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Double-digging is hard work. Is the payoff worth it?

November 28, 2011
GIF animation of "double digging" fo...

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Double-digging is one of gardening’s most time-honored techniques, the need for which, like so many other practices, is being questioned. Researchers at the University of Missouri Extension have given double-digging a thumbs-up, writing in one of their publications: “Double-digging involves removing the topsoil the depth of a spade, setting the soil aside and then loosening the subsoil another spade’s depth. Finally, the topsoil is returned with added amendments, such as compost, manure or fertilizers. This labor-intensive soilpreparation method provides an excellent rooting zone for plants.” Organic Gardening, too, has recommended the method. Furthermore, double-digging is a key component of the biodynamic method of cultivation.

Double-digging is not the same as mechanical subsoiling, which sends a tractor-pulled implement below the topsoil to break up the subsoil. What subsoiling and double-digging have in common, though, is that unless done properly, they can result in bringing subsoil to the surface, or mixing topsoil and subsoil. Both are to be avoided.

Manual double-digging depends on removal of the topsoil to the subsoil level; the topsoil is usually placed to the side on a tarp or in a wheelbarrow. The subsoil is then broken up to a spade’s depth, a layer of well-rotted manure or compost is laid on top, and the topsoil from the next row, or “spit,” to be dug is turned onto the compost. Thus, subsoil and topsoil are not “churned” together and earthworms and weather action help the compost to be incorporated.

Why do it? Double-digging improves the aeration of the soil, facilitates root penetration, and is especially recommended for crops such as carrots that root deeply, helping to prevent forking. It’s beneficial for new garden beds with long-term plantings, such as vegetables, perennials, cane fruits, and shrubs. If the soil needs amending, these plants will benefit from double-digging before planting.

Double-digging also improves soil drainage by breaking up compaction and removing hardpan on soil that has been subjected to repeated rototilling. However, it is claimed that deep digging disrupts the soil life, breaking delicate strands of mycorrhizal fungi on many plant roots and disrupting earthworm and beetle habitats. Also, so few research studies have been done that the benefits and deficits of the process are largely anecdotal: “I don’t like double-digging,” says Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., an urban horticulturist for the Washington State University Extension. “It’s one of the practices that sound good, but for which I can’t find any reliable scientific evidence. We do know, however, that working the soil unnecessarily brings weed seeds to the surface, destroys soil structure, disturbs the roots of nearby woody plants, and harms or kills soil organisms. As a cheap and lazy gardener, I prefer to let nature do most of the work for me using thick layers of coarse, organic mulch.”

The key word in her remark is unnecessarily, for if the soil is already friable, drains well, and is rich in organic matter, it doesn’t require such intensive therapy. Eileen Weinsteiger, horticulturist at the Rodale Institute, agrees; she advises that gardeners who don’t have the time or strength to double-dig try growing yellow blossom sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis), a biennial legume that helps build organic matter while its long taproots penetrate heavy and compacted soil, opening pore spaces that improve drainage. (M. officinalis is considered invasive in certain areas; check with your local Cooperative Extension office.)

There is no denying that double-digging can be hard, time-consuming work, and if the soil is full of boulders or heavy clay, it would probably be best to choose one of the following alternatives:

  • Build raised beds.
  • “Single-dig” amendments into the topsoil just one spade deep. This is especially true if the only crops to be grown will be shallow-rooting leaf crops, beans, and so on.
  • Mulch repeatedly with decomposable materials. This will eventually generate a deep tilth, which, if not walked upon, will remain open and free draining.

Douglas Welsh, Ph.D., a Texas A&M University Extension horticulturist, comments, “With the terrible soil I have gardened in over the past 40 years, none were conducive to double-digging: black, sticky, gumbo soil; clay concrete; and 4 inches of soil and 60 feet of rock. So my strategy has been to build up, not dig down.” This is particularly good advice when the loamy soils are only a few inches deep over heavy clay subsoil. With such shallow topsoil, the action of double-digging might incorporate the clay subsoil. Better to actively incorporate organic matter on the surface and so build up the soil. Says Welsh, “You can create 12 inches of garden soil by incorporating 6 inches of organic matter into the top 6 to 8 inches of soil.” This is the approach used by Mark Smallwood, executive director of the Rodale Institute: “Instead of digging, I simply topdress my garden with good balanced compost to create and maintain biological diversity in my soil,” he says.

So the jury remains divided, but one thing they can all agree upon is that double-digging has no noticeable benefits for crop production of shallow-rooting, leafy vegetables, which would seem to indicate that gardeners should make up their minds according their needs—and the strength of their backs. Digging, like all garden activities, is healthy work—but only if done correctly.


What’s in a Teaspoon of Soil – The Care and Feeding of Your Precious Soil Food Web

November 28, 2011

The Soil Food Web…

What is it?

The soil food web is the community of organisms living all or part of their lives in the soil. This food web diagram shows a series of conversions (represented by arrows) of energy and nutrients as one organism eats another.

Soil organisms support plant health as they decompose organic matter, cycle nutrients, enhance soil structure, and control the populations of soil organisms including crop pests.

Where is it?

Most of these organisms live in the top 3 inches of soil!


PER TEASPOON of healthy soil plus organic matter, the following organisms – most of whose names are not known to scientists – are found:

– 1 million (in arid soils) to 1 billion bacteria

(in forest soils). Bacteria break down easy to-use organic material (sugars, proteins, carbohydrates), retain nutrients, like N, P, and K in the soil and combat disease causing organisms.

Productive garden soil should contain more bacteria than any other kind of organism, although care must be taken to make sure beneficial bacteria, instead of disease-causing bacteria, are most prevalent. How

do you do that? By feeding the foods the suppressive bacteria like. That also means, no nitrate fertilizers (which selects for the disease-causing bacteria and fungi) and no compaction (that means poorly

structured soils, and reduced oxygen levels which help the root-rot fungi more than anything else).

– 150 to 500 micrograms of fungal hyphae

Fungi break down the more  difficult-to-decompose, organic matter (like newspaper, cardboard, bark, sawdust, corn stalks) and retain those nutrients in the soil as fungal biomass. Just like bacteria, fungal

waste products become soil organic matter, which are used by other organisms. Gardens require some fungal biomass for greatest productivity, but in order for best CROP growth, there should be an

equal biomass of bacteria as compared to fungi. As with bacteria, we need to feed the “good-guy” fungi, not the “bad-guys.” Feed the soil complex mixtures of humic acids and algae, and avoid nitrate fertilizers

and prevent soil compaction.

– 10,000 to 100,000 protozoa

These organisms are one-celled, highly mobile organisms that feed on bacteria and on each other. Because protozoa require 5 to 10-fold less nitrogen than bacteria, N is released when a protozoan eats a bacterium. That released N is then

available for plants to take up. Between 40 and 80% of the N in plants can come from the predator-prey interaction of protozoa with bacteria.

– 15 to 500 beneficial nematodes

Beneficial nematodes eat bacteria, fungi, and other nematodes. Nematodes need even less nitrogen than protozoa, between 10 and 100 times less than a bacterium contains, or between 5 and 50 times less than fungal hyphae contains. Thus when

bacterial- or fungal-feeding nematodes eat bacteria or fungi, nitrogen is released, making that N available for plant growth. However, plant-feeding nematode are pests because they eat plant roots. These ”bad” nematodes can be controlled biologically, as they are in natural systems, by fungi that trap nematodes, by having fungi that colonize root systems and prevent nematode attack of roots, or by predation of nematodes by arthropods. In cases of extreme outbreaks, however, the only answer may be the use chemicals to control these plant-feeding nematodes. However, once a chemical is used which kills the beneficial nematodes as well as the plant-feeding ones, the beneficial nematodes need to be replaced through inoculation. What inoculants are there for these beneficial fungi? Compost, and compost tea are the only commercially available sources of the whole community of these beneficial nematodes, or protozoa, for that matter.

– A few to several hundred thousand microarthropods

These organisms chew the plant leaf material, roots, stems and boles of trees into smaller pieces, making it easier for bacteria and fungi to find the food they like on the newly revealed surfaces. The “comminuting”arthropods can increase decomposition rates by 2 – 100 times, although

if the bacteria or fungi are lacking, increased decomposition will not occur because it takes ALL the organisms working together to make nutrient cycling work. In many cases, however, the arthropods carry around an inoculum of bacteria and fungi, making certain the food they want (bacteria and fungi) are inoculated onto the newly exposed surfaces! Because the C:N ratio of arthropods is 100 times greater than the bacteria and fungi, they release nitrogen which then is available for plant growth. Some arthropods eat pest insects, while others eat roots. Again, it’s important to encourage the beneficial ones and discourage the ones that eat plants!



Cornell University Cooperative Extension “Fertilizing Garden Soil”

1) Add organic compost regularly (no need to dig in…can be just as effective used as a mulch)

2) No pesticides (even the organic ones can be harmful to these critters so use only when absolutely necessary)

3) NO SYNTHETIC FERTILIZERS. If you’re adding compost regularly, you may need to do very little fertilizing (our goal), but if you do…only organic please :) . Synthetic fertilizers break the relationship between plants and soil organisms and excess amounts of the most mobile of nutrients (N) can be a source of pollution in run-off causing ‘dead zones’ in bodies of water and has been connected to stomach cancer.

4) Do not compact soil and do not over-work (till) the soil.


Using a COVER CROP is a wonderful way to bring an organic source of nitrogen back into your soil and re-invigorate your soil food web. Check out the links listed next to the edible legumes below and research the cover crops in the links below to determine what will work in your zone.

There are 2 ways to increase the natural occurring nitrogen in your soil:

1) planting a cover crop ( ,       -OR-

2) planting rotating crops of legumes

In the edible garden the (Fabaceae) Legumes Family include:

Peas (

Beans ( and

– Green Bean, Split Pea, Yellow Pea, Green Pea, Snow Pea, Black-eyed Pea, Chickpea, Broad Bean, Lima Bean, Fava Bean, Navy Bean, Red Kidney Bean, Great Northern Bean, Pinto Bean, Adzuki Beans, Mung Beans, Soy Bean, Brown Lentil, Green Lentil, Red Lentil, Black Lentil.

BUT, remember without a healthy soil food web (which includes the bacteria that make the nitrogen-fixing possible for these plants) none of this is possible.

Soil Bacteria:

    • Brady-rhizobium fixes nitrogen via root nodules, releasing N to the host plant.
Root Nodules
  • Azobactoriaceae: Nitrogen fixation w/out nodules on non-legume plants.

Soil Microorganism:


  • Fungi are responsible for most of soil fertility.
  • Decompose just about anything and release the nutrients contained within the materials, back to the plant.
  • Work horse: bind soil particles, soil tilth


  • Live in and around the root zone of plants, extending far out from the plant’s roots with their own network of thread- like filaments known as hyphae.
  • Evolved in association with plants.
  • Increase the ability of plants to take up water and certain nutrients.
  • Protecting associated plants from pests and diseases.
  • Cannot survive long in bare-soil.
  • Cannot survive long in bare-soil conditions.
  • Cannot thrive in conditions where soluble fertilizers have been used continually for many years.

Strategies for Improving Mycorrhizae Activity on Your Site:

1) Use green manures and mulch.

2) Refrain from using chemical fertilizers, w/high levels of phosphorous.

3) If the soils are degraded, consider adding quality compost.

4) For degraded sites, inoculate with commercially-available mycorrhizae.

Manage your soil organically by using organic compost (your own is best)….use organic mulch…do not overwork soil…

Some interesting links for you dirt nerds out there:

Life in the Soil – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations:

Some interesting videos on Mycorrhizae and Rhizobium Symbiosis:

Frugal Cleaning

November 28, 2011

It’s great that commercial cleaning products have jumped onto the eco-conscious bandwagon, but there’s an even better way to clean your house without making a huge impact on the environment or your wallet. Plus, you probably already have all the necessary ingredients in your pantry!

Baking soda is a natural deodorant and mild abrasive that helps scrub and whiten in the kitchen and bathroom. We make a paste with baking soda and a little bit of water and vinegar or lemon juice.  Let it sit for 10 minutes, then scrub away!

Vinegar is effective in controlling mold, bacteria, and germs. Make your own homemade all-purpose spray- just add equal parts water and vinegar in a spray bottle, then use it on surfaces around the house and in the bathroom. Don’t worry- the smell will dissipate as it dries. Or you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to give it a nicer fragrance.

Add 1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol to equal parts water and vinegar to get a quick, streak-free window and glass cleaner! And instead of using paper towels, we’ve found newspaper cleans glass efficiently, without leaving any lint behind.

Garden Reuse: Old Wooden Ladder as a Trellis

November 28, 2011

Photo Credit: Beth Py-Lieberman.

Colleen Vanderlinden
Living / Green Food
June 21, 2011

I don’t know how many rickety old wooden ladders I’ve seen on the curb over the years. Too wobbly to safely stand on, traded in for some slick aluminum model, these wooden stepladders seem destined for the dump.

They may not be sturdy enough for us to stand on, but they’re perfect for supporting vining crops in your garden!My friend Beth (who blogs over at Garden Putter) shared this photo of her ladder trellis on Facebook, and I fell in love instantly. She took an old wooden step ladder, gave it a coat of vibrant purple paint, and placed it in her garden, where it now supports cucumbers. It also provides a fantastic focal point.

You could use a ladder like this in a variety of ways. You can allow cucumbers and other squashes to climb its rungs. You can use some twine to create additional places for plants to cling to. You can widen each step by nailing a 2 by 4 board to each step, and use them to place small pots of herbs or flowers.

What can you grow up a ladder trellis like this?

If you’re using the ladder to trellis something that will form heavy fruit, such as pumpkins or certain winter squashes, you’ll want to make slings out of netting or old panty hose (another great garden reuse!) which you can tie on to the ladder to support the fruit.

Next time I see one of these old ladders on the curb, I will definitely grab it to use in my garden!

More Garden Reuse Ideas:Turn an Old Clawfoot Bathtub into a Potato PlanterMake a Garden Planter Wall from Discarded Cinder BlocksWire Hangers as Garden Staples

Healing with Calendula

November 27, 2011

Calendula’s cheerful blossoms repel garden pests and have incredible healing properties.

Calendula is one of my very favorite herbs. The cheerful orange and yellow blossoms look gorgeous in the garden and have incredible healing properties.   My first experience with Calendula was during college when a friend developed an uncomfortable and embarrassing rash on her face. She diligently applied a cream prescribed by her doctor, but after several frustrating and miserable weeks, the rash had only become worse and was spreading. Wanting to help somehow, I consulted my herbal books and prepared a bottle of Calendula infused Olive oil for her. Neither of us had much faith in it, but she was willing to try anything. I was beyond awestruck when she excitedly called a few days later to let me know that the rash had not only improved, but was almost completely gone!  This was the first, but certainly not the last, time that I have witnessed the awesome curative properties of Calendula.

Calendula officinalis, also known as pot marigold or garden marigold, has been used for centuries to heal wounds and skin irritations. Calendula has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, astringent, antifungal, antiviral, and immunostimulant properties making it useful for disinfecting and treating minor wounds, conjunctivitis, cuts, scrapes, chapped or chafed  skin, bruises, burns, athlete’s foot, acne, yeast infections, bee stings, diaper rashes, and other minor irritations and infections of the skin. Plus, it stimulates the production of collagen at wound sites to help minimize scarring and assist with stretch marks. This versatile botanical can be incorporated into baths, creams, compresses, washes, salves, ointments, massage oils, baths, facial steams, tinctures, and teas. It is also gentle enough to use for babies, children, or animals. Internally, gargling with Calendula infused water may ease a sore throat, sores in the mouth, and inflammations in the mouth and throat.

Not only is Calendula a wonderful healing and medicinal herb, but it is also a lovely and useful plant in the garden!  Calendula repels many common garden pests including aphids, eelworms, asparagus beetles, and tomato hornworms, and is a companion plant for potatoes, beans, and lettuce. Plus, it grows quickly and is easy to cultivate from seed.  The fresh vibrant petals can be used to color butter, cheese, custards, sauces, or sprinkled atop salads, cakes, and sandwiches.

Calendula infused oil is simple to prepare and has many medicinal and cosmetic uses.

Calendula Herbal Oil

This medicinal oil is simple to prepare and has so many uses. The gentle, soothing, and healing oil is perfect for cradle cap, diaper rash, chapped or chafed skin, bruises, and sore or inflamed muscles. The oil can be used alone, or incorporated into salves, massage oils, lip balms, ointments, creams, and lotions.

Organic Olive oil
Organic Calendula flowers

1. Place Calendula flowers in a clean, dry glass jar. If using fresh Calendula, wilt for 12 hours to remove most of the moisture (too much moisture will cause the oil to go rancid) before adding to the jar. Pour olive oil into the jar, making sure to cover the flowers by at least 1” of oil so they will have space to expand. Stir well and cap the jar tightly.
2. Place the jar in a warm, sunny windowsill and shake once or more per day.
3. After 4-6 weeks, strain the herbs out using cheesecloth. Pour the infused oil into glass bottles and store in a cool dark place.

Heat Method: I prefer to infuse oils utilizing the solar or folk method described above, but heat can be applied if you need the oil quickly. To prepare, follow step 1 from above, but place the Olive oil and Calendula flowers in an uncovered container. Warm over low heat at approximately 100 degrees F for at least 3-5 hours, the longer the better. A yogurt maker, double boiler, or inside the oven with a pilot light on are all effective ways to heat the oil, just make sure to check the temperature occasionally to ensure that the oil isn’t getting too warm. Once the oil has infused, strain out the herbs using cheesecloth and package the infused oil into glass bottles.

Calendula Salve

A soothing and healing salve. Rub into sore or inflamed muscles, apply to minor cuts, scrapes, insect bites, rashes, diaper rashes, stretch marks, chapped lips, chafed skin, bruises, and other skin irritations.

4 oz Calendula flower infused herbal oil (from above recipe)
½ oz Beeswax
20 drops organic Lavender essential oil (optional)

Coarsely chop the beeswax or use beeswax pastilles. Melt beeswax and Calendula oil over a double boiler.  Once melted, remove from burner and stir in the Lavender essential oil. Pour into tins or glass jars. Allow to cool thoroughly before using or placing caps on the jars.

Calendula & Shea Butter Lip Balm

This nourishing lip balm is made from healing ingredients which soothe dry and chapped lips.

1 Tablespoon Shea Butter
3 Tablespoons Calendula Herbal Oil (from above recipe)
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Beeswax
10-15 drops essential oil of choice
A few drops of Vitamin E Oil

Coarsely chop the beeswax or use beeswax pastilles. Place beeswax, butter, and oil in a small pot or glass Pyrex measuring cup and gently heat in the top of a double boiler until the beeswax and butters have melted. Once melted, remove from the stovetop and stir in the essential oil and Vitamin E Oil. Immediately pour the mixture into lip balm tubes or small containers. This recipe will make approximately 1.5 oz of lip balm, enough to fill 10 lip balm tubes, 6 of your 1/4 oz plastic jars, or 3 1/2 oz tins or plastic jars.

Calendula officinalis has been used for centuries to heal wounds and skin irritations.

Healing Calendula Spray

A healing spray that can be misted on burns, insect bites, rashes, minor cuts and scrapes, bee stings, inflammations, bug bites, or used as a medicinal and soothing facial toner for acne or other skin irritations.

4 oz organic Calendula Flower Water (Hydrosol)
15 drops organic Lavender essential oil
10 drops Calendula Herbal Extract/Tincture (optional)

Mix all ingredients together and pour into a 4 oz bottle with a mister top. Use as often as desired!

Calendula Compress

A soothing and medicinal treatment that’s effective and simple to prepare. Calendula compresses can be applied to burns, cuts and scrapes, bee stings, bug bites, inflammations, and other skin irritations. They can even be used on animals with minor skin conditions or injured paws.

Pour 1 cup boiling water over fresh or dried Calendula flowers, cover, and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, strain out flowers and reserve the remaining liquid.  Create a compress by soaking a clean cloth in the herbal infusion and placing it on the skin.  This process is gentle and may be repeated several times a day.

This entry was posted on 04 August 2011 at 3:32 pm and is filed under Recipes and DIY. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Homemade Bathroom Grout Scrub Recipe

November 27, 2011

by Andrea Butje on February 16, 2011

Common household cleaners often contain harsh chemicals. We make our own grout scrub that not only works but smells clean and delicious. Can cleaning bathroom showers be more enjoyable? Really?
Bathroom Grout Scrub

15 drops Sweet Orange essential oil (Citrus sinensis)
15 drops Tea Tree essential oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)
10 drops Peppermint essential oil (Mentha x piperita)

In a 16 oz. wide mouth container mix the essential oils listed with 1 cup of baking soda, 3 tablespoons Castile soap, 1/4 T Cornstarch and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar. Easy! Add more vinegar or Castile soap as needed to make a smooth consistency.

Use about a teaspoon of this mixture on a scrubby sponge to clean the shower. I also use this on the kitchen and bathroom sinks. The bathroom smells great and I feel good after cleaning!

Learning Herbs for Beginners

November 23, 2011
Melissa officinalis

Image via Wikipedia


While surfing around I found a few sites that offer classes and such ,as I’m really into going all natual have healed myself from herbs and herb tea already this year and garlic between garlic and lemon balm I was well within less than a day.Which also had me separating and replanting my lemon balm also I cut them down and dried it for tea now I have more than one plant and I saved the seeds…Next year I’m, going to cut more often so they don’t go to seed as much I’m still learning as I go along this year.

Here are the links to the herb sites :

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