Gardening 101: Preparing the Site

So you’ve chosen the ideal location for your garden and now you’re ready to start getting it ready to play host to those precious seeds and seedlings. You have a few options and thankfully Farmer Jo is here to talk you through them.

Traditional Tillage

Rototillers, start your engines! Tilling the ground is the traditional way to prepare a garden site. Using a machine and brute force the soil is churned, leaving you with loosened earth. Give it a quick fork, rake it flat and you're ready to plant.  

Pros: It’s a fast and relatively easy option. In a short period of time you can transform a patch of lawn into a plantable garden bed.

Cons: Tilling is indiscriminate and has no regard for soil structure or the soil microbiome. When you till the distinct layers of soil are mixed up like a cake batter, whicg displaces or kills the billions of organisms that call this patch of earth home. This isn’t ideal for the fertility of your garden, nor for the precious soil ecosystem that is so incredibly important for planetary health.


Tarping, the system we use at the Farm, entails laying a large piece of thick plastic sheeting over your intended garden site for 4-6 weeks and letting nature do the work of preparing the ground for you. Once you clear away the tarp you’ll need to take a garden fork and open up the soil structure to allow root and water penetration, but no heavy digging or flipping is required.

Pros: Tarping leaves the soil structure and soil microbiome intact, and takes advantage of the existing organic material to provide additional soil nutrients. It’s also super easy, requiring little more than laying down a tarp and weighting it down for the duration.
Cons: This system will take longer than tilling and will require some planning. If you want to make a garden in a day then this is not the option for you. That being said, this is more than doable to create a garden for this season, simply lay your tarps down as soon as the snow clears and by the time frost risk has passed you’ll have a site ready to go.

No-dig (lasagna)

A third option is the no-dig, or lasagna garden, method. With a no-dig garden you first deeply fork your area and then cover it with flattened cardboard boxes or newspaper. On top of this you place alternating layers of organic material (grass clippings, wood chips, straw, or fallen leaves) and garden soil, each about 3 inches thick, to a depth of about a foot. Over the course of a few seasons the mound breaks down and you are left with nutrient rich soil that your plants will thrive in.

Pros: As with the tarping system you aren’t disturbing that precious soil microbiome leaving the natural organisms to do their work and create beautiful rich soil for the benefit of both you and the earth.
Cons: This is probably the most labour intensive option, and it can also be a bit costly if you need to buy garden soil.

If you find yourself with highly compacted clay soil you might need to employ the double digging method, keep your eyes peeled for a video demo from Farmer Jo next week.

Wondering what this deep forking is that we're talking about? Take a look at Jolianne's demonstration and full body work-out in the fields last year! If you're doing this at home you can just use a regular pitch fork.

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