are necessary to healthy, insect-resistant, nutritious, delicious vegetables.
When it comes time to plant seeds or seedlings, everything is planted with enough space that when mature, the plants will be close enough to touch and create a “living mulch” which will help retain water and keep weeds at a minimum. It will be important to thin seedlings as they come up if they are not planted this way.
It is quite remarkable when you take the time to prepare raised garden beds in this manner. Every seedling you place in this nutrient rich soil will take hold and grow fast and strong. It is best if you can to start your seeds in the early spring in seed boxes with similar nutrient rich soil as they will transplant far better than seedlings from the nursery. People wonder why this is, but nurseries use chemicals and dead soil in which to grow their started seedlings so when you bring them home and put them in the garden, they go into shock. If you transplant seedlings grown in the same soil as the garden with no chemicals, they will make the transition much more easily.
Steps To Prepare Raised Garden Beds
1. Have all your ingredients laid out and close by so you can quickly add these layers. It is best to use fresh horse manure which you can transport in large plastic bags and dump out onto a tarp, or use a wheelbarrow if you have close access to a barn. Have your bales of straw ready to separate, a watering hose and your fertilizer mixed in a wheelbarrow, large bucket or in a pile on a tarp.
Dry fertilizer mix
• Rock Phosphate
• Bone Meal
• Blood Meal
• Planters II Trace Mineral Fertilizer
• Jersey Green Sand
• Alfalfa Meal
• Kelp Meal
• Few Bags Of Top Soil
If you cannot find any of the above, feel free to substitute with any product that may contain a combination of these, or say a kelp liquid instead of the meal. Be sure to opt for organic products if available. I am adding two links at the bottom of this post where you can explore the process and products for pure biodynamic gardens as well as a soil probiotic.
2. Start with a space of about 100 square feet. It can be a 10′ x 10′ or a 5′ x 20′ or any size bed you want to create around your yard. You will be starting at one end, digging in rows and digging down about one foot with a flat blade shovel. The dirt you dig out in your first row will be flipped up onto what will be your second row. When you have dug the first row, you will be adding layers of the following to the bottom of the first row:
• 2 shovels of dry fertilizer mix
• 5-6 shovels of the soil you dug out
You will repeat these layers until the last layer is soil, and the bed is raised about 8″ to 10″. The soil you dig out of each row is piled up onto the next row. When you finish all your rows, you should have left over soil which can be added to the top of the beds.
3. When all the rows are done, you can now design the bed so there are areas for you to walk through as plants grow. Get creative and have fun making a beautiful design with your beds. You can do a nice geometric design, a sun design with the rays as walking paths or even a lovely heart shaped bed. You will dig out those areas adding the soil to the beds. Then you will take a fine rake, and shape the beds so they have a 45 degree slope on all sides. If the soil is clumpy, break up the clumps with your flat blade shovel then tilth the top layer of soil using the same shovel. Smooth with the rake.
Your beds are now ready for planting, or you can now add either the soil probiotic or biodynamic preps and wait a week to plant. You have effectively enriched your soil with organic garden nutrients in which seeds or seedlings will flourish quickly and abundantly. The fine, thin roots of seedlings will be quickly drawn down to both the moisture and nutrients below. Preparing a garden bed in this manner only needs to be done once, then maintained with added nutrients each spring or with your compost. You can also change your bed design each spring if wanted.
The process of “double digging” is an effective way to build you bed, and necessary in areas where the soil is too hard to dig much farther than a foot deep. It is best if you can at least dig down one foot, but even if you can only dig down six inches, this method will work fine. Your bed will just be raised higher. The method of “double digging” along with adding vital nutrients and shaping the beds with a slope are the foundation of preparing biodynamic garden beds.