We bought a house in Tucson about 8 months ago. It’s within the city limits, but we managed to get a half acre. The side yard is the perfect location for my kitchen garden, but the previous owners had at least a few loads of rocks brought in over there & it’s quite deep, maybe 6” at the deepest spot. There is also quite a bit of organic matter accumulated in with the rocks, which I really need to have here with my very sandy soil. I’m wondering if it would be better to try to do a really heavy layer of mulch on top of it, or somehow try to remove the rocks, and sift out the organic matter. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to move these rather than sifting out a shovel full at a time with a screen? I’ll be getting chickens soon - would they help to separate the rocks, with all of their scratching? I hear that they pile up rocks sometimes but I don’t know if they do it consistently.
The larger rocks, unless buried very deeply under good soil, will forever make it hard to dig for planting, and possibly reduce the amount of water that can be held just beneath the surface. In the desert climate, I have a feeling that piles or rows of rock around your gardening patches would help cut drying wind, shade the ground surface a bit, and help keep good soil from blowing away as dust. If you have real winter, a crescent of rocks around the northern/windward sides of a garden patch could make it warmer in spring.
I would not try to remove all the rock (especially the gravel visible in the pictures), just make a plan and toss rocks from the centers of designated garden patches to surrounding rocky strips. How large is the area in question? If it is the side yard by a house, it seems like a feasible manual task which can be done gradually, improving one section at a time.
I live where there lots of rocks. I leave anything the size of a chicken egg or smaller. I simply add compost or mulch on a regular basis....in my case, every 2-3 months. The rocks are very beneficial for soil development. They add mineralization, drainage, stability. But they do make it more difficult to use a shovel or rototiller.
My environment and soil type is extremely different than yours, but I'd still be tempted to leave most of the small rock in place.
It's never too late to start! I retired to homestead on the slopes of Mauna Loa, an active volcano. I relate snippets of my endeavor on my blog : www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com
For a kitchen garden, I would remove all rocks and as many smaller rocks as reasonably possible. The smaller pebbles & gravel may not be an issue. Over time you could remove them if they are bothersome.
I would find creative uses for the rocks in other places in the yard or they could be used as the garden border.
Rocks are wonderful…. I love finding creative uses for rocks..
Here is a thread with lots of different creative uses….
The best tool to remove small stones is a lawn broom rake, it will both gather up rocks and separate most of the organic matter.
As others have mentioned rocks are the minerals most of our plants need, so what you need to do is get mycelium and bacteria growing in your garden space so those rocks will become food for everything you want to grow.
When I'm clearing an area to plant, I keep two black plastic plant pots nearby, one for any "gravel-sized" rocks that get caught in the work and one for larger "goose egg size". Any rocks bigger than that get put into borders or other activities that would benefit from large rocks. The plant pots have drainage, so they won't pool water, and I can tuck them into a corner until needed. I thought I had a great supply this spring until I started a raised bed project and discovered the ground was less level than I thought. By the time I used the rocks to support the bed border, my supply was gone. At other times, I've used them in potholes. Larger smooth ones get used as weights and larger lumpy ones get piled as garden snake habitat.