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Goal: Develop soil structure so the plants will have a "living sponge cake" in which to thrive

Preparing the raised bed is the most important step in grow biointensive gardening. Proper soil structure and nutrients allow uninterrupted and healthy plant growth. Loose soil with good nutrients enables roots to penetrate the soil easily, and a steady stream of nutrients can flow into the stem and leaves. How different from the usual situation when a plant is transferred from a flat with loose soil and proper nutrients into a hastily prepared backyard plot or a chemically stimulated field. Not only does that plant suffer from the shock of being uprooted, it is also placed in an environment where it is more difficult to grow. The growth is interrupted, the roots have difficulty getting through the soil and obtaining food, and the plant develops more carbohydrates and less protein than usual. Insects like the carbohydrates. The plant becomes more susceptible to insect attack and ultimately to disease. A debilitating cycle has begun that often ends in the use of pesticides that kill soil life and make the plants less healthy. More fertilizers are then used in an attempt to boost the health of the plants. Instead, the fertilizers kill more soil life, damage the structure of the soil further, and lead to even sicker plants that attract more insects and need more toxic "medicines" in the form of additional pesticides and fertilizers. well-documented reports tell us that a wide variety of commercial pesticides kill beneficial invertebrate predators while controlling pest populations. These pesticides exterminate earthworms and other invertebrates that are needed to maintain soil fertility. The pesticides also destroy microorganisms that provide symbiotic relationships between the soil and plant root systems. Why not strive for good health in the first place!

Unless you are lucky enough to have loose soil, preparing and planting a raised bed initially can take a lot of time—as much as 61/2 to 11 hours for a 100-square-foot bed the first time.

As you become skilled, the double-dig often takes 2 hours or less. After the first crop, however, only 4 to 61/2 hours should be required on an ongoing basis for the whole preparing and planting process, because the soil will have better structure. Once the beds are planted, only about 30 minutes a day are required to maintain a 200-square-foot area—an area large enough to provide one person with vegetables 12 months a year in an area with a 4-to 6-month growing season.1 Even less time per day and only a 100-square-foot area may be required in an area with an 8- to 12-month growing season. Beginning gardeners may require a larger area for the same yield, but we recommend a new gardener use only 100 square feet and allow the soil to gradually produce more food as his or her skills improve.

The square footage required to provide the vegetable supply for one person is approximate since the exact amount varies depending on whether the individual likes corn (which takes up a lot of space per pound of edible vegetable grown) or a lot of carrots, beets, potatoes, and tomatoes (which require much less area per pound of food produced). Using the tables in "Making the Garden Plan" (based on yields produced by the grow biointensive method for all vegetable crops), you can determine the actual area needed for each crop. Be patient in this soil-building process. It takes 5 to 10 years to build up a good soil (and one's skills). Actually, this is very rapid. Nature often requires a period of 2,000 years or more to build a soil!

Instructions for the initial preparation of a 100-square-foot bed in a heavy clay, very sandy, or good soil are given below. Instructions for the repreparation of a bed are also given. After the soil has been initially prepared, you will find that the grow biointensive method requires less work than the gardening technique you presently use. The Irish call this the "lazy bed" method of raising food. It has the added benefit of producing tasty vegetables and an average of 4 times more vegetables than your current yield! Or, if you wish to raise only the same amount of food as last year, only V4 the area will have to be dug, weeded, and watered.


First, perform a soil test (see the soil test section in "Fertilization"), then do the following:

  1. If needed, soak the area to be dug for 2 hours with a sprinkler (for hard, dry clays).
  2. Let the soil dry out partially for 2 days.
  3. Loosen 12 inches of soil with a spading fork, and remove weeds. 1 to 2 hours.
  4. Water gently by hand for 5 minutes, and let the soil rest for 1 day. If your soil has particularly large clods, wait several extra days,
  5. Two hundred square feet can yield over 300 pounds of vegetables and soft fruits in a 4- to 6-month growing season at intermediate grow biointensive yields. The average person in the United states consumes about 322 pounds of vegetables and soft fruits annually.


  • 1 cubic foot = 1.5 5-gallon buckets
  • 1 5-gallon bucket = 0.67 cubic feet
  • The most cured compost that can be added per 100-square-foot area per 4- to 6-month growing season on a sustainable basis is probably 8 cubic feet (including 50% soil by volume). This amount has been added with good results historically in Europe. However, in various situations, 1.6 to 2.8 to 5.6 cubic feet of cured compost (that is 50% soil by volume) may be a sufficient and sustainable amount to be added the same growing season. More research is needed to determine which amounts produce the best results in different climates and soils.

and let nature help do the work. The warm sun, cool nights, wind, and water will help break down the clods. Water the bed lightly every day to aid the process.

  1. At this time, sand may be added to a bed with clayey soil, or clay to a bed with sandy soil, to improve texture. Normally you should not add more than a 1-inch layer (8 cubic feet) of sand or clay. (More sand may allow the water-soluble fertilizers to percolate down too rapidly.) Mix the sand or clay thoroughly into the loosened 12 inches of soil with a spading fork. 1 hour.
  2. Up to a 1-inch layer (8 cubic feet or 12 5-gallon buckets) of cured compost—whatever is available—is spread onto and incorporated into the surface of a bed that has good soil. (You may add up to a 2-inch layer [16 cubic feet per 100 square feet] of compost [preferably] or aged manure2 to soil with poor [very sandy or very clayey] texture on a one-time basis only.) 1/2 hour.
  3. Water gently by hand for 5 minutes, and let the soil rest for

1 day, if needed.

  1. Remove 7 5-gallon buckets of soil from the upper level of the first trench (assuming a 5-foot-wide growing bed—see drawing on page 21). Use 6 buckets of soil to make compost (these will eventually be returned to the growing beds in the form of added compost) and 1 bucket of soil to make flat soil to grow seedlings in. Even though you have removed one upper trench of soil, there will be enough soil at the end of the double-dig process to fill in the last trench, due to the expansion of the soil's volume as air is incorporated into the soil during the dig.
  2. Double-dig the soil with a flat spade and a spading fork (see pages 10-14 for double-digging instructions). Be sure to use a digging board to avoid unnecessary soil compaction. 2 to 4 hours. Be sure to dig trenches across the width of the bed. It helps to level the soil with a rake after every 3 to 4 trenches during the digging process.
  3. Level and shape the bed, filling last trench with soil. V2 hour.
  4. Sprinkle organic nitrogen, phosphorus, potash, calcium, and trace mineral fertilizers (such as alfalfa and kelp meals, wood ash, and eggshells) as indicated by your soil test evenly over the surface of the bed after leveling and shaping it. Include any desirable levels of pH modifiers (such as special leaf or pine needle compost to make the soil less alkaline, or lime to make the soil less acid) as indicated by your soil test. Sift in fertilizers and pH modifiers only

2 to 4 inches deep with a spading fork (2 inches if surface cultivation is being used—see page 59). After sifting in fertilizers, do no further raking to avoid disturbing the even distribution of fertilizers and compost. (If there seems to be an excess of air in your soil, tamp the soil down by placing your digging board on various sections of the bed and then standing on it. This removes excess air from the upper few inches of the bed.) 1/2 to 1 hour.

12. Plant or transplant. 1 to 2 hours.

Total: 61/2 to 11 hours for initial soil preparation, fertilization, and transplanting.

2. Two-year-old steer or cow manure, or 2-year-old horse manure that originally contained a lot of sawdust, or 2-month-old horse or chicken manure not containing much sawdust.

The proper tools will make the FOR SOIL PREPARATION

work easier and more productive.

The proper tools will make the FOR SOIL PREPARATION

work easier and more productive.

Chicken Cow Manure Growing Vegetables


  1. Remove remaining vegetation, if necessary. Remove 7 5-gallon buckets of soil from the upper level of the first trench. Use 6 buckets of soil to make compost (they will eventually be returned to the growing bed in the form of added compost) and 1 bucket of soil to make flat soil.3 Double-dig the soil. 2 to 3 hours.
  2. Level and shape the bed. V2 hour.
  3. Add any fertilizers and pH modifiers indicated by a soil test to the surface of the bed, and then add up to a 1-inch layer (8 cubic feet or 12 5-gallon buckets) of compost per 4-month growing season to the surface of the bed.4 Sift in materials 2 to 4 inches deep with a spading fork. V2 to 1 hour. (Adding the compost after the double-dig for ongoing soil preparation minimizes problems caused by water-soluble nitrogen leaching in increasingly loose soil.)
  4. Plant or transplant. 1 to 2 hours.

Total: 4 to 61/2 hours for ongoing soil preparation, fertilization, and transplanting.

  1. If you are digging only 25 rather than 100 square feet, only hold out 13/4 5-gallon buckets of soil for making compost and flat soil, and return 51/4 5-gallon buckets of soil into the bed.
  2. Do this at least once a year—normally at the beginning of the main growing season. Generally our practice for autumn crops is to only single-dig and to add no compost or fertilizers.
Gal Square Bucket
shovel and a spade.
Vegetable Watering Guide Charts

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