The concept of French intensive gardening is to create raised beds with added compost. The entire bed is light and fluffy for about two feet deep so as to promote root growth. Double digging implies digging down into the soil at two levels, loosening it and mixing the compost. The first dig is done when the soil is dug around 10 to 12 inches deep. Second dig is done when the soil below that level is loosened another 10 or 12 inches and compost is incorporated. Beds are typically 5 to 6 feet wide, 12 feet long and have foot paths between the beds. Organic compost can be created with grass clippings, manure, kitchen scraps and chopped yard debris.
A squared-off blade and a lot of muscle are the requirements. A heavy duty garden fork is used for breaking the clods. These raised beds require little annual upkeep and do not need any power tools to continue in production.
By loosening the soil more than 20 inches the soil gets fluffed up and is raised above its surroundings almost by one foot. This loose soil allows the roots to penetrate deeply into the soil. Otherwise, the roots generally grow down a few inches, hit a hardpan and then turn sideways where they compete with each other for nutrients and water. Hardpan is a close-packed layer of soil which is generally created by walking.
As the roots grow deeper inside than out, plants can be planted closer together and still high yield can be achieved. Close spacing of the plants also shades out the weeds. If any, weeding becomes easier due to loose soil. This intensive therapy benefits soil ecology, which in turn results in vitamin and mineral rich vegetables.
Soil compaction is reduced and this increases drainage and oxygen supply to the roots. Double digging helps the roots to reach deeper which means they have to be watered less often. This helps in water conservation. More plants can be grown in the same area as they don’t have to depend only on the top soil for nutrients and water.
French intensive gardening is less expensive, sustainable, preserves the ecology and also gives healthy vegetables. Hard work and extremely rewarding.
PREPARE THE SOIL, FEW DAYS AHEAD AND PLANT OVER THE WEEKEND
A few days ahead
Choose a sunny spot.
Order seedlings. Choose varieties suited to the region.
Get soaker hoses and mulch.
Day 1, during weekend
Erect tepees if planning to plant pole beans.
Prepare cages for tomatoes.
Prepare the soil. Water it thoroughly and leave it to settle overnight.
Day 2, during weekend
Plant pole beans on tepees. Set the other plants.
Support cages for tomatoes, one plant in the middle of each cage.
Set soaker hoses through the beds after planting the seeds. Efficient way to water plants without waste.
Apply mulch to keep down the weeds and conserve water.
Caring the garden
Fertilize with a spray of fish emulsion. Repeat every two weeks. Stop feeding fruity plants like tomatoes and beans once it starts flowering. Continue feeding leafy vegetables throughout the season.
Feed all plants with a dose of organic vegetable fertilizer twice during the growing season.