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How much can one person double dig

 
gardener
Posts: 1033
Location: Western Washington
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Hi Everyone! I'm starting a new garden this year and will be converting a part of a pasture into garden. In the future I hope to get into no-till, but this year I just won't have the time or the resources for it. However, I still need to grow a garden for this year's food needs. I don't have a tremendous amount of money for buying or even renting a tiller, so I'm weighing my other options. One of the options that I am thinking about is double digging the area a bit at a time over the course of a few months. I was wondering, how much is reasonable (for planning purposes) for one healthy young person to dig over the course of a few months?

I'd also welcome any other ideas for cheap ways to help to accomplish this. I will be mulching a few areas and setting up some hugelkultur beds, but a lot of that will take time before it's ready to be planted.

Thanks!
 
pollinator
Posts: 11804
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I dug out my entire garden down approximately 18 inches to 2 feet and replaced all the rocks with logs for buried wood beds.  The garden is about 30 feet in diameter and it took me somewhat over a year of fairly regular digging, mostly with pick and shovel although one small corner was done with a mini-excavator.  I'm a middle-aged woman of average activity and strength.  My soil is heavy clay and rocks.  If you have sandy soil and no or few rocks, it should go pretty fast.

The thing about double-digging is you only need to do it once, then if later you are worried about compaction you can use a Broadfork to aerate it without turning.  So even though it might seem like a lot of work, it is only the one time.  Personally I would not ever bother with a tiller, they are just bad on your back.
 
James Landreth
gardener
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Location: Western Washington
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Thanks for the response! How many square feet was that do you think?
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Approximately 900 square feet, but this is just a guess since I have not actually measured the garden (I can measure it tomorrow if needed).  So, not a very big space.  But I'm a slow worker!

 
James Landreth
gardener
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That's good to know! I'm hoping to do a fairly large garden and it's nice to know that it's possible.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Totally possible, and you can plant each bed as you finish to make sure weeds don't get a foothold.  Since you mention double-digging, I'm guessing you intend to practice Biointensive, which uses less space than regular row gardening.

http://www.growbiointensive.org/
 
James Landreth
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I'll probably do that or something similar. I'm new to this particular region of Washington that I'll be gardening in, so I'm not sure what sources of organic material will be available to me (cheaply). I'll probably start with straw because it's consistently available, and see about woodchips etc. But I don't have time to wait a year as a lot of no-till would have me do, since I have to eat between now and then lol. If I have wood available I'll try building a few hugelkultur beds as well
 
Posts: 389
Location: On the plateau in crab orchard, TN
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double dug the 225 square feet which made 3 beds 25 feet long.  I did this about a week.
 
pollinator
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Get hold of a rotovator. Seriously, for a one time case of preparing land it is absolutely worth it.

I did my veggie beds last year. I was able to prepare an area about 20m by 20m from grass to raised beds.

Even with a small mantis tiller I was able to do the area in a day, and again a couple of weeks later to shape the beds and hit the sprouted weed seeds.

I don’t plan on doing it again, as I can keep control of it by mulching, spot weeding and hoeing.

I asked on my local Facebook community if someone had a tiller they could lend or sell me. I picked this one up for £50. It is absolutely brilliant.

I use it for other odd jobs now, like busting up soil for tree planting holes.

 
Michael Moreken
Posts: 389
Location: On the plateau in crab orchard, TN
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Garden sizes
Sq ft    A side

200  14  beginner
600  24  Avg garden
1025  36  1 person
2200-5000  6-70 4 people

Yea we have moisture year around, just got 0.6 inches rain.  I have clay loam, or clay too.
 
pioneer
Posts: 389
Location: Oregon 8b
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Really depends on what the soil and weather is like. Here it rains nonstop almost 9 months of the year, and our clay soil is such that if you handle it too much when it's really wet it basically turns to cement. I might get 6 months of good digging weather a year, once the rain slows down a bit and a ways into the start of the rainy season, before the soil is completely saturated. I thought I was going to dig out my paths to bury wood in them this past year, but when it was actually dry enough to dig, I had so much other planting, watering, fertilizing, and weeding (plus building a house, and all that entails) to do that I rarely had time for extraneous digging when the soil was at a good moisture level for it. I got most of a 100 sq. ft. trench dug, but I haven't gotten it filled yet, and have 13 more I want to get done. Other projects are slowing down, so I'll probably be able to devote more time to it this year, but we were just debating renting equipment to get the job done.

In lighter soil, I've seen two people dig about 200 square feet of trench to two feet and fill it back in, all in a long afternoon. I think the one good day of digging that I got with good soil moisture and enough of a break from everything else to focus on digging, I dug maybe half of what one of them did over the course of an 8ish hour day. Which is a problem when it rains most days and the rain will inevitably wash part of what you dug out back into your trench, unless you work out a clever way to keep it out that isn't more effort than just digging it out again.

If you've got the soil and weather for it, and it's something you can genuinely prioritize, one good sized bed a week is probably reasonable. More might be reasonable, but you can risk injury if you really over do it. I currently have a nasty case of tennis elbow from trying to rush through digging the trench for our electrical in muddy gravel. Now I've got months of recovery time with limited use of that arm, or else risk making it bad enough that it'll require surgery. Not a great position to be in when I have lots of work to get done.

Wait, why did a 4 year old post get revived?
 
pollinator
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I dug my first hugelbeet three feet deep, six feet wide, and 18ish feet long. I did it in a half-day, then built the hugelbeet in the afternoon.

I used a shovel to move the soil, but what saved me a lot of handshock and swearing was my garden claw. They have other names, but essentially what we're looking at is four tines about 6" long forming a helical pattern, with four half-sized tines spaced between them, mounted at the end of a shaft with two handles that enable a quarter- or semi-circular twisting motion that loosens even really compact soil. I used it on ground that had underlayed a patio stone walkway for fifty years. I had to work it twice to get as deep as a single pass on even lawn, turf intact, but it went so much faster than pick-and-shovel work.

I literally moved all the soil onto a tarp beside the trench I dug, then stacked the materials I was burying, put in some pallet structure for the woodchip path and walls of the hugelbeet, and piled the dirt, backfilling with chips.

Having done it once, I think I would probably want to use any mechanised help I could get for a one-time use, as on that occasion, I probably could have made at least twice as much hugelbeet as by hand, in the same amount of time.

But to each their own, I suppose. I really valued the experience of digging my first one by hand. I wouldn't want to deprive anyone of the same. I just suggest that you put on a permaculture podcast, audiobook, or just anything you like to listen to and zone out. Or if you're not in a noisy, smelly, crowded city like I was, maybe you can zone-in to your surroundings and enhance your observation.

If James is willing, I would love an update. Good luck all, in any case, and keep posting.

-CK
 
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it has a lot to do with what kind of soil your trying to move with that shovel, you will move a lot less heavy clay that you would soft loam or sandy soil in any given amount of time. to know for sure get out there with the shovel and see how it goes.
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