When I decided to add market farming to Horse Drawn Farms’ portfolio, I had to do some serious research.  Luckily, in the age of smart phones, that was easy.  Outside with cup of tea, shovel leaning (as yet undirtied, alas) on the stairs beside me, I spent a pleasant morning googling my Blackberry through the 19th century French market system.  This intensive system, based entirely on manual labour and horse manure, produced massive amounts of vegetable food for the big cities of France.  It employed something called “double digging” , in which the farmer dug way, WAY down into the soil to turn, aerate and improve it before adding raised boxes.  The advantages to elevating the growing surface were multiple, and on my always soaked, heavy clay soil, they would be an absolute necessity.   When the earth is double dug below the box, I read, the plant roots grow down–rather than across– the soil strata for their nutrients, leaving room for very close rows and large crop yields per square metre.   I was short on room, so the more intense, the better.  The double digging sounded… interesting? (ok–awful), but it was the use of horse manure that really swayed me.  Horse manure!  I’d been storing it by the ton for years, and now, finally, it was to be an asset rather than a weedy, steaming mountain out back.  I’d handle the work, oh sure…

And then I tried it.  In the pouring, freezing rain of the worst spring day for fifty years, I pulled on my work gloves and dug.  And dug and dug and dug and dug.  First, a foot wide trench across the grow space, pitching each 10 kilo shovelful of clay (soon to become clay-mud: yay!)  into the wheelbarrow for later.  Then a matching trench alongside the first one, pitching THAT clay, now loose and aerated, into trench number one.  Trench number three’s clay into trench number two, and so on down the line.  When all that was finished (and the original clay from the wheelbarrow went into the last spot), I added a mixture of well-rotted manure compost and sand to lighten things up a little, although it was getting a tad soupy in there.  I think I blended it all well, although the hypothermia had a good hold of me by then.  Next morning, at least, I found a beautiful deep underbase for the coming raised bed.


April, 2011.  First, mark the dimensions of your raised box.  Then pull up the sod.

Now get your broadfork in there to break up the soil.  Have a cup of tea, the real digging is about to begin.