“Imagine yourself as a plant . . . “

The Sustainable Vegetable Garden“Imagine yourself as a plant and think about where you would like to live. …”
Whether or not you succeed in imagining yourself as a plant, as authors Johns Jeavons and Carol Cox suggest you should, reading their book will first make you imagine, then gently persuade you, and finally all but compel you to start digging in the earth to help plants grow.
“The Sustainable Vegetable Garden” (Ten Speed Press) has strong evocative powers. The soil you create should be “a living sponge cake” to a depth of 2 feet. Sure, you will have to work at it initially, but over time, your sponge cake soil will literally take on a life of its own and you will only need to feed it compost, from time to time, to keep it healthy.
For plants to be healthy, they must grow in healthy soil. “Feed the soil to feed the plants” is the experienced gardener’s credo. Healthy soil is full of aerobic, decomposing bacteria, the kind that live in compost. These are the bacteria that break down mineral compounds that, if you were a plant, you would feast on for “your dining pleasure.” For most homeowners, what could be turned into luscious compost is dumped into a green plastic garbage bin, wheeled out to the curb and carted away. If people would make compost out of the grass clippings and leaves that they throw away, their soil would benefit enormously. They could grow vegetables and flowers to perfection.
Creating the soil of your dreams is a low-tech enterprise. All you really need are three tools (spade, fork and bow rake), a digging board (2-by-4-foot piece of plywood), a bucket and some compost. The bed you are going to build for vegetable production should be no smaller than 3 feet by 3 feet. These minimal dimensions are required to create the proper plant density and accompanying microclimate above the soil surface, and sufficient area for the proliferation of beneficial microbial life below the soil surface. The bed should not be more than 5 feet wide, allowing you to reach anywhere in the bed without having to step on and compact the prepared soil.
The actual soil preparation involves digging up a series of 1-foot-wide trenches. The process is popularly referred to as double digging since the top 12 inches of soil are removed with a spade (the first dig) and then replaced with soil from an adjacent trench (the second or double dig). In between the two digs, the bottom 12 inches of the first trench are aerated with a garden fork. The soil removed from the first trench can be carried away in your bucket or in a wheelbarrow and mixed into your developing compost pile.
The first trench is backfilled with soil removed from the top 12 inches of a second trench, which is dug alongside the first. Loosen the bottom 12 inches of the second trench and then fill it with soil removed from the third trench. After digging three or four trenches, smooth the surface of the bed, which will be several inches higher than ground level since, in the process of double digging and aerating the soil, the volume of air in the soil has increased.
Incidentally, the digging board should be placed alongside each trench while it is being dug. The board will distribute your weight in a manner that will prevent you from compacting the soil. If your soil is hard and dry, moisten it prior to digging.
Make compost out of dry vegetation (dry weeds, leaves, straw, sawdust, shredded bark, cornstalks and other remains of vegetable crops), green vegetation (fresh weeds, green grass, fruit and vegetable peels) and soil. Soil contains the aerobic bacteria that push the decomposition process forward. Soil will also help the pile hold moisture, keep down odors and slow decomposition of the vegetation, making the pile easier to manage.
< TIP OF THE WEEK: According to Jeavons and Cox, you should think of building a compost pile as you would a lasagna. Construct the pile by alternating two-inch layers of dry and green vegetation, moistening each layer before adding the next. When the pile is 3 feet tall, cover it with a thin layer of soil. Before starting, loosen soil where the pile will stand to a one-foot depth. The base of the pile should be 3 to 5 feet square.

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