Double digging our garden beds

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Step 6: repeat steps 4 and 5
Keep digging trenches and adding your amendment until you’ve reach the other end of your bed. Along the way, remove any rocks, roots or debris you encounter.

Step 7: fill in the final trench
Use the contents of your wheelbarrow to fill in the final trench.

Step 8: even it out
You’ll now have a fluffy mound of soil. Use a hard rake to even it out, breaking up any lumps as you go. Make sure you don’t step on your soil at this stage! Your soil will be aerated and the soil level will be much higher than when you started.

Step 9: add granulated organic fertilizer
To boost micronutrients and give the surface of your soil a kick, top things off with a sprinkle of slow-release, general purpose organic granulated fertilizer. I use Gaia all-purpose fertilizer. Wear a mask when handling granulated fertilizer, as it can be quite dusty. Toss a thin, even layer over your bed. Give things a once-over with your rake to incorporate the fertilizer into the soil.

Step 10: add garden structures
Now’s a good time to add drip or soaker hose irrigation lines. After last year’s drought, I’m not taking any chances: I want to have my irrigation in place before I plant anything. We also added twine to mark out modified square foot garden blocks: our bed frames have nails every twelve inches, and each square will be home to one planting of seeds. Finally, we replaced the hoop structures that cover our beds.

You can start planting right away, though personally I like to give newly prepared beds a week or two to rest so that newly added nutrients can get incorporated and newly introduced pathogens can dissipate.

We finished things off by covering our beds up with lightweight floating row cover material. This multipurpose stuff prevents soil from washing away, warms the soil and keeps bugs out. I like to place it right on top of newly planted seeds, as I find that it really increases germination. Another big advantage of row cover is that it can help deter cats, who sometimes use newly dug beds as litter boxes – a big problem because their droppings can contain toxoplasma gondii, a harmful parasite. As our plants grow, I'll stretch the material over our hoops.

This technique feels like a lot of work, but you only have to do it once a year. It’s satisfying to know that our soil has been well prepared and is ready for the spring.

Rebecca Cuttler is an urban gardening teacher, member of the Vancouver Food Policy Council and gardening contributor. She blogs about urban food gardening at

Join me this spring for Urban Garden Abundance, a four-part gardening class in Vancouver hosted by Hollyhock.

Our prepared beds, protected with a temporary cover of lightweight floating row cover material. It doesn't look pretty, but it really helps seeds to germinate and keeps animals out of newly planted areas. As our plants grow, I'll stretch the material over our hoops. All photos by Rebecca Cuttler.

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