Monday, March 5, 2012

Sunken garden beds

I decided to try something different this year with my garden.  Last year I had raised beds.  It worked great for having soft soil and it wasn't too much work because I just dug out the paths and piled it onto the beds so I didn't have to bring in soil from somewhere else.  However, the point of having raised beds is also to keep the plants roots from drowning in excess water.
As you can see, the plants roots are safely away from the water with the freedom to grow down to the water as needed without the roots rotting.
However, I live in the desert where we get an average of 3 inches of rain a year.  Yes, that's right, 3 whole inches.  Occasionally, like this year, we're getting a lot more...like 6 maybe.
So instead of moving the plants away from water that's too close to the surface (because there's so much water in the soil), I'm digging the beds deeper so that the plant is closer to the scarce water, which is further down in the ground.  
Great idea right?  Well, yea it is.  It means we won't have to water as much or as often and it means that the plant gets shaded somewhat from the scorching desert sun...of course, it's also been one heck of a workout digging 2 feet down into the soil.  
It shouldn't be so hard, but I decided to convert a part of the horse area into the garden.  The horses always congregate in this area so it had probably a foot of manure in it.  That's getting way too unhealthy for the horses and the environment, so the best thing to do is turn it into a garden so all that fertilization can turn into nice healthy plants.  The bad thing is that the horses have been standing in that area and compacting it for the past five years.  There were layers of hay and manure, hay and manure until there was about 6 inches of hard as a rock compost.  It's taken me days to break through it in even a few beds.  It'll probably take me a month to break through the first 6 inches in every bed (probably about 20 beds in all).

I've finally broken through to the easy soil on the first bed to the left.  The other beds are in varying levels of progress.  I'm soaking them with water to make it easier.  You can see how well they hold water.  When it rains...if it rains...the water will naturally collect in these areas instead of in the paths as would happen in a raised garden.
Now there have been suggestions to get someone out with a bobcat or a bulldozer.  That would have made this sooooo much easier.  However, bulldozers use gas, which is a precious nonrenewable resources.  Plus, having just gotten over a severe potassium deficiency in which I lost 40 pounds of muscle-I want to do this myself (well, with some help from family and friends).  I'm hoping it'll build back all the muscle I lost...and of course that I'll lose all the fat I gained lol!  There's nothing like gaining 70 lbs in 6 months because an idiot doctor prescribed medicine without having any idea how it worked. Ouch!
So the next step is to finish digging them out, then put all the manure back in that I dug out so that the bed is nice and fertilized.  The beds will be filled up a foot or maybe a foot and a half so that they're 6 inches to a foot below ground level.  Then just let them sit and compost until March or so when the risk of frost has passed.
For now though, I'm going to go take some Advil for my aching muscles...

Check out Growing Radishes in the Desert for more info about sunken beds