Double digging vs. Tilling

Lamar, AR(Zone 7a)

I have been working on improving my clay soils. I started out double digging, then borrowed my mother's tiller which has saved me hours of back breaking work. Clay soil is heavy!

I'm wondering why some people talk of double digging when tilling seems to be the faster/most efficient way to get the ground broken up.

I have lots of rocks too. The tiller does a great job of bringing them to the surface.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Rototillers can pulverize the soil. Double digging is harder on the gardener, but a bit gentler of the soil and it's inhabitants.
We have adobe clay type of soil here. We used gypsum to help condition it and planted a cover crop of Soil Builder Mix from Peacefull Valley Farm Supply ( The roots of the cover crop did a great job breaking up the clay.

Brighton, MO(Zone 6a)

Double digging is a method of preparing the soil to a greater depth. No one ever said the digging had to be done by hand. I have often tilled, shoveled out the loosened soil, then tilled again...double digging with power tools! That would be a great time to add some organic matter (compost), too.

(Laura) Olympia, WA(Zone 8a)

What exactly is double digging?

Brighton, MO(Zone 6a)

Normally when preparing a planting bed, the gardener will turn the soil one shovel or fork depth. "Double digging" means that you take out the soil loosened by one tool's depth and then turn the exposed soil again. The idea is to relieve compaction, improve drainage and minimize stratification.

(Laura) Olympia, WA(Zone 8a)

What would you do for super sandy ground?

Brighton, MO(Zone 6a)

Probably single dig and add as much composted organic matter as I could find/afford/mooch.

Josephine, Arlington, TX(Zone 8a)

I double dug my extremely heavy clay soil and have bee very happy with the results for many years. This is how I did it.

Jacksonville, NC(Zone 8b)

I read the link,by the way, thanks for putting it out there. I understood from the article, that they just put all that composting material right in the bed, without going through the composting process. Is that correct?
I'm trying to learn about composting, but I've never read that you could do it this way. Any feedback?

Josephine, Arlington, TX(Zone 8a)

Yes that is right, the organic materials were not composted before putting them in, they composted in the soil, which usually works a lot faster if you keep the soil moist and the top of the bed mulched. There are many ways to get organic matter into the soil, but when the soil is so bad, this is the best way.

Brighton, MO(Zone 6a)


To paraphrase a popular saying, "Compost Happens". It really doesn't matter if you compost in place or compost in a pile. The advantages to pile composting are that if you get the perfect mix of carbon and nitrogen (browns and greens) you'll get heat generation that will speed up the process. If you just lay the material on your kitchen counter, the same process will take place, just at a much slower pace. The heat from a pile has the added benefits of usually rendering weed seeds infertile and killing many plant bacteria and virus.

Notice the preceding paragraph is full of "if's" and "usually's". The more careful you are with your compost pile, the more of those conditionals you'll eliminate. But, most of us don't have the time or energy to constantly futz with our compost, and our source material streams seldom work out to give us the right C:N mix all the time. That's alright, it will still work! I compost my kitchen waste in a tumbler. In addition, I have a rather large pile behind the barn that has been working for a couple years. It didn't seem to be going anywhere, so I dumped a load from the tumbler into it to get some microbial activity going, and started bagging the lawn to get some high N content. I've been a little more careful about turning the pile every time I have the tractor out, and now I have 8 or 9 yards of some pretty good looking stuff. My point is, it is just about impossible to compost "wrong". The worms don't care if they eat the stuff in a pile or in your garden bed. In place composting has it's advantages, but takes a little more care in that few people want to see their kitchen waste just laying on top of the ground, and it isn't going to do the soil any good if the opossums eat it all. Mom always dug trenches in her raised beds in the fall, put the scraps in through the winter, and raked a little soil over each addition. That works during mild weather in the transition zone, but it wouldn't be a very good approach in Duluth or Buffalo. She also put every morning's coffee grounds and egg shells in her petunia bed right out front of the kitchen. She had the prettiest petunias in the county.

Looking back over this post, it is kind of a ramble. Sorry. If I had a point, it is that it doesn't matter how you compost, only that you DO compost.

Jacksonville, NC(Zone 8b)

Thanks all,
Don't worry about rambling. I am trying to listen to all the advice I can get. I'm new to being a serious gardner.This is just great. I'd rather listen to all of you, than just read about a composting product that someone is trying to sell.

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

For your consideration:

Burwash Weald, United Kingdom(Zone 9b)

Lynda - I think the thing that strikes me about composting, is how addicting it becomes. Just reading Jeffins comments - well, all I can say is welcome to the club!!

Mid-Cape, MA(Zone 7a)

I think the thing that strikes me about composting, is how addicting it becomes.

It IS addicting. I don't understand why exactly but I know I am hooked. Is it because it feels so good? (yeah; I'm hooked). I agree with Jeff: Compost happens. We try to influence the process, and the worms are gracious.

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