Ugh. Just finished prepping and digging this teensy garden bed again this year, and I'll never do it again! In fact, I actually gave up about half way through and left it like that!
What a waste of time, energy and resources. A quick estimate "Return on Investment" analysis of the time I spend on this bed vs. the veggies we've gotten out of it, reveals that at best, we get a few dollars an hour worth of yield out of this bed.
We decided to keep these two small "biointensive" garden beds in our Permaculture Zone 1 area both as test plots and to grow a few things that seemed harder to grow in our heavy mulch gardens with living ground covers.
So, we double dug, burried tons of organic matter and dressed with a few inches of compost every year for 4 years, regularly watered and weeded, and treated with tons of time and love. And while the soil is much improved over where it started, it's still pretty pathetic!
Freshly dug, it's hard as rocks, difficult to dig or weed, grey, dead-looking, dry and lifeless. I only found a few worms as I dug this bed. These dry clods reduce to fine dust when crushed between the fingers, with none of the "crumby" soil texture that you'd find in a natural ecosystem. It would have take a lot of additional work to break that down into a fine "tillith" to plant seeds into.
And this has had TONS of compost added to it, usually a few times a year! Far more than any other bed in our garden, probably by 10 times!
Of course, it still has a ways to go, since the Biointensive technique takes 10 years to create its ideal soil.
Here's a bit of heavily-mulched garden that was prepped at around the same time as the biointensive bed, with a bunch of waste organic matter from on site, and NO compost. Since then, the only care it's received is a quick "spot mulch" of organic matter, usually from nearby plants, and an occasional bit of grass clippings as a top dressing. But underneath, it's wonderous!
8 inches down, we're still in thick, rich, moist mulchy soil, filled with worms and mycelia. 3 worms just in that one picture, with probably over a dozen just in this little spot as I dug. And you can easily dig your arm down another 10 inches or more into light, rich, black, crumby soil. This soil has never been dug. This soil has received NO compost or organic matter from off site. And yet it's light, moist, easy to work, and RIDDLED with life!
And while "putting in the garden" in our biointensive bed requires hard work every year, weeding, digging, and carting around heavy compost, planting in our Permaculture beds simply requires harvesting some great perennial vegetables or plants, and plopping in a few new plugs in their place, right into the deep mulch. In this case, we pulled up a sorrel plant, harvested the leaves and potted up the plant to sell, then plunked in a purple broccoli in its place.
Or for sowing seed in site, many seeds can just be sown right into the mulch surface! The squash bellow germinated with no problems in that deep mulch.
Or at worst, a few fiddly veggies require us to harvest a section of perennials, which naturally leaves behind a beautiful rich seed bed with amazing tillith, without any extra work! Here, we harvested a bunch of perennial alliums and planted in a succession of radishes. Look at the soil that was waiting for us under the perennials. This was a one-year-old bed started on the WORST soil in our yard, that has been managed with Permaculture techniques.
Here, the city had removed the top soil and left an eyesore of pure, dead, clay subsoil, then forgot to ever bring back the topsoil they promised!
Did we have to buy in a load of expensive top soil, unsustainably mined from another location to fix the problem? Or add massive amounts of compost? Nope! Nothing that sheet mulching, perennial plants, and a little Permaculture can't repair. Look at that area now:
And all of that was only ever dug once, and only then, just to contour the beds to catch water because we're on a slope!
In a way, I'm kind of glad that digging and composting that bed is such a pain in the butt. It's a nice reminder of how easy and effective Permaculture gardening is. And if I didn't see the difference myself, I'd hardly believe it.