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Flying Blue Dog

Farm & Nursery

Willow Creek, Ca


Tips from the Potting Bench



When we first moved here, a friend of ours who had farmed in Orleans on land similar to ours suggested we not waste our time trying to improve our soil. His suggestion was that we buy topsoil and add an 8-12 inch layer where we wanted to have our garden beds. Our property sits at the base of Brush Mountain and while it is beautiful with a gorgeous view across the Trinity River to Campbell Ridge, it is also very rocky. Now there is nothing wrong with rocky ground, it has great drainage so it’s perfect for fruit trees. It does however make it rather difficult to grow most other things. We didn’t take his advice at first.

8 years later, after adding compost, manure, rock dusts and everything else you can think of, the soil was still pretty lean and so were the veggies we tried growing on it. More importantly (and expensively) we still couldn’t use the rototiller in the rocky soil without breaking something on the machine and giving my shoulders a sore work out trying to keep the tiller from jumping all over the place. A few years ago we decided our friend was right, so we built trellised beds and back filled them with a garden soil blend we had trucked in from the coast.

This year we want to create a few smaller planting beds using a no dig, no soil technique I read about this winter. It’s a variation of a lasagna bed where you layer various specific materials and plant directly in it. Anyone can do it on just about any kind of soil. Here’s what you do.

These materials will build a 4x8’ bed. You can frame in the bed with anything you have around. 1x12” boards, bricks, concrete blocks, stones, even corrugated tin. We are going to try making a frame of chicken wire. We bought a roll of 12” chicken wire and cut a bunch of

2’ long pieces of rebar. I’ll lay out the bed design with a rope and drive the chicken wire into the ground every 3’ or so and attach the wire to the rebar for a quick easy frame. Once you have the frame in place you will need 2 to 3 pounds of blood and bone meal, newspaper or cardboard, 1 bale of alfalfa, 1 bale of straw and 10 cubic feet of compost.

First, soak the soil where the bed is going to be built and sprinkle a generous handful of blood and bone meal and water that in. Next, lay a quarter to one half inch deep of newspaper or cardboard down and sprinkle this with the blood and bone meal. Then add about 4” of alfalfa and sprinkle that with blood and bone meal. On top of the alfalfa add a layer about 8” deep of the straw, sprinkle again with blood and bone meal and top that with 4” of compost. One more sprinkle of blood and bone meal topped with a 1” layer of straw or grass clippings. Water the whole thing really well and let it sit a week or so to begin to mellow and break down, then plant your seeds or transplants in your new bed.

The bed will naturally sink as all the materials break down creating a rich planting environment. To maintain the fertility of this type of bed add more compost and straw or cover crop it every winter.

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