Fall Session Class One-Plot Set-up Review

September 6, 2014

Author: Ian Whittington

Category: General News Stories from the Garden

And we’re back!

The fall session of NFI’s Adult Urban Garden Education class has started up, meaning I’ll once again be filling you in on everything that we’ve been learning. Even though this is another beginning, it doesn’t feel like that to me. That’s probably because this weeks class was all about getting our plots ready, which is something I did at the start of the spring session in early May.

It’s hard to believe it’s been four months since I first started working my plot.

My plot set up with stakes and straw (the first three rows)

My plot when I first set it up three months ago.

Seeing my new classmates have to start the process of prepping their plots made me sooooo thankful I wasn’t doing that again. It took a lot of effort, and although it turned out to be more than worth it I definitely don’t want to go through all that trouble again. Luckily I have a lot to work with already.

My plot at the end of first day of the fall session.

My plot at the end of first day of the fall session.

Now if you’ve been following me from the beginning, or even the last few weeks, you might notice something different about my plot.

Things are missing.

Sadly, my pole beans are done. It’s my fault really. I haven’t been able to get to my plot as often as I’d like, meaning I haven’t been able to pick my beans regularly. Because of this my bean pods kept maturing, telling the plants that their job was done and they needed to check out. And boy did they.

My bean plants after I pulled them.

My bean plants after I pulled them.

Then there are my cucumbers. Unfortunately it seems like there wasn’t anything I would’ve been able to do to save them. I’m still not entirely sure what happened but I’m leaning towards bacterial wilt.


Well first of all, there have been a lot of cucumber beetles, and I know that they can transmit bacterial wilt when they chew up cucumber plants. What’s really led me to this conclusion though is my plant’s appearance. In my last post I pointed out what I thought were the first signs of bacterial wilt. Basically some flowers and budding cucumbers were shriveling up. By last week nearly the entire plant was in the same sorry state.

My cucumber after succumbing to bacterial wilt or simply just giving out.

My cucumber after either succumbing to bacterial wilt or simply just giving out.

Still, between my time at the NFI garden and working with Love and Carrots, it seems like a lot of cucumber plants are withering away. Perhaps it’s just the time for them to be done?

Really it doesn’t matter why my cucumbers are dead. They just are, so all I can do is pull them to make space for my next round of crops. So far I’ve planted turnips in that spot, with an eye to also plant carrots, lettuce and spinach elsewhere.

My first week into the fall session and I already have sprouting turnips.

My first week into the fall session and I already have sprouting turnips.

As Caroline, the NFI Garden Manager who subbed for Joe this week, went through this week’s lesson, it struck me how far I’ve come. But I also couldn’t help but wonder if there were things I could’ve done that would’ve made my garden better than it was at this point.

I could’ve probably been better with watering. To be honest I haven’t done any actual watering besides initial ones for seeds and transplants. Between the drip irrigation and all the rain we’ve been getting, it just hasn’t seemed necessary. I mean come on, we really have been having an insane amount of rain. If anything I lost a plant because of all the water. Remember my sage plant?

Unfortunately my sage just never flourished.

Unfortunately my sage just never flourished.

In all honesty though, my plants have been doing well enough where I feel completely justified with my decision. Still, a part of me can’t help but wonder if I’d have an even better harvest if I’d just watered once or twice a week.

But it was when Caroline started talking about double digging that I really started to wonder if perhaps I didn’t do enough on that first day four months ago.


Well, I didn’t double dig, and since I’ve heard a lot about that with Love and Carrots perhaps I really should have.

Double digging is a method of preparing a plot of land for planting. It’s really intensive, but if you want to create the best conditions possible for you plot it’s the best way to go because it really loosens up the soil, making ideal conditions for roots to permeate.

Caroline (far left) showing some of my classmates how to double dig.

Caroline (far left) showing some of my classmates how to double dig.

So what does it involve?

Imagine you’re creating three rows just like in our NFI garden plots. First you’d dig up your first row so it’s about two shovelheads deep. I’d recommend setting your soil between your first and second rows because after you dig the second one you’ll fill it up with the soil from the first. The pattern continues with the third row by digging that up and filling it up with dirt from the second row. Now you just fill up the first row with dirt from the third and voila. You’re done.

As you can tell this method really loosens up the ground. So was it a mistake that I didn’t double dig?

No. No it was not.

Even if it didn’t double dig, I definitely loosened my plot up. Since I had a huge Bermuda grass problem I used a mattock to really hack into the ground. I pulled a ton of roots out, which is crazy because I still have a ton of Bermuda grass popping up. All the slashing I did mixed up the soil, making it so much looser than when I first got there.

And you know what, my garden has done pretty well considering my inexperience. This class is all about learning what it takes to be a gardener, and I’ve definitely learned a lot. Double digging wasn’t emphasized in that first class, so it wasn’t really on my mind. We learned so many more important things that day, like respecting the land and all the processes that made it what it is today. And of course as Joe always says, when in doubt, add organic material.

I plan to do just that. Next week it’s all about seeding and planting transplants. Bring on the fall crops!

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