Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Digging in the dogfood

It is winter now, early January, but the weather is really nice. 60 deg F daytime and reasonably warm at night. Time to dig the garden plots that I described back in June or July. In the spring, I built 8 ft x 4 ft frames, laid them on the grass in the back yard, put down newspaper to smother the grass and covered it all with soil amendment like fine pine bark. My garden was planted on these frames with holes punched through the newspaper to allow the roots to get into the soil. It worked, more or less. The real reason was to stop the bermuda grass from overwhelming the garden and that worked.

These plots are now barren and it is time to dig up the bermuda grass that should be now dead. Here is a picture of one of the frames as it is now.

In order to dig the plot, I just lift up the frame and drag it out of the way. OK, so I had to rebuild the frame as the nails came out of the wet wood and the termites had had lunch here and there, but it is easy to move.

Before digging, I fertilized the plot with 13-13-13 fertilizer and with epsom salts or magnesium sulfate. These will be dug into the full depth of the dig. The digging proceeded using a spade or a fork to lift out blocks of clay covered with bermuda rizhoms and nice mulch. Now the hard part. Each clod wad decomposed by hand and the old rizhomes were carefully removed as were any rocks. The soil amendment was distributed evenly, sort of, in the mix and the next block of soil processed. Took all day. Wore me out. When done, there is an 8 foot long pile of nice dirt about 4 feet wide.

Recently, I read of planting roses using dog food to feed the worms in the hole. I thought, why not? So I re-dug the plot and placed dog food in the bottom of the whole trench. Found some more rocks and a few bermuda sprouts, but put a spade full of dog food in the bottom of each trench from one end to the other of the plot. Here is a pic of one trench. Essentially, there is a layer of dog food across the whole bottom of the plot. This is also called double digging, I think.

Now the rebuilt frame is replaced over the pile of dirt. It fits over the same hole right over the stakes that were in each corner to hold it in place when the lawn mower ran into it. That worked, too. As another test I placed plastic lawn edging just inside the frame to prevent the bermuda grass from creeping into the soil. This may or may not work. My next step will be to kill the surrounding bermuda grass with grass killer, but only if necessary. Finally, the soil mound is releveled with the frame and now, peat moss is added to the top layer of soil. It takes about 2 cu ft of peat to cover one of these things with 2 inches of peat. It is moistened and then tilled into the top few inches of the soil. That's it. Here is what it looks like when done. It hardly looks any different.

Each of these plots produced about 1/2 bushel of rizhomes. Most looked inactive, but there were a bunch of really long ones that were cream colored and clearly actively growing. None were visible on the surface. It will be interesting to see how well this process works. Clearly, I need to use something like cedar wood, not pine. Treated wood is not a good thing for the vegetable garden because the arsenic and other metals get into the soil.

There were some earthworms in the soil, but not many. I will report on this later. The epsom salts are good for tomatos. Should be interesting. Regular fertilizer will include MiracleGro or similar products.

Two of the plots are done. Each takes a day of stoop labor to get the roots out of the soil and do the initial dig. Two more to go, but only when it is warm.

Cheap dog food is about $11 for 50 lbs at Sams Club. Each plot takes about 10-15 lbs to cover the bottom. I will watch for racoons or skunks digging up the beds, but it shouldn't matter until things are planted in a couple of months.

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