You aren’t going to realize it, but all next week I will not be writing my blog.  I will be embarking on my big spring project, overhauling and expanding my community garden.  I will also be thinking up new and clever ways to distract my fellow gardeners while I pee in the bushes.

There’s no bathroom at the community garden.

You’ll still get posts – I wrote them in advance.  You won’t even know I’m not here.

Last year I took on a second 20′ x 40′ plot but it wasn’t near my original garden. So when the plot beside me became available last fall I decided to take it over so I could have two plots side by side.  That meant I had to move all of the perennial plants from my old secondary plot to my new secondary plot. Confused?  Yeah, it’s a shit show.

So on a weirdly warm day in February (seriously, I’m talking Apocalypse weird) I trudged up to the garden to transplant my 2 large asparagus beds, a whack of raspberry canes and my 2 beds of strawberry plants.

The raspberry canes croaked but the asparagus survived which is exactly backwards of what  I thought was going to happen.  It was like expecting to toot and a big burp comes out instead.

And I never even got to the strawberry plants.  They are currently in my old bed, flowering like no strawberry plants have ever flowered before.

So let’s assess exactly what needs to be done during my “week off”.

Here’s my new plot, which will make up the left side of my entire plot.  It’s 20′ wide by 40′ deep.

Here’s my old plot, which will make up the right side of my new garden.  It’s also 20′ x 40′.

Those two plots together will give me a 40′ x 40′ garden.  Right now they’re just giving me a headache.

Let’s talk no dig.  No dig gardening is the theory that you do NOT under any circumstances dig your garden.  It was invented by some really lazy guy who got lucky in that the method apparently works.  I think his name was God.

No dig gardening replicates what happens in the forest.  Nobody digs up the forest to plant things.  The trees just drop their leaves and gunk on the forest floor, it decomposes into compost on top of the other soil and then seeds drop in it and grow.  Done.

My favourite no dig guru is Charles Dowding.

If you want to learn more about how no dig works click on the link above and watch Charles’ videos.  The short story is that you form your beds and never dig them.  Every year you simply add 2-3″ of compost on top and plant into that.  You don’t dig the compost in, you don’t stir things around.

The reason for this is digging your soil ruins its structure and disturbs the fungi and beneficial microbes in the soil.  And you piss off the worms by ruining their homes.

Worms, you see, make tunnels in your soil.  Some worms make horizontal tunnels along the top of your soil and other worms (nightcrawlers for instance) make vertical tunnels in your soil which are GREAT for keeping an airy soil structure that also allows water to travel down towards roots.

The longer you maintain no dig beds, the better the beds get.  Better structure, better microbial activity, better nutrient value in the soil all around.

THIS was the year I was going completely no dig.  Except I’m not.  Why?  Because I got this new plot and I’m running out of time and I have a lot of work to get done in a limited amount of time.

So I had my new plot rototilled to make constructing the new beds faster and easier.  I had to cross myself as Ron my garden buddy sunk the angry rototiller blades into the completely innocent soil and started ripping it up.  It had to be done though.   Like ripping off a bandaid.  Or waxing a moustache. I also needed to have it tilled because my two plots might be side by side, but they aren’t level to each other.  They’re very unlevel.  And rototilling the one bed was going to make levelling the gardens easier.


THIS is what I’m talking about.  I turned over a planter filled with my garden soil and it was teaming with worms.  That’s exactly what you want in your soil.  And rototilling and digging disturbs them.




Next week my plan was to take half the soil from my new rototilled bed and transfer it to my old plot, so they end up being level with each other.  It’s completely aesthetic.  My choice to do this is the absolute worst choice for my garden, and I know that.

But you can’t stop crazy.

I want a nice level playing field purely for aesthetic reasons.  A real gardener would leave things exactly as they are and build their beds around the natural slope of the soil to take advantage of the naturally occurring runoff and established soil structure.

Luckily I have a ton of compost thanks to my ever pooing chickens and there’s a good supply of compost up at the garden as well.  We all compost at the community garden.  It’s slow composting as opposed to the fast (Berkley method) composting I do at home, but it works just fine.  It just takes longer.

Here’s where the problem is.  The longer I was up at the garden staring at my two beds the more I felt like I was making a whole lot of work for absolutely no reason whatsoever.  You can see in the picture above where my left garden meets my right garden and how the left one is higher.  Actually you might not be able to see that from the picture but I can assure you it’s true.

So maybe I should just leave it.  Maybe I should just have one bed higher than the other.  I can live with that can’t I?  It might even be cute.  A raised terrace garden.  An upstairs and a downstairs.

I have 24 hours to decide on my plan, 7 days to implement it and 1 bladder to get me through it all.

Have a good weekend.



  1. Heather says:

    Karen, can’t you just back a truck full of topsoil and worm castings and other lovely stuff up to the lower garden and dump it on, then rake it out so it’s the same height as the higher one?

    And to Tina, and all those who’ve lost beloved pets, I’m sorry you’re sad. xo

  2. Furntastic says:

    It is really a tough task. I loved your garden. Nice post.

  3. Peggy says:

    I’m with Karen – nothing clever or pithy, just condolences.

    Now Karen … do you know about straw bale gardening? How to get a healthy garden going super fast and end up with pure gold. Joel Karsten, a fellow Minnesotan, has studied it and developed it over the last 20 years or so and his YouTube videos make you want to jump right in. Too bad you already rototilled … your worms would have loved this stuff. But not too late to repair the damage and give them back a great habitat. Check it out! Plus, a friend who plants a 50-bale garden for years actually got flooded out twice in one year, and while everyone with traditional plots lost everything, his bales floated and produced a bumper crop once the water receded … because they drained right out through the straw. Meanwhile the straw is composting and making beautiful new compost for your plants to grow in. Check it out!.

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